This ran in the Weekend Guardian on 6 December 2008
Dame Helen Mirren, 63, was raised in Essex. She began her career playing Cleopatra with the National Youth Theatre and then joined the RSC and Peter Brook’s theatre company. Between 1991 and 2006, she starred in the award-winning television series Prime Suspect. She was Academy Award-nominated for her performances in the films, The Madness of King George (1994) and Gosford Park (2001) and, in 2006, she won an Oscar for her role as Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’ The Queen. Her latest film, Inkheart, is released on 12th December. Married to the director Taylor Hackford, Mirren lives in London, Los Angeles and Italy.
1. When were you happiest?
I remember thinking, when I was in my early thirties, that this is the best age to be, and I still believe that your thirties are a wonderful time. But I think I am pretty happy now.
2. What is your greatest fear?
I am afraid in aeroplanes: I don’t even like to talk about it because I feel that it’s tempting fate. And I’m always very frightened before I go on stage on a first night.
3. What is your earliest memory?
My earliest memory is the smell of chocolate. I was in Germany where my father was on business. I was about three or four years old and at that time, in post war Britain, I had never had chocolate.
4. Which living person do you most admire and why?
That changes on a daily basis, as I read stories about people who fill me with admiration and love for how extraordinary they are. At the moment Camilla Batmanghelidj is someone that I deeply admire.
5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My procrastination and my intrinsic laziness.
6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
7. What was your most embarrassing moment?
I have had a few embarrassing moments on stage. I have had many appalling social faux pas and one particularly, profoundly embarrassingly experience which I am absolutely not going to share with you.
8. Aside from a property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought?
I suppose a car, but I don’t buy expensive things. I’ve never bought a new car, I always buy second hand and I haven’t actually bought a car for fifteen years. I drive a car that my husband bought which is an old Citroen Xantia. I don’t drive a lot.
9. What is your most treasured possession?
A beautiful, little, gold-leafed, wooden Buddha that was given to me many years ago. I think I love that more than anything. I am not a Buddhist but I love Buddha.
10. Where would you like to live?
I like the way I live which is between many different places. If a gun was to my head and I had to choose and be in one place and be there for the rest of my life, I would choose somewhere that I’ve never actually lived – a beautiful house just above a river in England.
11. What would your super power be?
The ability to eat absolutely anything and never get fat.
12. What makes you depressed?
In a nutshell, Sarah Palin.
13. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I am not too keen on my nose, I don’t like my knees, I hate my ankles, I am unsure about my behind, I don’t like my legs at all. I am not too sure about my chin, my forehead is a bit dodgy. And so on and so forth. But, overall, I can live with it.
14. If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
There are so many beautiful animals that share this planet with us that we are about to lose and must save from extinction.
15. Who would play you in the film of your life?
I have just gone through this as now I often find myself in movies where they need to get a younger me, because I am too old to play the younger me. I recently met a fabulous young actress called Jessica Chastain who will be playing the younger me in The Debt.
16. What is your most unappealing habit?
Not answering phone calls. I am sure I have other unappealing habits that I am unaware of, but not answering phone calls is rude and I don’t know why I do it. I think it’s because I’ve a slight phone phobia. .
17. What is your favourite smell?
Newly mown grass is lovely, as long as it doesn’t come with the drone of the electric mower.
18. What is your favourite word?
Onomatopoeia is a wonderful word.
19. What is your favourite book?
My favourite book, like my favourite role, is the one I happen to be doing at the time. So it’s the book that I happen to be reading. I just read a book that I really enjoyed called East Of The Sun by Julia Gregson, which is what I would call slightly ‘chick lit’. I loathe that phrase and I loathe those books, they just make me feel sick. But this is all about girls going out to India at the end of the British Empire and I did very much enjoy that.
20. What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
I get dressed up in fancy dress all the time – it’s part of my job! I do love fancy dress and I love Mardi Gras in New Orleans – I’d wear something sparkly with a pink wig.
21. What is the worst thing anyone’s ever said to you?
People have said nasty things about me in the press and so forth, but I don’t remember anything particularly nasty said to my face. They’ve said it just behind my back. Many years ago I had a funny experience in a lift at the BBC rehearsal rooms. Something I’d been in had just been on television – I think it was The Little Minister – and there were two people in the lift discussing having watched it the night before. I was standing there and they didn’t realise I was who I was. One said, “What did you think of that thing last night?” And the other said, “I thought it was quite good, but she was terrible.” As I got out at my floor I said, “Thank you very much for the input.” And the lift doors closed.
22. Cat or dog?
They are very different and I can’t make a choice. I adore dogs and I find cats very funny, but unfortunately they make me sneeze. We used to have dogs, we don’t any more,
23. Is it better to give or to receive?
It’s lovely receiving and it’s kind of cool giving. I would put them in equal balance.
24. What is your guiltiest pleasure?
I adore Project Runway and I am a bit partial to America’s Next Top Model. I have been known to sit and watch six hours of back to back episodes. I like the human drama of it – the appalling behaviour of these girls, their insecurities and their fearless ignorance about life is interesting.
25. What do you owe your parents?
I owe my parents absolutely everything. I was very lucky, I had wonderful parents living in an insignificant dormitory town, in a lower middle class/working class environment, who gave me everything. Mostly what they gave me was love and nothing can be more important than that. It doesn’t matter about the economic world.
26. To whom would you most like to say sorry and why?
A girl called Geraldine who was in my primary school. I explain why in my book.
27. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
29. What was the best kiss of your life?
I can’t remember.
30. Have you ever said “I love you” without meaning it?
34. What is the worst job you’ve ever done?
Working behind the counter in a department store. It was very boring and time just wouldn’t go by.
42. What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
To be able to tele-transport from one country to another, without having to catch an aeroplane.
43. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
To still be working!
46. How would you like to be remembered?
As a hard worker.
47. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To take responsibility for your own actions.