The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren

With a career going back nearly fifty years, it's no exaggeration to say Helen Mirren ranks among one of our most iconic living actresses. Always known for her sharp wit, which has decimated many a poorly prepared chat show host (see her own a leering Michael Parkington during this famously sexist interview), and even, recently, a theater attendee who had the bad taste to leave their cell phone on during a performance.

It's no surprise then, at seventy, that Mirren has found herself more in demand than ever, playing earthy, tough heroines in movies like EYE IN THE SKY, which may seem like a far cry from famously playing the Queen, but is actually in line with some of the best roles from earlier in her career, where she was kind of an antidote to the more buttoned-down leading ladies of her time (even daring to take part in the X-rated CALIGULA).

A gorgeous woman, both then and now (she made a fetching Morgana in EXCALIBUR), Mirren fought typecasting from the start, often lending her allure to parts that, on the surface, would seem typical only to emerge as far more complex. A good example of this is THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, where she plays Bob Hoskins's classy girlfriend, one who pushes her thug gangster lover into a more respectable world that quickly proves both of their ruin. More recently, Mirren's even dipped her toe into action, notably Lee Daniels's bonkers SHADOWBOXER, and R.E.D, where she steals scenes as a prim and proper British agent/sniper opposite a cast of tough guys led by Bruce Willis. She seems tougher than any of them.

Her Best Work

Among Mirren's most celebrated roles is her fifteen year reign as DCI Jane Tennison in the British TV franchise, "Prime Suspect." I remember being shocked whenever this would turn up on "Masterpiece Theater" when I was a kid on PBS (I sometimes caught it while waiting for "Red Dwarf" or "Doctor Who" to start), as this tough, modern British crime drama was a far cry from what I expected out of British TV. Reexamining it now, one can see why the tough, uncompromising Mirren was a sensation, but I also seems wildly ahead of its time. A show like "Prime Suspect" now would be a "Breaking Bad" style phenomenon, but surprisingly, despite playing the part for fifteen years, the series only produced fifteen episodes (although as they were feature length you could multiply that by two). In recent years, efforts have been made to continue the franchise, both in the US (with Maria Bello) and now through a prequel in the U.K. Mirren played the character to her retirement, so probably won't be recreating the part anytime soon - but ever say never.

Her Most Overrated Work

While WOMAN IN GOLD was a well intentioned hit, and a good example of a genre the Weinsteins do well - the prestige historical drama - I always felt Mirren was miscast as Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann. Dare I say it, she was a tad over-the-top, although I'd never dare say it to her face!

Her Most Underrated Film

One movie I've always liked is 2010, the much maligned sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. While Peter Hyams is no Kubrick, it's a damn good science driven space thriller, intriguing for how it became a kind of cold-war drama, with a surprising pre-Glasnost message of cooperation. Mirren, who at the time was dipping into American fare (with THE MOSQUITO COAST and WHITE NIGHTS, whoever she met longtime partner, director Taylor Hackford), and 2010 is a strong part with her as the no-nonsense Russian captain, who proves to be a brave, reasonable leader when tensions on earth threaten to derail their mission. This is another strong female heroine that, again, was a ahead of its time if you consider this was made in 1984, the same year a shrieking Willie Scott almost ruined INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.

Her Most Badass Moment

As I wrote earlier, Mirren, in R.E.D, not only holds her own against the cast of tough guys but actually seems rougher and tougher than any of them. She’s so tough in this scene that one wishes Sylvester Stallone had recruited her for THE EXPENDABLES.

Her Five Best Roles

1. Prime Suspect (TV)

Up Next

Coming off the worldwide success of her last few movies, Mirren’s got herself a starring role in the Spierig brothers WINCHESTER, a rare foray for her into horror. She’s also rumored to be in the FASTE OF THE FURIOUS cast as Jason Statham’s mum (a part he openly coveted). God, I hope that rumor is true.

Source: JoBlo.com



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