Above: Mirren with husband Taylor Hackford.

HELEN: I'm greedy. I'm not a foodie. My favorite dish in the world—my mouth is watering just thinking about it—is from a Spanish restaurant in Madrid. It's essentially fries with a fried egg on top, and it's so good. It's called huevos estrellados.

OPRAH: That would be like crack to me.

HELEN: It is like crack. You've got to try it. The egg kind of cooks in the fries. So I'm not a foodie, but I love peasant food.

OPRAH: And how did you end up in Los Angeles?

HELEN: I guess it was when I fell in love with my husband. That's really the beginning and the end of the story. I had worked in L.A.—I made 2010 in an old MGM studio and loved being in the place where so many iconic movies were made—but doing White Nights with Taylor really cemented my move. Otherwise, I'm not sure I would have spent more than a couple of years here.

OPRAH: In your autobiography, which is so beautifully done, I was surprised to read that you didn't grow up wanting to get married. You were never the woman who wanted to wear the dress.

HELEN: As an actor, you don't need that because you've worn the dress. You've stood in the spotlight. You've had everyone looking at you. And on top of that, for a long time I just didn't see the point of marriage. I was lucky—as I came into adulthood, it was no longer looked down upon to live with a guy. My parents were a little shocked in the beginning, but they sort of got used to the idea that I would live with a series of men. I had four or five serious long-term relationships.

OPRAH: But you ended up falling in love at an age when you thought—

HELEN: In my late 30s, yes. Which now doesn't seem that old. I think it was the perfect time.

OPRAH: You had really stepped into yourself.

HELEN: Absolutely. I used to say to Taylor, "I wish we'd met earlier on. We've missed so much time together." And he'd say, "We'd never be together now if we'd met earlier." And I think he's actually right because we were both on a trajectory of work and ambition and, of course, to a certain extent, wanting to resolve ourselves as ourselves. Before I met Taylor, all my relationships took second place to my work. If I had to go to Africa, it was, "Bye-bye, I'm off to Africa." And then he came into my life, and I started thinking, "Maybe it's time to have a different attitude—and to say that my relationship is at least as important as my work." To give it the time.

OPRAH: Make room for it.

HELEN: Exactly.

OPRAH: What is it about Taylor that makes your heart leap to this day?

HELEN: His loyalty. Not just to me, but to his family and friends. He's got this wonderful ability to mentor, to support, to encourage. If anything makes my heart go, "Oh, I love him," it's when I see him do that without thinking twice about it.

OPRAH: Is that what finally made you say "Yes, let's get married" in 1997?

HELEN: No. That had a lot to do with our extended family: his two children, my sister, my nephew, my nephew's children, all the people around us. Although I don't have children myself, I feel family oriented, and we knew it was going to make them happy to know that we were a solid center. It was also about finances. You get older, and you realize you're going to kick the bucket sooner or later, and you've got to think about how to sort that all out. That's tough to do if you're single! That's the inequity of not letting gay people get married.

OPRAH: Aren't we blessed that we live in a time when that is changing.

HELEN: Aren't we just. It makes me feel terribly embarrassed about the attitudes that were prevalent when I was younger. One of the reasons, incidentally, why I always loved being an actor was that you're in a fraternity of theater and film where none of that shit happened. It was open, and it was free.

OPRAH: And when did you know you were an artist? Not an actress, but an artist— someone drawn toward expressing the poetry of life?

HELEN: It was very early on, when I fell in love with Shakespeare and the thoughts and the philosophies and the amazing words and the romance. I was living in a little, mundane town in England—my parents were not small-minded, but the town had an element of that—when I was exposed to those amazing stories. But still, in a way, I don't think of myself as an artist. That's a slightly British thing. You've got to get up and do the job and get on with it. Don't be fussy about it. Just do it.


Next Story