Meeting any famous actress can be pretty daunting, particularly if they’re a dame and have won an Oscar for playing the Queen. But Dame Helen Mirren is delightfully down-to-earth.
We’re both wearing black lace tops and shoe-boots, hers a wonderful opened-toed leopard skin pair, and she comments on the similarity of our outfits to break the ice.
The truth is I’m a good 30 years younger but she looks way more glamorous, and far more trim, than me. Plus, she looks better in a swimsuit.
Known as much for stripping off in Calendar Girls and those candid red bikini pictures from 2008 as she is for her screen credits, the 67-year-old has bared almost all again in her latest film, Hitchcock, in which she plays Alma Reville, the wife of the great Hollywood director.
There’s a scene where Alma, in defiance of their economic situation, buys a new red swimming costume and plunges into the couple’s pool, which they might lose if Alfred’s next film, Psycho, doesn’t sell.
At the start of the film she’s also in her underwear so, as tacky as it sounds, I simply can’t stop myself from marvelling at her figure. How does she do it?
“Oh God, don’t ask!” she says, laughing, raising her eyes to heaven in mock (I hope) exasperation. “I don’t know. Judicious cutting and editing, it’s a very good thing. If you look there’s some very judicious editing going on...”
Careful editing or not, Hitchcock, in which Anthony Hopkins plays the director, is a fascinating insight into Alma Reville – how incredible a woman she was, and how much she was responsible for making Psycho the success it would become.
As a script and film editor, Alma was the strong woman behind the powerful man and made clever choices that would shape the film, including insisting on the screechy soundtrack in the iconic shower scene.
“I didn’t know anything about their relationship before,” admits Mirren, revealing that it was Alma’s ‘strong character’ that drew her to the script.
Hitchcock was obsessed with his leading ladies, almost to the point of cheating on Alma, and Psycho was no different when he cast Janet Leigh (played by Scarlett Johansson) as the tragic heroine, just the latest in his string of ‘Hitchcock blondes’.
But Alma overlooked these dalliances, and spent 54 years as his wife and collaborator.
“It is a love story,” says Mirren. “And I think that Alma and Hitch were, in their own funny, unglamorous way, a great kind of Romeo and Juliet partnership. They were amazing partners in life and I think they could teach us all something about how to make a successful marriage.”
Mirren herself knows a thing or two about making a marriage work, having been in a relationship with American director husband Taylor Hackford since 1986 (they tied the knot in 1997).
Surprisingly, Mirren and Hopkins had never actually worked together before and then, like buses, two film projects came along at once – Hitchcock and Red 2, the action movie sequel.
“We worked really really well together and I think it’s because we have a similar background of acting,” she says.
And what does she think Hitchcock and Alma would have made of the new movie?
“I think they would’ve loved it actually, I do. I think it’s caught their sense of humour and the nature of their relationship; loving but acerbic and drily funny.
“I have a feeling that there’s something in the essence of that that is very close to the truth.”