Oprah Talks to Helen Mirren: "Nobody Is Ordinary"
HELEN: Well, nobody is ordinary, of course.
OPRAH: You see normal life as something extraordinary?
HELEN: Of course. There are so many acts of heroism performed by what we would call ordinary people. I'm about to do a film called Woman in Gold about Maria Altmann, who you might think was ordinary if you passed her on the street. But she worked to take back the Gustav Klimt paintings that the Nazis stole from her family. So while she may look unexceptional on the outside, on the inside she's far from it.
OPRAH: We all have amazing stories when you look closely enough.
HELEN: Human beings are so dreadful, so appalling, and yet so wonderful, so courageous, and so kind. The variety in humanity fills me with wonder and horror.
OPRAH: So let's talk about being in your 60s. You're about to turn 69, and your career has never been better: You won an Oscar at 61 and were nominated for another at 64. Do you have any idea what kind of role model you are to women in our youth-obsessed culture?
HELEN: I'm becoming aware of it because I read about it. The reality is that I'm no different. I mean, I'm very lucky that I've never had to deal with a major physical challenge. But this is what women of my age are; I'm just a more visible version. There are a million of us out there. I think that the scales are constantly falling from our eyes. The Greta Garbos of the world felt that they had to retire at 38. That's changed.
OPRAH: What you've been able to do is maintain the energy and vibrancy of youth, yet accept the age you are.
HELEN: You have to. You either die young or get old. There's no other way. I didn't want to die young. Look at Kurt Cobain—he hardly even saw a computer! The digital stuff that's going on is so exciting. I'm just so curious about what happens next.
OPRAH: What has been the lesson that took you longest to learn?
HELEN: I'm still learning it: I make the same New Year's resolution every year, and it's basically to return people's phone calls. I'm the worst. And to try to be more sociable and gregarious.
OPRAH: Maybe you're just not supposed to be.
HELEN: Maybe not. Oh, and to try not to be as lazy.
OPRAH: How can that be?
HELEN: That's why I like to work, because intrinsically, I'm lazy. If I don't have to get up and go, then I don't. You're a different person. I would like to be you, in terms of drive and energy and creating the world for yourself.
OPRAH: What do you know for sure?
HELEN: That kindness counts. Kindness matters. When I look back, the small kindnesses people showed me meant so much.
OPRAH: What else really matters to Dame Helen Mirren?
HELEN: Gosh. Stop it, Oprah! I have absolutely no idea. I could think of many funny things to say, like your underwear really matters. It needs to be a certain kind of underwear—you know what I'm talking about. Underwear is the most important thing in dressing. But in life I guess I would have to say family. That's why it's so devastating when I think of Maria Altmann and other people who've lost their whole family and their history.
OPRAH: But the most important thing is that people can come out of that and still love.
HELEN: Yes. Oh, yes.
OPRAH: So when you see yourself on-screen—as Madame Mallory, let's say—what do you think?
HELEN: I'm very self-critical. It's a nightmare for me, watching myself. Every single time I do it, I think, "I'm never doing this again."
OPRAH: You never look at your work and think, "Well done?"
HELEN: Occasionally, yes, I can watch myself and think, "Oh, that was good." But it's usually only two or three lines!
OPRAH: What about your life? Can you look at your life and say that?
HELEN: Yes. I can certainly thank my lucky stars. One's life is always full of mistakes and regrets; that's just the nature of things. I've certainly got loads of those. But I have a lot of people in my life who I love, and maybe that's the ultimate success.
OPRAH: I certainly think so. Thank you so much, Dame Helen.