Dame of the British Empire, queen of Hollywood and star of the new film The Hundred-Foot Journey, Helen Mirren is one of the most admired actresses of our time. In an intimate, wide-ranging conversation, she talks to Oprah about hard work, luck, marriage, her obsession with all things French, and why her 60s may be her best decade yet.

On the bright April morning when I pulled into Helen Mirren's driveway at the foot of the Hollywood Hills, I encountered the sweetest scene: two wrought-iron chairs, shaded by palm trees, set beside a tranquil stone fountain, and the dame herself walking toward me, arms open wide. I knew we were in for an incredible chat, because Dame Helen simply radiates warmth—in her presence, you feel an instant connection, a sense that here is a woman comfortable being exactly who she is.

Helen's sincerity, depth and uncompromising individuality have made her a Hollywood legend. She was raised by a butcher's daughter and a taxi driver (who later worked in the British Ministry of Transport) and got her start on the London stage. She was bold from the beginning: Do yourself a favor and dig up the amazing YouTube clip of young Helen in the '70s, schooling interviewer Michael Parkinson, who was asking sexist questions. And she's never shied away from gritty, provocative, demanding, or risky parts. Many of you first met her in the TV series Prime Suspect, in which she played an alcoholic detective, Jane Tennison—a woman every bit as flawed as the men around her. She was in her 40s at the time, and after that, her career really exploded. Who else could play the queen of England with such humanity? Or make an action-thriller franchise (RED) sing with humor? How about pull off pink hair and a bikini in her 60s? Helen has been nominated for four Oscars (and won one) in the last two decades. She even managed to publish a fascinating autobiography, In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures, in 2007. When I think about women who refuse to be defined by their age—or by the so-called rules of public life—Helen tops the list.

She also topped the list of actresses my friend Steven Spielberg hoped would star in the new film The Hundred-Foot Journey, which I coproduced with him. Helen plays Madame Mallory, a classically trained chef in France who is threatened by the opening of a soulful Indian restaurant across the street from her own Michelin-starred establishment. It should come as no surprise that Helen turns the snooty, stodgy Mallory into a textured, lovable character—one you'll be rooting for by the end of the film.

As we spoke about everything from her love of peasant food to her relationship with American director Taylor Hackford—whom she married in 1997, after they'd been together more than a decade—I was moved and delighted by her candor and wit. Time may pass, roles may change, but as we've learned again and again, Helen Mirren will always be exactly who she is: incredible, and utterly one of a kind.


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