Helen Mirren finds award bash a good excuse to return to Israel
search

Helen Mirren finds award bash a good excuse to return to Israel

In town to present the Genesis Prize, actress says since her kibbutz stint she’s not a fan of the Jewish state but rather ‘a believer’ in it

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Helen Mirren tours Jerusalem with Mayor Nir Barkat, June 22, 2016. (Arnon Busani)
Helen Mirren tours Jerusalem with Mayor Nir Barkat, June 22, 2016. (Arnon Busani)

Dame Helen Mirren has charmed, cajoled, teased, rebuked, seduced and allured on screen and stage. On Wednesday night, she captivated an audience of admirers at the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

She had them at hello.

Mirren, in town as the master of ceremonies for the Genesis Prize, which will be presented to violin master Itzhak Perlman on Thursday, told members of the press earlier in the day that she was “a little bit nervous” about her role as emcee.

“There’s a lot of long, complicated names,” she said, referring to the Russian philanthropists who established the prize.

During the afternoon press conference, Mirren, dressed in a Liberty-style yellow-and-blue dress and blue espadrilles, spoke about her decades-old connection to Israel, born of a backpacking trip in 1967 with her boyfriend, when they spent a few weeks working on a kibbutz.

Mirren said she was first put to work among the grapevines, but was sent to the kitchen shortly thereafter.

Helen Mirren snaps Jerusalem's Mayor Nir Barkat, June 22, 2016. Barkat awarded the actress with the Jerusalem of Gold Award for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities (Jerusalem Municipality)
Helen Mirren snaps Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat, June 22, 2016. Barkat awarded the actress with the Jerusalem of Gold Award for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities (Jerusalem Municipality)

“Combing the grapes” and other vineyard work, she said, wasn’t her forte.

As for Israel, she’s “not a fan” but rather “a believer.” Israel, said Mirren, “is an “extraordinary country.”

There’s “a synchronicity of some sort” for Mirren with Israel, she said. She learned during that 1967 trip the meaning of sabras, who “were very much like the fruit,” prickly on the outside and soft inside.

Dame Helen Mirren and moderator Benjamin Friedenberg at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Wednesday, June 23 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Helen Mirren and moderator Benjamin Friedenberg at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, June 23, 2016 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Wednesday evening, she told Benjamin Friedenberg, a film critic who served as the event’s moderator, that she agreed to serve as the emcee for this year’s Genesis Prize “not least because it was an opportunity to come back to Israel.”

Mirren, 70, was last here in 2009 filming the remake of Israeli film “Debt,” and she “always wanted to come back.”

The opportunity to award a prize seemed a worthwhile reason, said Mirren. “Art is a very important part of our human existence. It’s an opportunity to say thank you for human achievements. I feel there should be more awards out there.”

Friedenberg, using a carefully curated selection of clips of Mirren from her 50-plus year career, took the actress and audience through the high points of her career, starting with Mirren’s work in the National Youth Theatre, where her role as Cleopatra quickly landed her a spot in the Royal Shakespeare Company.

She earned a teaching degree that she never used, and while she first intended to work only as a stage actress, she soon found herself with her first onscreen role in the 1969 Australian film “Age of Consent,” with James Mason.

Mirren regaled the audience with the story of her flight to Australia — which was her first, ever — on Qantas Airways and in first class, where she was the only passenger. She was dressed to impress in a leather skirt and vest, having just bought them with the little money she had, and had been told she would be met by someone when she landed in Hawaii, on the way to Australia.

After she landed at 2 a.m. in Hawaii no one met her, and with the airport about to close Mirren made her way to the lost and found.

“I thought, ‘I’m lost and need to be found,'” said Mirren.

A local policeman with a holstered gun started calling local hotels and found her name on the first one he called.

Mirren shook her closely shorn head in disbelief at her young, innocent self, recrossed her bare legs, shod in strappy black high-heeled sandals, and pulled down the slim black skirt of her sweater suit.

“Age of Consent” was the first in Mirren’s long list of films, plays and television series, and the various movies and different directors — as well as other actors and writers, said Mirren — have allowed her the “ultimate collaborative effect,” she said. “That’s what I love about my craft, is the collaboration of it.”

Actress Helen Mirren will host the Genesis Prize award ceremony on June 23, 2016 in Jerusalem. (Facebook)
Actress Helen Mirren will host the Genesis Prize award ceremony on June 23, 2016 in Jerusalem. (Facebook)

She recalled that her work with director Robert Altman on 2001’s “Gosford Park” was experiential in many ways, as he was happy to rework scenes and to let Mirren try her hand at screenwriting.

She rewrote the last scene of the film and sometimes thinks — here her voice went up an octave — that that scene was why she got nominated for an Academy Award.

Some of her more recent work, including the raw comedy and action of “RED” and “RED 2,” have introduced younger audiences to Mirren, although she noted that comedy is nearly always present in her films. For example, she ad-libbed some levity when she told Ryan Reynolds that his eyeglasses were filthy in “Woman in Gold,” a serious drama about a woman’s attempts to reclaim her family’s artworks stolen during the Holocaust.

“There’s comedy within drama and drama within comedy,” she said, when asked which genre she preferred.

“I love tragedy, I love high tragedy,” said Mirren.

Yet she has conquered the comedic role, Friedenberg pointed out as he showed a clip from her 2007 Academy Award-winning depiction of Queen Elizabeth II in “The Queen,” a film that Mirren called “a red-hot potato.”

“You know what the Brits are like with the royal family,” she said to the audience. “They’re very confused about it. They don’t know what they think about it.”

In order to find her comfort zone in portraying the royal matriarch, Mirren thought of it as a portrait created by her as an artist, like any other artist.

“It liberated me because I felt I could be more true to my feelings,” she said.

Friedenberg wrapped up the 45-minute interview by asking Mirren about her next projects, which include a “small role” in “Fast 8,” part of the “Fast and Furious” franchise with Vin Diesel.

Her role is so small, said Mirren, that “if you eat your popcorn at that moment, “you’ll miss me,” she said.

The role came about because Mirren, in an interview, said she’d like to be in one of the films.

“I just admire Vin Diesel,” she said.

And with that, Dame Mirren left the stage, her admirers clapping as she went.

read more:
comments