Great Dame: Helen Mirren

Acclaimed actress (and action hero!) dishes on guns, nude scenes, and her not-so-secret crush on Bruce Willis.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod

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Q: After all these years, do you ever suffer from stage fright?

HM: Oh, God, it’s massive. The fear is massive. I remember when I was younger people telling me it doesn’t get easier when you get older. You make it look easier, but it doesn’t get easier. I’m afraid to say they’re absolutely right. It doesn’t. I was so frightened every night before I did The Audience. I think what it is, is a sense of responsibility. As you get better known, the weight of the responsibility sort of gets heavier and heavier. You’re worried about letting people down. Not being good enough is a huge concern.

Q: And yet you get standing ovations?

HM: At the end of every show there is an incredible response, and that’s really wonderful. But it kind of never fails to take me by surprise and give me relief. I’m like, “Got away with one more!”

Q: And you received this year’s Legend Award in London at the Empire Magazine awards ceremony.

HM: I was like, “Why do I have to be a legend? Couldn’t they wait a few years? OK, I’ll take it.” Seriously, I think it’s the same for everyone. It’s really hard to get your head around the age that you actually are. Because inside yourself you feel at least 20 years younger, if not 30 years younger. But the reality is you’re not. You just go on from day to day. Honestly, I don’t question it or think about it. That way madness lies. You just have to get on with your life on a daily basis.

Q: But there’s a lot of fun that goes along with your career isn’t there?

HM: There are moments of huge, huge fun. I had my hands and feet done in cement outside of the Chinese Theatre a couple of years ago, and I was incredibly honored. But even more was to have my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I was so excited. I really, really felt like I had achieved something. But being a professional actor is not all fun. There is a lot of terror and angst and hard work and fear and insecurity attached, and part of the process of being an artist is to constantly challenge yourself. Constantly.

Q: Do you ever think about retiring?

HM: You don’t know how you’ll feel until it happens. As night follows day, inevitably, it will. I think we all have a dream of what it would be like not to work and grow heirloom tomatoes, and I do have that dream. It would be lovely. I do love gardening and all of that, but I do love my work. Mostly, I love the people I get to work with, to constantly meet and work with and be involved with clever, imaginative people who constantly surprise you and push you forward and inspire you. I think I would miss that a lot.

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