Helen Mirren Thinks 'Catherine the Great's' Empress Might Have Enjoyed Tinder

Catherine the Great premiere - Getty - H 2019
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

But the Russian regent was more serial monogamist than carnal adventuress, the actress said at the Thursday night premiere of the HBO miniseries.

The many romances of Catherine the Great have been the stuff of legend for centuries, and after playing the famed 18th century Russian empress at the center of HBO’s miniseries Catherine the Great, Dame Helen Mirren says that like dating app users today, Catherine enjoyed swiping right.

“I think she liked to have someone to laugh with, she liked to have someone to have dinner with — I  think she would have been probably on Tinder in this day and age, as so many other people are,” Mirren told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere of the four-hour mini, held appropriately at the antiquities-minded Hammer Museum in Los Angeles' Westwood neighborhood. “So, yes, she liked men. Definitely. And she had a sexual life, as well as a political life. But as she said, ‘My problem is I love love too much.’”

“What's important to understand is that Catherine was serially monogamous,” said Mirren, who headlines the series which debuted on Sky Atlantic in the United Kingdom earlier this month and bows on the pay cable network Oct. 21. “Yes, she had a series of lovers, but they were lovers: she had a relationship with them. When she got tired of them, she sent them off with a palace. She paid them off very nicely. She didn't chop off their heads, like a lot of men did with their ex-lovers, and she certainly didn't behave any more — in fact, a lot less — promiscuously than all of the male heads of state around her at the time. But she liked to have a man on her arm.”

Having played her fair share of roles culled from the history books, Mirren says she continues to marvel at what people of other eras accomplished.

“History's always fantastic,” Mirren told THR. “When you play these historical characters and you start really looking at what they achieved in a day, it really takes your breath away. They almost seem to be superhuman.”

“To engage with these personalities and think about them and try to put yourself into their world is a real journey into…not a fantasy, because it happened, but an extraordinary experience,” said Mirren, who shot various scenes in series in the monarch’s own Catherine Palace and nearby St. Petersberg. “If you find yourself, as we did on this, shooting in the real palaces of Catherine…you have that experience times a hundred. So, it's a trip. It was really an extraordinary experience.”

Mirren’s co-star Jason Clarke, who plays Grigory Potemkin, the revered Russian military leader, statesmen and paramour of Catherine, was fascinated by his time in the former Soviet nation. “It's been at the forefront in the news of everything going on in the world, and then you meet them and the film crews and they've seen our work, they love our cinema, they're excited to be there working with, not Hollywood, but filmmakers and actors that they know and you realize how much we have in common…I think, ‘Why aren't we getting on here? Why is there such discord?’”

Director Phillip Martin, who helmed all four episodes, said he hopes the miniseries helps illuminate Russia in ways modern audiences can appreciate.

“Because of the Cold War I think we don't really understand Russia and, in a way, it was great for us to get the chance to look at it,” said Martin. “What was nice was just to be able to visit the country and work with the people, because when you work on a set, when you go and shoot somewhere, 90 percent of the people are Russian. So we worked with a lot of Russians and it was actually really a wonderful experience to be there. And in some ways to get beyond the Cold War stereotype and actually live and work in this country that has so much culture, and so much art, and so much of a world that we don't know about.”

Clarke said he was keen to work opposite Mirren and felt like he gained some insight into why the Emmy and Academy Award winner is as good as she is. “There's an ease to Helen,” he explained. “And I think every actor has to understand as they get older; it has to flow out of you with a sense of ease, otherwise you'll run out of battery.”

“We worked together first on Prime Suspect, and it was such a pleasure to work with her again, agreed Martin. “Helen understands the film set, I think, better than anyone I've ever worked with…. She's able to bring such energy to the set, and somehow when you're working with her, everyone else brings their A-game, too. And the whole set, the whole shoot, just gets an extra energy and impetus to it.”

Since her much-admired stint as detective Jane Tennison and her ascent as a major movie star, it’s been nearly 14 years since Mirren has acted for television, minus a voiceover one-off on Glee and HBO’s Phil Spector telepic, and she was thrilled to have the room to take a deep dive into Catherine’s story.

“It's fantastic to be able to tell a story over a longer form, and I love the fact that audiences love it,” she said. “I do, as an audience. Especially when it's given in these sections, so you can watch it all or you can watch half, you can watch a quarter, three-quarters — it's formulated in that way. I find that very satisfying as an audience.”