Helen Mirren On 'RED 2,' Her Surprising Love For 'Iron Man,' And Looking Back At 'The Mosquito Coast'

Helen Mirren is even more delightful in person than my imagination had led me to believe. (Yes, I realize that past sentence is benign and the opposite of sensational, but would you be happy to learn that Helen Mirren is "mean"?) Though, I certainly wasn't expecting the conversation to drift toward "Iron Man," a movie Mirren apparently likes. "Apparently" only because it's hard to imagine Mirren sitting in a movie theater watching "Iron Man." A Merchant Ivory film or a Fellini classic? Sure. But "Iron Man"?

So, yes, Helen Mirren likes a good action movie. (And she will emphasize the word "good.") Speaking of action movies, Mirren reprises her role as Victoria in this weekend's new release, "RED 2." Basically, the gang is back together from the first film as Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and his pack of retired CIA agent pals try to stop a Cold War-era nuclear bomb from exploding in Russia.

Mirren has had a fascinating career, one that saw her fame increase exponentially after she turned 60. Ahead, Mirren talks about that phenomena and also looks back on one of her most famous roles of the '80s, co-starring with Harrison Ford in "The Mosquito Coast."

As part of a mission, you get to briefly play the queen again in 'RED 2.'
I do! You can't keep me away from that role, yeah [laughs].

Though, this queen is crazy.
Yes, a very, very naughty queen. I can't remember whose idea it was.

I was wondering if that was your idea.
I think it was my idea to do Elizabeth I. I think they said, "It would be funny if you thought you were the queen." I said, "Well, I don't want to do that with the present queen." So, I did do Elizabeth I. I did say, "Why don't we do Elizabeth I? It will be more fun." The red wig and, you know, the mad outfit and everything.

This is two movies in the last six months that we get to see you and Anthony Hopkins together. How does that work? On "Hitchcock" were you like, "Hey, you should do 'Red 2'"?
No, it was coincidental! And I didn't realize that Tony was already signed up for "Red 2" before we did "Hitchcock," because he didn't mention it. But, yes, it was just a wonderful synchronicity.

Do you like action movies?
I love watching action movies.

Yeah, I do. I mean good ones.

What do you consider good ones? Will you see something like "World War Z"? I am very curious what movies you see in your free time.
Well, the ones that work -- and it's very hard to make an action movie really work and it doesn't matter how much money you throw at it -- when they really work, they really work. And you can't really identify what it is. "Red" is definitely an intelligent script, which is a really useful element in an action movie. I like it when an action movie has some logic. I hate it when it's just "What? Why?" When there's no logic to it, it annoys me. I like a story that has a really good logic and has development of character.

What's an example of your ideal action movie?
I guess it's an action movie, "War of the Worlds."

I think that qualifies. And it has deeper undertones.
Yeah. That's a great action movie. I thought "Avatar" was in a sense an action movie, wasn't it -- an extraordinary movie. "Iron Man," the first "Iron Man" was really fun. Fantastic. Really great. From the moment it starts to the moment it ends, you're just with it, you're enjoying it, it's fun, it's funny -- that's what an action movie should be.

In my mind you seem too elegant to be watching those movies.
[Laughs] I mean, I do love my French intellectual movies, too. I do. I am that person as well. Very much. But, no, a good action movie, there's nothing quite like it. Partly because it does cost so much money. I mean, watching the result of an incredible amount of artists' work on the screen is extraordinary.

Your career is very interesting. I'm not talking about awards or recognition from your peers, but as far as pure fame, I feel things have changed dramatically for you over the last 10 years. People will now say, "I'm going to see the Helen Mirren movie," which I don't think used to something someone would say.
No, it wasn't a thing. You are absolutely right. And I'm not too sure it is now [laughs].

I promise I've heard people say that.
I think [pauses], I think that if I'm in a movie along with other people -- rather than a "Helen Mirren movie" -- I think that they think, Oh, she's in it. It might be good. I do think that, maybe. Do you know what I mean? That they think that what's around me -- the other actors and everything -- I am a, how can I put this? I am a good ingredient. Like a dish. And, "Oh, it's got that ingredient and I like that ingredient." Maybe it's more that.

When did you first realize that was happening? Not that you didn't always deserve that, but now it's a real thing.
No, you're absolutely right. You're totally right. I was in China recently and Chinese people were coming up to me asking for my autograph, which was extraordinary. I'm not sure that they knew exactly who I was. Maybe it was -- no, they did know who I was. Actually they did know who I was. I think it has a lot to do with the movie "The Queen" actually. I think it has a lot to do with that.

Were you surprised by how popular that movie became?
Yeah. I was surprised. I was. And I think it's all to do with the character of the Queen, actually. I think, in a way, certainly Britain, but over the planet, there's sort of a worldwide appreciation of what she's done over the last 60 years.

Here's an example. If "2010: The Year We Make Contact" came out today, people would be more likely to see it because you're in it.
Yes. Yes, that's true, it would be different. You're absolutely right.

I love "The Mosquito Coast." Was that a hard shoot?
Oh, I loved it. No, it was fantastic. Being in the jungle in Belize? I loved it. It was right up my alley. I remember the day I got that, I was just floating on air the day I was asked to be in that movie.

Did you have to audition?
Yes. I read with Harrison [Ford]. I was just so-- I've never been quite as happy as that day since -- because it was my first real Hollywood movie. I had done "2010," but I was more of a "visiting actress" at that point. And I guess I had also done "White Nights." But, somehow, with Harrison -- I think it was to do with Harrison, come to think of it.

In what way?
Because he was such a movie star in the real Hollywood tradition. And to be in a movie with a movie star was just very exciting to me. And he was trying to do something different.

I feel that movie is better perceived today than it was then.
They couldn't accept him. They couldn't handle it. They couldn't see their beloved Harrison Ford being this dark, conflicted, problematic character. They just couldn't stand it. They couldn't handle it. It's interesting.

You mentioned "White Nights." I just heard Lionel Ritchie's "Say You, Say Me" in a grocery store on the way over here.
[Laughs] Oh, yeah!

I'm sure you still hear that song a lot.
Yes. Absolutely. My husband ["White Nights" director Taylor Hackford] is incredible with music. And in all of his movies, he put amazing songs that became huge classics. The film he did before "White Nights," "Against All Odds" -- he's absolutely brilliant with music. And in the days when you put music in, the songs he put in all became huge number one hits. He was very clever.

I'm out of time.
Oh my God, that was quick.

I think they're going to kick me out, but we can keep talking.
Yeah, let's keep talking until they come in.

OK. So what else do you have going on? What's coming up?
Um ... [laughing] nothing!

OK, see, now they are asking me to leave.
We were laughing too much.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

'Red 2' Premiere Photos