Helen Mirren channels her inner Martha Stewart in 'RED'

by Rick Bentley

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

15 October 2010


Dame Helen Mirren’s role in the new action-comedy “RED” has the Oscar-winning actress playing a former CIA operative who comes out of retirement to help a friend.

Think Martha Stewart meets Rambo.

“Or maybe it’s Martha Stewart meets Martha Stewart,” a laughing Mirren says during a telephone interview from Hungary, where she’s working on the film drama “The Door.”

“When I was trying to think who is this woman, I just suddenly thought of Martha Stewart. She’s got that steely, strong resolve that goes along with utter femininity.”

Mirren may have been inspired by Stewart, but it was hours on a firing range that helped her get a sense of the power the character feels from wielding such major weaponry.

“RED,” based on the graphic novels by Warren Ellis and Culley Hamner, is the latest film to cast Mirren in an action role. She’s previously shown her adventurous side in “Inkheart” and “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets,” a film she calls the high point of her career.

The 65-year-old actress has only one regret about moving into the action genre in recent years.

“It’s been a lot of fun but I wish they had asked when I was bit younger and a bit more able,” Mirren says. “I really think it’s brilliant when people go the opposite direction. When I get offered roles as an uptight duchess I say ‘No thank you. I’ve been there, done that.’”

Having a career on stage, TV and film that covers 45 years has resulted in many familiar roles. She’s played three British queens: Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, in the 1994 feature “The Madness of King George”; Elizabeth I in the 2005 television series “Elizabeth I”; and Elizabeth II in her 2006 film “The Queen.”

Other credits include the films “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” “Calendar Girls,” “Raising Helen” and “Gosford Park” along with the much-heralded British TV series “Prime Suspect.”

Mirren will continue to work in a variety of roles, including the latest film version of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” and a remake of the Dudley Moore movie “Arthur.”

Following up John Gielgud’s Oscar-nominated work in “Arthur” was a concern for Mirren. She finally decided that she would never be as good a Gielgud, only “who I am.”

She wrote in a recent blog: “It is always a bit of a dangerous move to remake a beloved film, but here it is mixed up a bit with my playing the role that Gielgud played so brilliantly, as a nanny rather than a butler. A very tough act to follow.”

No matter her concerns about a role, Mirren loves the work. Whether it’s a big-budget blockbuster like “RED” or a small film shot in Hungary, there’s the same sense of being part of a very special group.

“I find a film set to be incredibly exciting, romantic and comfortable place to be,” Mirren says. “Every cast and crew is this tribe and when I’m not making a movie, I want to be back with the tribe.”

As for whether she likes film better than stage or TV, Mirren laughs and says, “I tend to like best the one I’m not doing.”

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