Helen Mirren Dedicates Roundabout Theatre Honor to Alan Howard in Bittersweet Speech

Photo by Greg Allen/Invision/AP
Jennifer Garner and Helen Mirren

Jennifer Garner presented the Jason Robards Award for Excellence in Theatre to the Dame, alongside Alec Baldwin, Matthew Broderick, Alessandro Nivola and Judith Light.

While on the plane to New York City to share the stage with Helen Mirren in The Audience, Dylan Baker happened to catch a screening of his new co-star in The Hundred-Foot Journey.

"Playing this French character, so reserved and so snooty — the humanity she brought to that, I was so floored," Baker told The Hollywood Reporter of Mirren, the Roundabout Theatre Company's spring gala honoree, receiving The Jason Robards Award for Excellence in Theatre. Now, in Stephen Daldry's production at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, Baker admires her "blue-collar" approach: "Let's just work on the play and make it as great as possible."

Judith Light, who saw Mirren in The Audience this past weekend, said of the actress as Queen Elizabeth II, "I learned what stillness, listening and presence on the stage is really about, watching her. I've seen almost everything she's done and I love what she does, but watching her just be there and give sway to the other people she's working with is just stunning to behold."

Alessandro Nivola, who has played both her lover and son onstage, noted that "her most defining quality is fearlessness," while Carla Gugino added, "She's at her most cool now, and she's been infinitely cool since she started. I know that's a funny word to use for Dame Helen Mirren, and yet I think that's exactly what makes her so extraordinary."

Despite the ubiquitous praise on the red carpet from Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Garner and Joel Grey, Mirren humbly told reporters that she's overjoyed to be bringing the hit West End production to the States, where audiences "laugh more and certainly applaud more at the end" in comparison to British theater patrons. Throughout her varied career, she told The Hollywood Reporter that she has held on to timeless advice: "Fight fair."

Inside the Waldorf Astoria grand ballroom, Mirren was the subject of lots of jokes about being Queen (as in, a member of the rock band, a gay male in the West Village and the actual member of royalty — "God save you!"), plus a selection of musical theater numbers by Victor Garber, Kelli O'Hara, Laura Benanti, Alan Cumming and the On the Twentieth Century cast, introduced by Alec Baldwin. "I was probably the worst singer in the Roundabout family, and I've carried that with me for many years — until tonight," he told the ballroom after dinner. "[But] there's one thing Helen Mirren can't do: she can't sing!"


Kathryn Erbe, Byron Jennings and Ron Rifkin introduced a reel with Broadway welcomes from Sean Hayes, David Hyde Pierce, Hugh Jackman, Broderick and Martin Short, Jessie Mueller, Josh Radnor, as well as the casts of Les Miserables and Gentleman's Guide, Kinky Boots, You Can't Take It With You and Cabaret. Garner then presented the annual honor to Mirren.

"Doesn't weigh much — you can wear it as an earring!" said the Dame of the trophy. Her speech recounted the highs of her 50-year stage career, including her 1995 Broadway debut in A Month in the Country. "I felt a bit like a peasant approaching Constantinople — it seemed so alive with energy and possibility and danger and the unknown, and I just couldn't have been more excited," she recalled.

With a bittersweet sentiment, Mirren dedicated the award to her fellow theatre actors, especially the late British stage star Alan Howard, whom she often watched from the wings, mourning how many would never experience his work.

"That is the pain and the truth and the beauty of theater: no matter where in the world it occurs, it goes," Mirren reflected. "It only lives for that moment in the stage shared by strangers, and from then on, can only reside in your memory. It is that engagement with the transitory nature of life that draws many actors to the art. It is as if you are struggling with the very nature of life, its innermost secret. ... These are the people who choose to contemplate and communicate this most challenging element of life. It doesn't stop. Everything moves on."

Mirren lightheartedly closed her speech by noting the difference between British and American actors: "The American actors learn their lines! They do! They arrive for rehearsals superbly prepared, open and ready for anything. The British arrive as if they've been at an all-night party, and all they want to be is at home and bed, and they're not sure whether they're at rehearsal or some kind of self-help meeting. But just below the superficial differences beats the same heart. It's a sensitive heart. It's a brave and searching heart."

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