In 1985, Helen Mirren first met and worked with director Taylor Hackford on the movie White Nights. Twenty-five years, and a marriage, later the couple have finally found another project to do together – Love Ranch.
Set in the 1970s and inspired by a true story, Grace and Charlie Bontempo (Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci) own and run one of Nevada’s first legalized brothel ranches. When Joe, in his attempt to expand his entrepreneurial empire, brings in a world famous heavy weight boxer from South America named Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Menchesta) to train a the ranch, a romantic triangle develops which threatens to destroy all of their lives.
Helen Mirren spoke with us about her new movie, and her difficulty doing an American accent.
Were you looking for a role after The Queen that would showcase your sexuality, your femininity? You’ve always been kind of a rebel.
Well I have to say you always look for your next piece of work to be as different from the last piece of work as possible, because that way you keep interested and hopefully you keep the audience interested.
But I don’t agree with you, it’s not about sexuality or even femininity, it’s the toughness of this profoundly working-class woman; the Queen was obviously a profoundly aristocratic woman.
When Joe Pesci’s character remarks about your character, ‘Who does she think she is, the Queen?’ What was your reaction?
Well, we planned it in the car waiting. The shot was Joe and I drive up in the car, park the car, get out, all in one shot, with dialogue walking in. So obviously when you constantly reset you have to go back and sit in the car again ready to drive up. So Joe and I sitting in the car sort of cooked it up between us. It wasn’t an improvised line.
Did you feel good chemistry with Joe and did your styles of working clash?
We don’t have different styles of working. People keep saying that, we absolutely don’t. We work in exactly the same way. We look at the script, we learn the lines, he doesn’t like to rehearse, I’m cool with that. I don’t mind running the lines with someone, but I don’t want to rehearse it, you want it to happen in the moment on the set, so that’s fine.
Above all, he’s a real professional, he’s been in the business a long time, he knows what’s required and he does it, and it’s great. And I respect that more than anything. He happens to be a very great actor and he has an incredible energy, and that’s great to work with.
I read that you found the American accent in this difficult.
I think that someone said you’re good at accents if you’re musical, and I’m completely not musical. I cannot sing in tune. I can’t even hear a tune. I do find accents really difficult; I really have to work on them. So whenever you see me doing an accent, believe me, it’s a lot of work.
I’ve lived in America for twenty years, you’d think it would be easy, but I find it very difficult.
Was doing the love scene harder for you, Taylor or Sergio?
Taylor was great because he was absolutely straight forward and practical about it, he might as well have been shooting a scene about washing up, which really helped both Sergio and I.
It’s always the question that people ask, and I can understand why because for you sex is an intimacy, it’s something you only do with your loved one or on a drunken night with somebody you don’t’ love (she laughs).
The thought of doing it with a complete stranger, that you’re not intimate with in that sense, people cannot get their head around it. (Doing auditions) I’ve often walked into a room and within ten minutes I’m kissing a complete stranger. We’re used to that, we do that. That’s our job. It’s natural; it’s easy.
Your husband is a big boxing fan, are you?
I like boxing, all my men have been boxing fans; it’s very weird. All the boyfriends I’ve every had, including my husband, have been boxing fans. Three of them boxed themselves. So ever since I was in my teens I’ve been watching boxing. I wouldn’t say I’m a fully-fledged boxing fan, but I can certainly watch a boxing match and I do love fight night in Vegas, that’s fantastic.
You did The Tempest with Julie Taymor. How courageous is it to take Prospero and make him a female?
It was an amazing experience. That was fantastic and challenging, definitely, but wonderful. I had no idea that we were going to make a film of it. Julie Taymor and I talked about it, but I thought that if it were ever to come into fruition that it would be in the theatre, and then she said she had the finance to make a film. I was absolutely amazed and slightly terrified.
Do you feel like you’re stepping into a minefield with the remake of Arthur (with Russell Brand), where you’re playing John Gielgud’s role?
Yes. That’s the most dangerous thing of all, much more dangerous than Prospero.
Luckily there’s about three generations who’ve never even heard of, let alone seen, the original. So we’re aiming it at them rather than the old people like us who remember the original.