Arthur - Helen Mirren
Hobson (Helen Mirren) © 2011 Warner Bros

In her wildest imagination, I’m sure Dame Helen Mirren never imagined she would play a role that Sir John Gielgud made famous. But here she is in the remake of Arthur, portraying Hobson, now Arthur Bach’s nanny, instead of his butler.

Russell Brand reinvents the role of Arthur, the loveable billionaire, kind-hearted, fun-loving, utterly with a purpose and permanently drunk. When his mother gives him the ultimatum to marry an ambitious corporate exec at their company, Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), or say goodbye to his fortune, Arthur agrees to the arrangement – but then he unexpectedly meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a New York tour guide who shares his idealism and spontaneity.

Helen Mirren spoke of role as Hobson and her relationship with Russell Brand at the press day for the movie.

What was it about this role of Hobson that interested you?

Arthur - Helen Mirren
Hobson (Helen Mirren) © 2011 Warner Bros

I did it because I met Russell and I sat on a sofa opposite him for a couple of hours. And he just blew me away. I kind of worked with him on The Tempest, but not a lot, but we hadn’t spent time together. Russell told me about this film and he totally seduced me, the way he does. I defy any male, female or child to spend two hours with Russell and not be completely charmed and just say: “Yeah, fine. I will do whatever you want.”

What was it like to play nanny to such an irresponsible character?

(she laughs) Well, it was an education for me as much as an education I was trying to give to the character, but mostly I was the one who was learning stuff. I learnt so many things. I’ve never done a film that is called ‘a comedy’ before. So it was one of the reasons why I wanted to do the film and I was very lucky that I was working with such brilliantly experienced people in the world of comedy. So it was my education.
Arthur is a man-child to end all man-children. For a number of reasons, he’s been incapable of fully growing up. Though he’s enormously kind and generous of heart, he’s rudderless.

Do you feel Hobson is an enabler?

Hobson is not a simple enabler. She’s a strong character. She doesn’t so much stand up to him, because technically he is her employer, but she’s perfectly capable and unafraid of telling him he’s behaving like an idiot and she knows him well enough to send him up. It’s a rich, intense and complicated relationship; there is undeniably a great love there and a great depth of feeling.

You and Russell have great chemistry – what was it like behind the scenes?

Arthur - Russell Brand and Helen Mirren
Arthur (Russell Brand) and Hobson (Helen Mirren) © 2011 Warner Bros

He was in his trailer all the time and when he did come out, he was always surrounded by minders. He wouldn’t speak to anyone. Okay, that was completely untrue! I don’t know because I was drunk all the time. It was a very loving environment and a funny environment.

What was it like to punch Russell in the movie?

Punching Russell was great, but the best thing was being taught how to punch by Evander Holyfield who was my personal trainer on the set as well. He’s such a gentleman. But you know he is the champ and he is a big guy and quite scary and he was very quiet and he was on the set in the corner.
I went up to him and said: “Evander, I’ve got to punch Russell, would you show me how to do it please?” He said: “Sure.” And he gave me a little training. So that was one of the highlights of the shoot for me being taught how to punch by Evander Holyfield.

What’s the most indulgent, extravagant ‘Arthur’ like purchase you’ve made?

Arthur - Helen Mirren
Hobson (Helen Mirren) © 2011 Warner Bros

A castle in Puglia. My husband and I bought a castle in southern Italy. It’s like turning on the taps full and money just pours out in to desert. It’s not finished. It will be beautiful. It’s not really a castle, it’s a farm house. Puglia was being invaded all the time, so it’s a fortified farm house.

In this economy, why will people want to spend $18 to see a movie to watch super wealthy people who are worrying about which car to take out?

I think it’s a fantasy we all have.  What would we do if we had a billion dollars? That’s when the lottery gets really big; up to 40 or 50 million dollars.  I go out and buy a ticket! Because maybe I will win!
You fantasize about what it would be like to have millions and millions of dollars and we all do that and here we can see what happens when you have millions of dollars. So I think it’s a fantasy that we all carry with us. We all are dreamers.

You are going to have your hand prints done at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd – how do you feel about that?

Arthur - Helen Mirren and Russell Brand
Hobson (Helen Mirren) and Arthur (Russell Brand) © 2011 Warner Bros

Gosh, I feel so really honored. When I first came to Hollywood many years ago, not as a tourist, I was working here, the first place you want to go is Hollywood Blvd and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. You go and you look at Joan Crawford’s hands and feet and the history of American film making is encapsulated in that one little area.
That street to me has always been the street of dreams and personally I’m thrilled that the Oscars are back on Hollywood Blvd. To find myself so many years later, that my hands and feet are going to be there, I’m blown away by it. Becoming a Dame, fantastic. Winning an Oscar, amazing. Hands and feet, incredible!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.