Helen Mirren, “thespian royalty,” as Tina Brown described her, appeared at Brown’s Women in the World summit on Thursday afternoon. Unlike the serious dialogues about sexual violence, war, and other violations of human rights highlighted at the three-day-long gathering of powerful women, theirs was a more lighthearted conversation. Mirren joked about growing up with the Queen of England (whom Brits apparently love to call “her maj,” for short), touched on how her career has evolved, and how she handles misogyny in their 20-minute talk.
She learned how to play Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen by watching her childhood videos.
Mirren remembers footage of a 12-year-old Elizabeth getting out of a hearse-like car by herself, presumably to go complete one of her many royal obligations. “She gets out of that car with such a sense of ‘I’ve got to do this,’ and it’s so sweet. I watched that bit over and over again because I felt that somehow was telling me something deep about the reality of her as a person.”
Mirren’s been dealing with sexism for decades.
As a segue to another question, Brown unearthed a 40-year-old interview between Mirren, then an emerging actress, and Michael Parkinson (“the Charlie Rose of his time,” according to Brown). In the interview, Parkinson uses “equipment” as a euphemism for her breasts when asking her whether or not she thinks they get in the way of people considering her a “serious” actress. Absurd as the clip sounds now, in 2015, Mirren says that kind of sexism in the media hasn’t really changed; it just looks different: “The worst version of that, honestly, is often being interviewed by female journalists who insist on going on and on about plastic surgery.” Brown proceeded to ask her why she got married in her 50s.
She thinks actresses don’t earn as much as men because Hollywood cares more about serving male audiences.
“I read somewhere that when a young couple goes out on a date, the boy won’t go see the movie the girl wants to see, but the girl will go to see the movie the boy wants to see,” she explains. “Which is why men drive box office [numbers] and the Bruce Willises and Brad Pitts of the world get far more money.” Asked about Amy Pascal’s assertion that sometimes women don’t ask for more money, Mirren agreed it’s a possibility, but pointed out that a “huge box office movie star” like Meryl Streep deserves to be paid the same as her male counterparts without asking.
She used to count how many women she’d see on TV.
For a while, she’d watch TV and tally how many people she’d see in shows, the news, commercials, sports events, etc. on two pieces of paper — one for the men, and the other for the women. “We’re half of the human race, why are we not there on any level?” she remembered thinking. And when Brown praised Mirren for her ability to take on meaty roles at a later stage in her career, Mirren expressed her frustration with people’s surprise. “People often say, ‘It’s so terrible that women don’t have great roles in movies.’ I say: Forget that. That doesn’t matter. Change roles for women in life, and you will find the roles for women in drama,” she declared to voracious applause.
She thinks it’s time for America to have a woman as president.
“I’ve always said how incredibly important Margaret Thatcher was — although I didn’t agree with her politics. She was a role model for a little 3-year-old girl [to think] that she could become the prime minister of England. It’s so incredibly important. So go, Hillary!”