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LONDON — Helen Mirren will receive a fellowship from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts from none other than Prince William at the BAFTA Awards on Feb. 16. She thinks that’s a sign that the British royal famly thought her Oscar- and BAFTA-winning turn as the future king’s grandmother in Stephen Frears‘ The Queen was OK.
“I think it feels pretty amazing, actually, because I don’t think he’d do it if the royal family felt I had messed up,” Mirren told The Hollywood Reporter. “So I hope it’s a sign they don’t think I messed up. But I don’t know, and I will never know for sure.”
Mirren, who will be granted the British Academy’s highest honor, has had both critical and commercial success with starring roles in Calendar Girls, Red and Monster’s University as well as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover; Gosford Park; and The Last Station. But she said she still gets starstruck when she’s working with famous American actors.
“I find myself working with Nic Cage, Harrison Ford — I’m terribly starstruck and impressed with myself that I am even in the same space as they are,” Mirren confessed, noting that “they are sort of extraordinary, those huge American movie stars; they are a thing apart, really. It’s hard to keep your feet on the ground and think it’s all right.”
Mirren said when she performs in such big-ticket movies, “you keep thinking, ‘It’s all right; they’re just like I am.’ But the reality is they’re not just like you are at all.”
Mirren, who worked with Bruce Willis in Red and Red 2, described the veteran as “masterful” at what he does.
“And the great thing is you can always learn. No matter how much experience you have in this area, ‘Oh I didn’t know you could do it like that’ — there is always something like that,” Mirren explained.
At the British Academy’s glitzy ceremony at the Royal Opera house, Mirren’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover director Peter Greenaway is set to receive a BAFTA honor for his outstanding contribution to British cinema.
Mirren told THR the only difference between making such a maverick art-house movie and a mainstream Hollywood picture comes down to the script.
“Working with Peter, he is so brilliant. The funny thing is, doing a movie with him is exactly the same way as everyone else does,” Mirren said, referring to filming and setups. “The only thing that is radically different is the material you are doing.”
Her role in that film included sex scenes that were considered particularly racy when the film was made in 1989.
“The thing that [Peter] did that was brilliant, and I don’t know that anyone else has ever done that, is when you are doing the intimate sex scenes, when I worked with him anyway, he completely closed the set off so you were completely unaware of any crew,” Mirren said. “He was very protective, and also it frees you. The camera was peaking, the ultimate voyeurism, through a little hole in the curtain, but you were just in this black box, and that was great, actually. Otherwise you get a very us-and-them feeling about it. A babes-in-the-wood feeling.”
The actress joins a roster of famous names to have received the BAFTA fellowship, including Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Elizabeth Taylor, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave and Martin Scorsese.
She is confident that BAFTA will honor more women, especially female directors, in the future.
“There will be more female names on the roster. I think in the next 10 or 20 years it will change,” Mirren said. “What’s so important … are role models. When girls [are] seeing other women doing it, they think, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize I can do that.’ It’s incredibly important and a great pleasure for me to see women on the sets behind the camera, in the electrical department, in the production design department, all of the departments.”
Mirren is no stranger to award ceremonies and is sanguine about what getting a top honor can mean.
“The Americans are enormously generous, and it does carry quite a lot of weight,” she said of her Oscar. “As time moves on, it becomes less, and it does move into the annals of history a little bit, but yes, of course, it is very important.”
When she was first told about BAFTA’s plans to award her the honor, she thought they’d made a mistake and waited for them to apologize and tell her there had been a mix-up.
“You can’t see yourself in that grown-up, respectable way,” Mirren said with a laugh.
So on the night, don’t expect a long, involved speech.
“I’m kind of prepared, but it’s the end of a long night, so you can’t talk for too long and you can’t encapsulate your whole career and everybody you have worked with and what they have meant to you in two minutes. It’s not possible,” Mirren noted. “The important thing is to remember that nobody remembers. They can YouTube it if they care to, but nobody remembers. You just have to say what is true for you at that moment and be as honest as you can, and that’s the most you can do.”
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek