Helen Mirren is largely thought of as a distinguished, multiple-award-winning actress (she picked up an Oscar for "The Queen") -- a woman of rarified dignity, beauty, and poise. But in "Red 2," opening this week, you get to see a whole different side of Mirren, as she reprises her role as Victoria, a ruthless British assassin who is tasked by the English government to bring down the killer cads played by Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, and others.
The movie, directed by "Galaxy Quest" helmer Dean Parisot, is a riot, largely thanks to Mirren's knowing, winky portrayal of Victoria. It's a side the actress dosen't express enough, but is appreciated all the same.
We got to talk to Mirren about what it was like returning to the "Red" universe, her role in another big-budget franchise movie this summer ("Monsters University"), and getting recognized at the Gap for a movie most people forgot about.
Why did you decide to come back for another "Red"? You could have said no!
On the contrary. It's not just not saying no, it's on my knees begging to be written into it, basically. The first one was such incredible fun to do, so I was thrilled to hear they were doing a second one. I would have been terribly upset if they hadn't had me in it.
So if they do a third one, you're in?
Absolutely. I'll be first in line.
But tell me honestly -- you're getting sick of Anthony Hopkins, right? [The two worked together in this last year's "Hitchcock"].
[Laugh] No! It is so funny, I've wanted to work with him ever since I was 20. And it just never happened. Our careers never intersected and then suddenly I get to do two with him in one year. That was a great treat.
What was it like working on "Hitchcock?" I thought it was weirdly overlooked.
I agree. I can't understand why. Fox really supported it and I think it got messed up with that HBO piece. It confused it and confused the issue. They got out there first and I think that blew it for us. I thought it was a wonderful film -- sweet, funny, beautifully directed.
And you're also in "Monsters University" this summer.
Yes! I'm in two great franchises!
What was it like working with the Pixar guys?
Well, again, that was a bit of a dream come true because I had loved Pixar from a distance for a long time and admired their work so much. John Lasseter is a friend of my husband's and we were at a function and he said, "I've got a role for you!" I thought, Oh brilliant! I went up to Pixar, had the Pixar experience, which is unbelievable -- just extraordinary -- and then did my recording and there I am.
Did they have your character, Dean Hardscrabble, designed by the time you got up there?
I saw early versions.
It's kind of amazing that you're in these two huge summer franchises. Did you ever think that this would be a part of your career?
No, of course not. That's the great fun of my job -- you never know what's around the corner. People always ask, 'What do you want to do next?' And I don't know because I want the thing you do next to come out and surprise me. Three years ago I would have never thought that I would be in a Pixar movie or indeed "Red" -- that came out of left field.
Did you lobby to have more physical stuff in this one?
No that was all constructed in. They put that in.
I noticed you have a tattoo in this movie.
You know, it's my tattoo. I've had that for a very long time. Usually I have to cover it up. When I get a role when I don't have to cover it up, I jump at it.
Did you ever ask Bruce for action film tips?
I didn't ask him for tips but I watched him. I watched him like a hawk on the first and second. The action stuff takes care of itself -- that's constructed and planned and all you have to do is try and do whatever you have to do, efficiently and without looking too klutzy. But the tone of the performance in an action movie is terribly important and Bruce has that, I guess the word is insouciance. He has a wonderful, natural but intense [style] -- it's small and intense but incredibly relaxed.
Where would you like to see your character go in the next installment?
That's a great question. I mean, certainly in that paring with [Lee] Byung-hun, it would be great to see them go forward because they're such a lovely, unexpected pairing. I loved her being rude. I don't know how much is in the movie but I was constantly thinking of lines to put him down.
They've got to find a way to bring Morgan Freeman back.
Oh totally. I couldn't agree more. I missed him. We could have brought him back. We had such a great cast in this one.
What do you have coming up?
I just finished a play. I was in London doing a play for the past six months. So I have a rest coming up.
Well enjoy little kids coming up to you and calling you Dean Hardscrabble!
Luckily they won't recognize me. I did a film called "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" and there was a couple of years where I would be in the Gap -- for some reason it was always while I was in the Gap -- and the girl behind the counter would say, "Oh my god it's Mrs. Tingle!" [laughs]