Helen Mirren interview: ‘I’m still an Essex girl!’

PUBLISHED: 16:57 15 June 2018 | UPDATED: 17:04 15 June 2018

Actress Helen Mirren poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. Mirren was was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in the film

Actress Helen Mirren poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills, Calif. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009. Mirren was was nominated for a Golden Globe award for best actress in a motion picture drama for her role in the film "The Last Station". (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

AP/Press Association Images

Essex icon Dame Helen Mirren extols the virtues of pomegranate farming, comments on the fight for equality in Hollywood and reveals why you should never call her a movie star. Oh, we just have! Words: VIOLET WILDER

There’s no stopping Dame Helen Mirren. Smart, sassy and outspoken, the actress is still revelling in the career renaissance that began, age 46, when she landed the role of DCI Jane Tennison in TV’s Prime Suspect.

And though born in London to an English mother and Russian father, the actress was raised in Leigh on Sea and proudly declares that she, “is still an Essex girl!”

Having traversed the globe, working extensively in Los Angeles, and now splitting her time between the US, the UK and Italy, the feisty Brit is not about to extol the endless virtues of Hollywood. “I am more than aware of the illusionary nature of the place,” Helen explains.

Helen Mirren stars in WOMAN IN GOLDHelen Mirren stars in WOMAN IN GOLD

“People can see it from the outside, and most within that bubble know it, but not all. I prefer a simpler existence.”

It is those simpler times, Helen says, of walking by the sea in Southend, afternoons with friends drinking ice cream cherryades and dreaming of the future, that she cherishes most; not the plastic glamour and overplayed glitz that came long after.

She also recalls fondly how her mother encouraged her to lose her estuary accent, perhaps believing her daughter might fare better in the world with a less regional dialect.

Helen Mirren in The QueenHelen Mirren in The Queen

“Back then there was an expectation of how you should sound in this business,” says Helen. “Of course, so much of that has flipped nowadays – such lack of diction has since become popular among England’s upper classes.

“However I’ve sounded over the years, I would never lose my roots, though. They define who I am.”

It is this honesty, integrity and ability to crack the odd joke, letting that raucous laugh ring out, that makes Helen so beloved in her homeland.

Helen Mirren in The QueenHelen Mirren in The Queen

The outspoken star has long been a feminist trailblazer whose performances have inspired generations of women, distinguished by a palpable intelligence and steely determination whether playing a military commander (Eye in the Sky), royalty (The Queen) or a Mossad agent (The Debt). If ever there was an archetype of an actress suited to playing strong women, it would be she.

It should come as no surprise then, that Helen has much to say about the current movement to fight sexual harassment and eliminate gender discrimination, including flagging the pay gap among her female peers.

“The thing I wonder about the most is why it has taken so long for this to come about,” she says. “The only possible explanation I see is that it takes a long time to change behaviour that’s been ingrained in our culture for so many years.


Ph: Frank Masi, SMPSP

© 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC.  All rights reserved.RED 2 Ph: Frank Masi, SMPSP © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

“We’ve started to see how conditions for women have been improving even though there is still so much work left to be done.

“The difference now is that in the past women had almost no voice. Now they’ve unleashed this volcanic movement and the lava is slowly starting to come down the mountain. The best advice that I can give men is to get out of the way!” she quips.

The formidable, iconic actress’s latest role is in The Leisure Seeker, directed by acclaimed Italian filmmaker Paolo Virzi, and co-stars Donald Sutherland. The compelling film tells of the romance between a woman with terminal cancer and her husband who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Actress Helen Mirren poses for a portrait to promote the film 'The Debt' at the Toronto International Film Festival Tuesday Sept. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)Actress Helen Mirren poses for a portrait to promote the film 'The Debt' at the Toronto International Film Festival Tuesday Sept. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Carlo Allegri)

And while the elegant star undoubtedly looks fantastic for her 72 years, she is characteristically candid about the inevitable pitfalls of accelerating age.

“If I have to be honest, there is nothing that pleasant about growing old. You learn to accept your age and all the faults that come with it, and you console yourself by believing you are wiser.

“When you’re a teenager it seems impossible to think of becoming old. But then you learn to accept it and renounce many things that seemed so important before, like plunging necklines and miniskirts!” she adds with a laugh.

Helen Mirren arriving for the UK premiere of The Last Station at the Curzon Mayfair cinema.Helen Mirren arriving for the UK premiere of The Last Station at the Curzon Mayfair cinema.

Over the years, the actress’s sharp wit and boundless talent have earned her national treasure status. But she is also surprisingly humble, and despite an extensive back catalogue and slew of awards, insists that she is not a movie star.

“No, I’ve never thought of myself as that; never considered myself anything close. I’m a working actress who’s been fortunate and lucky, and sometimes the stars align in a certain way,” she offers, with every essence of modesty.

Her life off-camera is also admirably straightforward. Helen has never had children, stating in the past she has, “no maternal instinct whatsoever”, and has spent the past three decades with Hollywood director Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman).


They were married in 1997 and currently divide their time between homes in Los Angeles and the village of Tiggiano in Puglia, Italy, where the couple grow pomegranates.

“Yes. Apart from acting, my other job is that of pomegranate farmer,” she laughs. “My husband and I have planted over 400 trees and we’re producing juice for the market.

“The juice is delicious. Our little company is still in the early stages, but we want to sell in Italy and abroad. I love the people of Italy and I love the climate there. The first time I saw the full moon rising from the sea and shining on my pomegranates, I burst into tears.”

Even Helen admits it would be easy at this point to while away the days soaking up the wonders of the Mediterranean, but unfortunately, for all her strength, she has one terrible weakness. “I can never find the willpower to say no to a very good part when one comes along,” she confesses.

'Arthur' film photocall, Los Angeles, America - 25 Mar 2011'Arthur' film photocall, Los Angeles, America - 25 Mar 2011

“I often tell my husband, ‘I’ve done enough, I’m not going to keep pushing myself’. But he’s so used to hearing me say that he doesn’t even pay attention to me anymore when I make that kind of a declaration. The terrible truth is that I simply cannot resist a good role.”

True to her word, Helen has three films slated for the rest of 2018: fantasy epic The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, romantic drama Berlin, I love You, and Luc Besson’s crime thriller Anna… which is the kind of high-brow roster usually held by movie stars, but never mind.

Helen is steadfast and will not be moved on her deepest beliefs. Much like the fact that despite no longer living in Essex, she insists that it will always be home… which is just as well, as we will always claim Dame Helen Mirren as one of our own, wherever her films and fruit juices take her.


Follow Essex Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Fri, 17:09

Escape to the Chateau star Angel Adoree is currently reaping the benefits of her incredible vision and drive to build an overseas wedding and lifestyle business from scratch with husband Dick Strawbridge. Here she tells Essex Life about series five of the hit Channel 4 show and how a strong Essex work ethic helped her dream so big | Words: Denise Marshall

Read more
Wed, 13:28

Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office tells the story of an exciting project that is taking memories on tour around the county

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

Whether you know him for his madcap antics, his reality TV appearances or his unique voice, Essex boy Joe Pasquale has earned his place as one of the nation’s favourite entertainers. Kate Everett caught up with Joe to hear what’s next in his 30-year showbiz career

Read more
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

With the help of finance expert and writer Philip Beresford, Essex Life reveals the 2018 Essex Life Richest 50

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Epping is so much more than the last stop on the Central Line. Petra Hornsby meets the volunteers helping to preserve one of Epping’s most treasured and enduring treasures – its forest

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The agricultural heritage of the county cannot be underestimated. Here Stephanie Mackentyre visits three farms that have been feeding Essex for generations

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Paycocke’s House and Gardens, now owned by The National Trust, is one of the county’s most precious historic sites and 2018 marks 500 years since the death of the man who gave the house its name. Ruth McKegney tells the tale of this Coggeshall jewel

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Southend has given the great and the good fabulous days of fun beside the seaside for generations, and they keep coming! Petra Hornsby tells the tale of one newcomer who has fallen in love with Southend through a comedy connection with Laurel and Hardy

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neil Oliver is perhaps best known for his role as the presenter of the BBC’s Coast series, but he is about to embark on a quite different tour of the UK, calling in at Southend. Kate Everett found out more

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Essex-raised TV personality Andy Day has been a favourite on BBC children’s channel CBeebies for over 12 years. Now he’s branched into music, touring nationwide with his family-friendly band, Andy and the Odd Socks. Here he tells Denise Marshall about his Glastonbury debut, fighting bullying and becoming a father

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search