Sunday, June 1, 2014

6 Reasons Why I Love Helen Mirren More Than I Did Before Reading Her "AARP" Cover Story

1. She was a late bloomer. Dame Helen Mirren plays such a pivotal role -- and pivotal roles -- in contemporary film that it's easy to forget that she hasn't always been so prominent in our movie and TV watching. David Hochman's cover story on her in the June/July 2014 issue of AARP The Magazine reminded me.

When I first heard the words "Helen Mirren" (actually, read them, in an Entertainment Weekly TV review) she was starring in Prime Suspect, and she was already in her late 40s. In my early 20s at the time, I didn't realize how significant it was for an actress to be breaking through at that relatively advanced age, and until my attempt at reinvention in my own middle ages, I wouldn't fully comprehend the vicarious thrill of it. Twenty years later, Mirren confirms that you can hit your stride later in life and still have a long and fruitful heyday ahead.

2. She waited for love -- and found it. On the subject of good things coming to those who wait and persevere, Mirren and her husband, film director Taylor Hackford (Ray), who met in the '80s and married in 1997, when both were in their fifties, confirm that there's hope for me yet in the romantic arena, too. In fact, there might be even more hope than before.
"I used to say to Taylor, 'Oh, why didn't we meet earlier?' But it's a really good thing because we probably wouldn't be together now. I couldn't have dealt with him earlier on. He would have been much too difficult. He was quite difficult as it was, but I got through that."
3. Regrets, she as but none, not even the absence of motherhood from her list of accomplishments.
"I never felt the need for a child and never felt the loss of it."
With due respect to all of the parents out there, just because it is the most important thing you'll ever do does not mean that particular life hierarchy applies to everyone. As much as I still hope to eventually experience what it's like to have someone call me "dad," I'd like to think that my life wouldn't automatically lack gravitas if it never happens.

Parenthood doesn't necessarily make you a better person, or your life more significant, or complete. It simply means you have children, and you are leading a much different life from those who don't. Around the time I was discovering Mirren in the '90s, Stevie Nicks told me that the one regret she has in life is never having had children. I wish I had been wise enough then to tell her that her music will be just as valuable a legacy.

4. You'll never find her communicating in hash tags. Most of the commentary I've read on the AARP article revolves around Mirren's views on motherhood and why she never went there, but I find what she has to say about social media to be far more fascinating and clever. What can I say? I'm a sucker for a great metaphor!
"It reminds me of a stinky old pub. In the corner would be this slightly disgusting old man who sits there all day, every day. If you went up and talked to him, you'd get the kind of grumpy, horrible, moldy, old meaningless crap that you read on Twitter."
I wouldn't go quite that far, but as much as I appreciate social media as a bridge over the communication gap that separates continents, I sometimes long for the days when "friends" were people we actually knew, and conversations were conducted predominantly in sentences, not soundbites. Now it seems we have become a society of egocentric, narcissistic "followers" who are obsessed with being followed in return, begging to be "liked" by as many people as possible, and oversharing the minutiae of our lives and minds. Blogging wouldn't be the same without it!

5. She really is just like us. Years ago, an Us Weekly colleague surprised me by telling me of an unexpected celebrity sighting: Helen Mirren on the New York City subway during the morning rush hour. "She was riding the subway?" I asked, incredulous. The AARP story re-confirms her down-to-earthiness:
"But the actress, who's keen on the low-budget carrier Ryanair and prefers her little Nokia to a highbrow smartphone..."
Adds Lasse Hallstrom, the director of her upcoming film The Hundred-Foot Journey (due in August), "With Helen, there's no posturing or pretension..."

And she can twerk it, too.

6. She's true to her heritage -- but not limited by it. Mirren has earned Oscar and Emmy nominations for playing at least three English queens (in The Madness of King George, Elizabeth I and The Queen) and two Russian divas (in The Passion of Ayn Rand and The Last Station). Until I read it in the AARP profile, I never knew her mother was English and her dad Russian, which, of course, reminded me that Mirren won one of her four Emmys for her portrayal of one of my favorite writers, Ayn Rand, in the 1999 TV movie The Passion of Ayn Rand.

Her real name: Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironoff. Imagine all that on the Best Actress Oscar she won for playing Elizabeth II (whose royal forerunner and namesake she resurrected for the third of her Emmy-winning performances, in 2005's Elizabeth I ) in the 2006 film The Queen. Mindful of her roots though Mirren may be, is there any doubt that she could have pulled off Abraham Lincoln had Daniel Day-Lewis not been available?
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