Dame Helen Mirren turned 70 last year and is at the peak of her career, which includes her Oscar-winning performance in The Queen and her multiple Emmy awards for detective Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. Last year she won a Tony (to add to her countless other awards) for another portrayal of Elizabeth II, this time in The Audience on Broadway, a play by the writer behind The Queen, Peter Morgan.
This year she has roles in three films, and the latest is terrorist thriller Eye in the Sky. It’s an edge-of-the-seat war drama about a morally ambiguous and complicated counter-terrorism operation. In it Helen plays Colonel Katherine Powell, a British military intelligence officer who has to make a very difficult decision. She says:
“My role in Eye in the Sky was originally written for a man. The writer also wrote for Prime Suspect – it’s fantastic that they thought of me to do it.
“My character is tough but complex. It’s a misnomer that people in the military have no feelings. On the contrary, they have very powerful feelings. I realised that Colonel Katherine Powell would have known at a young age that she wanted to be in the army’ That made me curious, so I looked at the kind of girl who would have wanted a military career when it was an unlikely place for women.
“The film is ike a courtroom drama where the audience is the jury and you retire to make your decision when you leave the cinema. Some have said it’s a problem, but I think: Good. Why would you go to the cinema to be told what to think?”
One of her co-stars is Alan Rickman, and the film is his last on-screen performance – he died of pancreatic cancer in January. Helen thinks he would have been proud to say that this was his final film:
“Alan really was a very special actor. In this film Alan is the most like Alan. He is brilliant as Snape in Harry Potter and as all his oter characters but in this he is witty, smart, urbane and controlled. To me that’s closest to the Alan I knew.”
Eye in the Sky is released in cinemas on 15th April. For our full interview with Dame Helen, pick up your May 2016 copy of woman&home, out now.