'Trumbo' Actress Helen Mirren on Hedda Hopper: "She Saw Herself as a Patriot"

Courtesy of Bleecker Street Media
Helen Mirren in 'Trumbo'

The actress discusses playing one of Hollywood's most notorious — and feared — reporters.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

For Trumbo, Helen Mirren set out to inhabit one of postwar Hollywood’s most powerful and feared real-life figures: Hedda Hopper, the arch conservative syndicated gossip columnist who reached more than 30 million newspaper readers.

Did you know a lot about Hedda Hopper before taking the role in Trumbo?

I knew of her. She's such a powerful, interesting influence — at a time when women weren't allowed a lot of power. Between her and Louella Parsons [syndicated columnist of the Los Angeles Examiner], the two of them worked their way into becoming extremely powerful movers and shakers. They could make or break a movie. Or a career. There is no one around like her today. [She was like] Twitter, Facebook, Maureen Dowd, the film critics, reaching out across the country. She had a huge power over the box office, much more than anyone nowadays.

So what was your approach to the role? How did you prepare?

When you play a role like this, you research the character, you read about them, and then you come to your own per­sonal conclusions about what drives them and where you feel their energy and motor comes from.

What were your conclusions?

There's a scene sadly cut out of the movie where a soldier from the Korean War comes up to her and says, "I just want to thank you for what you're doing for this country." She saw herself as a patriot. She loved, above all, America. I think she was mistaken in how she went about it. Ironically, she used Stalinist methods — it was absurd, ridiculous. But in a sense, Hedda was right. What was happening in Soviet Russia, with the Bolsheviks, was awful. I don't like to call it communism — I call it Bolshevism. And what was happening was so horrific. This was before cellphones, before things were quick to come out. It was years before we heard about the gulags from Solzhenitsyn.

So you think she had a point?

You have to remember the era, coming out of the second world war, all of these huge world-shaking changes going on, the rise of capitalism and fascism. And people were terrified of unions. Now unions are completely acceptable. It's an acceptable part of capitalism. But there was a terror of it. And there still is a certain disconnect in America between socialism — a horror! — and in Europe, where it's looked at as a good thing, with health care and other social services.

Most importantly, Hedda's famous hats. She was never seen without one. What was up with that?

Her look was very important to her; it was a character she put on. She costumed herself.