Helen Mirren, 'Hitchcock' Star, On Meeting Alfred Hitchcock: 'I Was Arrogant & Ignorant'

'I Was Arrogant & Ignorant'

Helen Mirren doesn't possess magical powers, it just seems that way. Since winning an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2006 for playing Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen," Mirren has turned into one of Hollywood's biggest female stars. In the last six years, she's starred in 11 films (including box-office hits like "Red" and "National Treasure: Book of Secrets"), earned another Oscar nomination (for "The Last Station") and become a fixture on the sexiest celebrities lists that fill up the pages of men's magazines.

Now, the 67-year-old is paired with Sir Anthony Hopkins for "Hitchcock," director Sacha Gervasi's fact-based story about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of "Psycho." Mirren plays Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife and confidant, in a role that could land her a fifth Oscar nomination in January.

HuffPost Entertainment spoke to Mirren about how her own life mirrors Alma's, why awards season is important for small films, and what happened when she auditioned for Alfred Hitchcock.

Sacha is a first-time director. For a film as intimate as this one, did that concern you at all?You just have to trust your instincts. If you always try to work with experienced directors [you'll never work]. I loved Sacha's film, "Anvil." It's very hard to make a good documentary because it's the question of finding the story in the material. He did that so well with "Anvil." There was an absolute story there, with a beginning, middle and end, and with characters and development. So, he had a clear sense of drama. Also, the fact that he had written a lot and been around a lot of film sets; it wasn't like someone just coming out of film school. All of that aside, though, it was his enthusiasm; I just liked him. In the end, I loved the character and loved the script, so what do you do but go ahead and see what happens?

You're married to Taylor Hackford, a famous director. Did your real-life relationship help inform the way you played Alma?My husband is not like Alfred Hitchcock at all, but I do know the obsession. The utter commitment. But, also, I had a whiff of what Alma's talking about in her big speech. For a while, Taylor was the head of a small studio, and he had the ability to green light movies. It was unbelievable when you'd go to the Hollywood parties: People would literally just shove you aside to get to him, to tell him about a script or an actor that they wanted to get into one of his movies. It was absolutely ruthless and one had to be very patient and polite. It was absolutely galling, though, because you so didn't matter. You were so profoundly unimportant. Hollywood is a very small world; the people who matter matter and the people who don't matter are just like nothing.

You mentioned Alma's speech. That's a key scene for both the character and the film. How do you prepare for something like that?That's what we do. That's our job: To be able to do it on the day that we have to do it. There's no good in saying, "Oh, I don't feel like it that day; can we do it tomorrow?" Nowadays, especially in this sort of movie, you're not going to get a lot of takes. You're not going to be able to spend a day on it; you've got to be in there, you've got to know it and you've got to do it. That's what you do, especially in the theater: 7:30, you've got to start, whether you want to or not. So, you find it somewhere. What's great about Tony [Hopkins], because we both come from a similar background, is his understanding of what you need when those moments come. The kind of support you need, the kind of space you need to do what you have to do.

What surprised you about Anthony as a co-star?I think his kindness, actually. His kindness and his generosity. You know, he's Welsh; and he's very volcanic and complicated. But that doesn't interfere with being extremely kind and extremely supportive of all people around him. Quite honestly, it was weird for me, because all the hours of the day that I was on set with him, he looked like Hitch. And he was Hitch. In a weird way, Tony -- in my mind -- became Hitch. That's who Tony Hopkins was. I hated seeing him take his face off. But at the end of the day he would just rip it off, because he was so sick of [the makeup]. He would pull it off in this weird movement. I hated that, because that was the man that I loved. Do you know what I mean? Then, when the real Tony was there, it was like, "Who's that? That's the famous actor Tony Hopkins?" [Laughs]

Alma is a strong female character. When you're choosing roles, do you feel a responsibility to pick those type of parts?I don't like the word "strong," because a strong character is never an interesting character. A character is made interesting by their vulnerabilities and their weaknesses. It's more of a complex character, rather than a strong character. Strong is boring. Having said that, Alma actually was quite a strong character [laughs]. She was fierce, she was very self-confident as a real person. Very proactive. Proactive is good.

You do, however, look for characters that are not just a cipher or just a tool for the writer to give certain information. The kind of roles where you're usually asking the male character, "Why did you do that? Where are you going now? What happened there?" [Laughs] That's very annoying.

You've obviously gone through awards season before. Do you find all the Oscar chatter exhausting?It is exhausting, if you're involved in it and caught up in it. For a small film like this is, however, it's great. Because, ultimately, we all make our movies because we want people to watch them. The only way to get people to watch them is to draw peoples' attentions to them, and a great way to do that is to start receiving awards or getting recognition like that. So, it's an incredibly important resource for a movie. I try to see it in that context: That you're there to serve the movie in whatever way you can. If you're proud of it, which I am. I'm very happy to be a part of it.

Did you get meet Alfred Hitchcock?I did. When I was a very young actress, just starting out, I was sent for an audition -- or a meeting with him. I don't think he would have auditioned me; I think he either thought you looked right or you didn't. I was arrogant and ignorant and, at that time, he was just not my kind of film director. I was into Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roberto Rossellini; those were the directors I loved. I was, you know, as one is when one is young, just ridiculously self-opinionated. So, I didn't really like him, and I know he didn't like me very much. He certainly didn't cast me. He took one look at me and went, "Oh, good God. She's going to be a nightmare." [Laughs]

What was the film?It was for "Frenzy," the film he was making in London. I didn't want to do it because all those roles were horrible anyway.

'Hitchcock' Photos

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