Above: Mirren in her Oscar-winning role as The Queen.

OPRAH: Even after you won an Oscar in 2006 for The Queen?

HELEN: The Oscar is just one of those amazing, magical moments that came out of the blue. Years ago, there used to be an ad in England for the lottery that featured an ordinary family going about their life and this big sparkly finger coming out of the sky and pointing in through the window as if to say, "It could be you, winning the lottery." I feel that way about the Oscar. It was a big finger that came out of the sky, and said, "It's you."

OPRAH: But you'd worked and worked and worked.

HELEN: Yes, but that's not what it's about. I guess it is to a certain extent, but you witness in your life so many incredibly talented people who deserve the greatest success but are not getting it for all kinds of reasons. So much of it is hard work, but it's a lottery, as well.

OPRAH: You won for your role as Queen Elizabeth II. I love the way that film came about.

HELEN: I was at a script meeting for Prime Suspect. I'd always get there first so I could greet people as they came in, put them at ease. I know what it's like to have a small role and be intimidated at readings, so I always made sure to say hi to everyone. The producer, Andy Harries, was watching, and he thought, "That's funny, they're treating her like the queen." But I wasn't behaving like the queen, I promise!

OPRAH: Had you already been made a dame?

HELEN: Yes, I had. And I don't actually look like the queen, but in roles where I've worn a dark wig, I look very much like Princess Margaret. So he was sitting there going, "She sort of looks like the queen," and then he goes, "Let's make a film about the queen." And he went to Peter Morgan and asked him to write it.

OPRAH: Was it scary? To play someone who is living and who is the queen?

HELEN: Yes, in that everyone knew what she looks like, what she sounds like, how she moves. I knew I'd never be as good as the real thing. I wouldn't agree to do it until I'd read the script, because in England, people love to stick the knife into the monarchy. They belittle or criticize them, tease them quite cruelly sometimes, and I didn't want to be a part of any film that did that. But the script was a sensitive look at what it must be like to be in her situation.

OPRAH: I love that in all your roles, you bring a sort of vulnerability—you let us feel the essence and spirit of the character.

HELEN: We're all vulnerable, yes. We're all insecure. And the most seemingly secure people are often the most insecure.

OPRAH: Were you nervous when, a couple years after the film came out, you met the queen in person?

HELEN: Yes, I was terrified. There are certain people who can deal with meeting the queen. But the vast majority of us get queenitis. You just—you cannot think of anything to say.

OPRAH: You had queenitis.

HELEN: Complete queenitis.

OPRAH: Did she mention that she'd seen the movie?

HELEN: No. She wouldn't. Nor should she. I would never expect that.

OPRAH: You wouldn't?

HELEN: It would've been nice. But I knew that inviting me to tea was her way of...

OPRAH: Acknowledging you and saying well done.

HELEN: Absolutely. And I subsequently did a play called The Audience, reprising my role as the queen, and all the palace came to see it.

OPRAH: What roles are left for you to play? Do you like playing ordinary people?


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