‘I’m not beautiful; I clean up nice’

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‘I’m not beautiful; I clean up nice’

Helen Mirren talks about her humble beginnings, marrying an American director and why it’s “bloody irrelevant” whether she’s aging gracefully

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Published: Sat 18 Dec 2010, 9:51 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:18 PM

Oscar Winner Helen Mirren has never been busier. Hot off the spy action drama “RED,” she next appears as Prospera in Julie Taymor’s “The Tempest,” as well as in next year’s remake of “Arthur.” She also is active in supporting Oxfam and other charities that assist youth and the elderly.

You were born Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironov to a Russian father and an English mother. What was your childhood like?

I grew up outside of London in a town called Southend-on-Sea, which I’d say is the British equivalent of Coney Island. My father was born in Russia and came to England when he was two years old. So in a sense, I grew up the daughter of an immigrant. My parents had a love of the arts, but they came from a lower-income background. My father was a taxicab driver in my early days.

Did you feel poor?

I was aware that we couldn’t afford a lot of things, but my parents made up for it. They would take us to anything that was free: art galleries, a walk in the park.

What were you like as a teenager?

A bit of a dreamer. Around about 13 or 14, I decided that I wanted to be an actress. I knew I wanted to engage in the world of the imagination, but it was not economically feasible for me to study acting, so I went to a teachers’ training college.

You met your husband, director Taylor Hackford, on the set of the film “White Nights” in the mid-1980s. Did you ever think you’d be married to an American?

(Laughs.) I always loved America. I used to look out the window of my bedroom as a kid, and there were these stars that, in my mind, made a big “A” in the sky. I thought my destiny was to go there.

You and Taylor split your time between London and L.A. When you aren’t working, how do you relax?

I love to garden, and I like to paint and draw. I also like to go out to dinner, but rarely to posh restaurants. We go to funky ethnic joints in Los Angeles: Korean, Mexican, Japanese places.

You’ve won fans as a role model for having sex appeal in your 60s. How does that make you feel?

A bit cross, actually. We have to let go of this crap. It creates even more pressure on women, and I certainly don’t want to be a part of that. I’m not beautiful; I clean up nice. Why don’t we talk about the fact, for example, that I just did “Arthur,” and the cinematographer was a woman, the film operator was a woman, the whole camera team were women? That’s where we should be putting our attention. The fact that I look good at the age I am is bloody irrelevant.

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