Home' Get Up and Go : Winter 2016 Contents GetUp&Go 21
here have been many formidable
women in the history of cinema.
From Bette Davis to Katherine
Hepburn to Meryl Streep, there
are few better examples of smart and
independent-minded actresses. Let’s add
Helen Mirren to that list. A natural-born
hellraiser, she has made a career out of
playing determined women who were
often more than a match for her male co-
stars. From Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennyson
to her Oscar-winning performance in The
Queen, Mirren has smashed the ageist
bias of her profession and done her best
work while in her 50s and 60s. Now,
at age 70, she revels in her success and
ability to continue finding top roles in
Mirren’s new film, Eye in the Sky,
sees her play a British Army Colonel
Katherine, a military officer in charge
of a covert drone operation tasked with
eliminating terrorists based in Kenya.
The mission runs into difficulty when
an American drone pilot spots a young
girl playing next to the house where
the terrorists are believed to be staying.
The question then becomes whether the
mission should be aborted in order to
avoid taking an innocent life.
The film also marks the final screen
performance of Alan Rickman (the Harry
Potter films, Love, Actually) in the role of
a military commander. Sadly, the British
acting legend passed away in January this
year at the age of 69.
“This was his last movie,” Mirren
recalls. “He was so good. It was classic
Alan, because it was so full of intelligence
and character and yet so minimal. He was
an absolute genius! We’ve lost him far
too early. He would have had many great
roles to come. And I can’t believe that I’m
not going to see him again.”
Over the course of a career that has
spanned five decades, Mirren has earned
four Oscar nominations during her career,
winning an Academy Awards for best
actress for The Queen (2006). A noted sex
siren in her 20s and 30s, she was an early
feminist pioneer in Hollywood, known as
much for her defiant personality and refusal
to be bullied by the patriarchal studio
establishment. Following relationships with
actors Liam Neeson and Nicol Williamson,
Mirren found happiness (they married
in 1997) with director Taylor Hackford,
who directed her in 1986’s White Nights.
They’ve spent the last 30 years together and
currently divide their time between homes
in Los Angeles and the village of Tiggiano
in Salento (Puglia), Italy.
Q: You’ve recently appeared in Trumbo
and now you’re playing in Eye in the
Sky? Does it surprise you that you’re so
busy these days?
MIRREN: No. I think I might have been
surprised if you told me when I was 50
that I would be working as much as I am
today. But times are changing and slowly
there is more recognition that women need
to occupy a more important place in film.
It’s a constant struggle and I’m happy
to be able to be pleasantly surprised with
films like Woman in Gold or playing
a military officer in this film. I’m also
surprised and delighted when people
address me as “Dame”.’ (Laughs)
Q: You’re spending a lot of time living in
Italy in your home in Salento. What’s life
MIRREN: It’s relaxed. We came upon the
property by coincidence. We were driving
through the region and suddenly we
saw this lovely ruin in Tiggiano which
we fell in love with. It’s taken a lot of
work to renovate it and get the farm up
and running. But my husband has kept
encouraging me over many years, and
now I’m very proud of our home there.
Q: You’re cultivating pomegranates, isn’t
MIRREN: Apart from acting, my other job
is that of pomegranate farmer. We have
planted 400 pomegranate trees and we’re
producing juice for the market.
The juice is delicious. Our little
company is in the early stages, but we
want to sell our juice in Italy and abroad.
I love the people of Salento and I love
Italy. The first time I saw the full moon
rising from the sea and shining on my
pomegranates I burst into tears.
Q: What are your thoughts on having
sustained your marriage over such a
MIRREN: You build houses together! If
you divorce, it’ll be from building a house
together. If you get through that, that’s a
huge triumph! •
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