Helen Mirren on Being Possessed by an Evil Spirit in 'Winchester'

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Helen Mirren

THR caught up with the Oscar-winner Thursday night at a special screening of her new horror movie, Winchester.

Oscar-winner Helen Mirren proved earlier this week that she has rhyming chops when she battled James Corden in a rap battle during an appearance on his late-night talk show — and now she’s imagining what her own rap career would look like.

“Shakespearean rap, a bit like Hamilton, because Shakespeare has an actual rhythm,” Mirren quipped to The Hollywood Reporter at a special screening of her new film, Winchester, on Thursday in Los Angeles. “When I was doing the rap for Corden, I was thinking, ‘This is actually kind of Shakespearean.’”

Mirren certainly doesn’t rap in Winchester, in which she plays the real-life Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester firearms company fortune who believed her family was cursed by all the people who were killed by a Winchester rifle. Winchester bought a home in 1886 in San Jose, Calif., and spent the next 38 years expanding the house with around-the-clock construction because she believed she needed to provide a home for the spirits. The eccentric design includes 160 rooms with staircases that lead to nowhere, windows installed on floors and the number 13 appearing in many of the design elements.



In one particularly disturbing scene, Mirren becomes possessed by a spirit from the Civil War who is trying to kill her and her niece and young grandnephew. Mirren’s body twists and contorts as she growls a la Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

“We went thought different manifestations of that voice and I lost my voice actually doing it,” Mirren said. “I couldn’t speak the next day."

“I’ve seen possessed people in Africa [in the southern part of Nigeria] and god bless the Internet, but I Googled 'possession' and you can see film of people who look possessed or believe they’re possessed because it’s all about belief in the end,” she said.

Directed by brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, the film costars Jason Clarke as a psychiatrist sent by the Winchester board of directors to evaluate Winchester’s mental state in the early 1900s. Clarke says when he complimented Mirren on how good she was at acting possessed, “she grabbed me and said, ‘I didn’t play Cleopatra three times for nothing!’"

“It was a wonderful reminder that becoming Cleopatra is like being possessed by a ghost,” Clarke said. “It’s all quite similar.”

Audience members were given black veils paying homage to the one Mirren wears throughout the movie and in the film’s creepy poster. Spiritual medium James Van Praagh was also on hand to provide readings, with one woman tearing up as he gave her messages that he said were being communicated through him from her late sister, mother and father.