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Artist Spotlight: Helen Mirren

By Haley A. Rue, Crimson Staff Writer

On January 30, Dame Helen Mirren was finally able to complete her trophy cabinet full of Oscars, Emmys, and BAFTAs with Hasty Pudding’s Woman of the Year award. However, instead of playing a queen to win her award, she was surrounded by them as she competed to earn her Pudding Pot in the annual Woman of the Year Roast. The always-elegant Mirren showed a new side as she twerked her way to victory before sitting down to watch a few numbers from the Hasty Pudding’s upcoming show, “Victorian Secrets,” which opens February 7. The Harvard Crimson had a chance to interview Mirren the morning after the festivities to get her take on the most unconventional awards ceremony of her career.

The Harvard Crimson: How did you react when you were first told you were Hasty Pudding's Woman of the Year?

Helen L. Mirren: I was incredibly thrilled and honored…. I was looking at the list of people—of recipients—and there’s actually not a lot of British women on the list, and so on that level in particular, I was very, very honored to be recognized. I’ve always felt that the Americans were incredibly generous, you know, and it was just a lot of manifestation of that as far as I was concerned.

THC: Hasty Pudding's awards ceremony strays quite a bit from the conventional—did you know what to expect coming into the event?

HM: Not really, no. They kept giving me these schedules of what would happen, and I could never quite make heads or tails of it.

THC: What was the highlight of the ceremony for you?

HM: Certainly the highlight was the parade…. I felt like a beauty queen on the back of a car like that.

THC: Plus, you were surrounded by so many queens.

HM:  Yes! Absolutely, absolutely! My gorgeous ladies in waiting. Yeah, so that was pretty spectacular. Also, it was such a beautiful day…that was really fabulous!

THC: As a lover of puddings, what is the first pudding you intend to make in your new pot?

HM: Oh, well actually it looks to me like a little lentil pot—some sort of lentil pot thing. There’s also actually a very good Christmas pudding…. It’s the perfect size for a little Christmas pudding, so maybe I’ll make it for next year.

THC: I’m sure you’ve already been amply harassed, but what went through your head when you saw the word “twerking” on the poster for charades?

HM: I thought, “Oh my God, how am I going to get out of this one?” I tried desperately to get out of it with the motion “T” and then acting out working.… But they of course refused…. Of course, now my friends are all emailing me saying, “Oh, we are seeing pictures of you twerking.” You know, today things get immediately onto the internet. And I knew it, I knew the minute I saw that word, I thought, “Oh God, here we go.”

THC: I have to admit, when I saw it, I instantly tweeted about it.

HM: Oh, did you? Oh God, yes, absolutely. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide these days.

THC: You've played every role from an animated monster to a queen; what role did you have the most fun with?

HM: Monsters University was great fun. I’ve always been a massive fan of John Lasseter and Pixar movies…. If they had existed when I was young, that would have been amazing. I came to them as an adult but loved them just as much. That’s what’s brilliant about those movies: they can be enjoyed just as much by an adult as by a child. It’s genius strength of hand to achieve that…. I also just did a film in France, which was a great deal of fun, called “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” which won’t be coming out until later this year, but that was great fun. It was a lovely light movie, filmed in a beautiful place.

THC: Have you always wanted to become an actress?

HM: Yes…. It was something I was focused on from a quite early, young age—about 13 or 14. I have to say I never imagined at that age that it would be a realistic thing…I didn’t know anyone in the business, and I was living in a small dormitory town—very, very suburban, mundane kind of world. Just it seemed to be dreaming the impossible dream really.

THC: Were those around you—your peers and your family—supportive of your decision to pursue acting?

HM:  No, not at all. No, my parents absolutely not, and rightfully…I have no complaints about this, but they absolutely thought I was mad and stupid really…. I had trained to be a teacher, so their feeling was that I could get over my madness very rapidly as soon as I didn’t get any work, and then I could be a teacher and I could be secure. And they were absolutely right, but the reality was, I never thought that. I started acting as soon as I left college and never stopped.

THC: It seems as though you’re always saying you secretly want to be the “bad girl” or a “badass.” Where does this urge to be bad come from?

HM: The badass is always the romantic one in any movie or play. It’s of course the one that everybody knows. It’s an absolute sure-fire starter for a career is to play the baddest person in a film or play. You know, that person always gets all the attention. I think that was why I loved doing “Red,” actually. I got to play this contradictory character of sorts.

THC: Would you say that you’re feeling fulfilled at this stage in your life?

HM: I think life is constantly challenging, really. You never reach a point where you go, “That’s it.  I’m fulfilled. I’ve done it.” I suspect the whole point of life is that you’re constantly questioning and challenging it…and insecure about certain things. You know, incredible sense of achievement about other things, but the sense of achievement dissipates very fast, it seems…. And it’s time to challenge yourself or put yourself in a dangerous or challenging sort of situation, and maybe ultimately that’s the thing that is fulfilling…. It was sort of amazing to be surrounded by those hugely energetic, very, very bright, optimistic...people with their whole lives ahead of them yesterday. You know, that was very exciting. Exhausting and inspiring.

—Staff writer Haley A. Rue can be reached at rue@college.harvard.edu.

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