Film, television and stage actress Helen Mirren has long been a national treasure. Mirren has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, performed at the National Theatre and on Broadway, and won an Oscar. She’s done it all: from portraying our monarch’s steely reserve in "The Queen", to perfecting the no-nonsense moll in "The Long Good Friday" and playing the sexism-fighting Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in her Emmy Award-winning role in "Prime Suspect". In addition to these accolades, Mirren has been highly notable in her efforts to call out nonsense behaviour.
She may have lived through the Swinging Sixties, but she understands that the revolution didn’t stop there and maintains a progressive stance on gender. All the while, she offers up an alternative blueprint for how older women in the public eye can behave: any which way they like! Here are 11 of the most righteous things she’s said about modern womanhood.
1. On swearing: “Unfortunately, at least for my generation, growing up (we didn’t say [f*** off]) and I love the fact that girls are so much more confident and outspoken than my generation were. We were sort of brought up to be polite and sometimes politeness, in certain circumstances, is not what’s required. You’ve got to have the courage to stand up for yourself occasionally when it’s needed.”
2. On sex appeal: “[Sex appeal] … becomes less relevant with age, which is a good thing. Everything changes as we get older, and we have to applaud that fact, don't we?”
3. On women: “I actually won my first Golden Globe for something called "Losing Chase". Kyra Sedgwick and me fell in love with each other, and it was a lovely piece about women loving women. In my heart of hearts I love women more than I love men. I mean sexuality aside – I'm heterosexual. I guess I'm heterosexual. I loved my friend I had at college because there was a sense of camaraderie and physical closeness that doesn't have to be sexual.”
4. On feminism: “I think every woman in our culture is a feminist. They may refuse to articulate it, but if you were to take any woman back 40 years and say, ‘Is this a world you want to live in?’ They would say, ‘No.’”
5. On the Internet: “I'm under the impression that this notion of decency is disappearing from our society where conflicts are made worse on cinema and on television, where people are nasty and cruel on the internet and where, in general, everybody seems to be very angry.”
6. On class: “Where you grew up becomes a big part of who you are for the rest of your life. You can't run away from that. Well, sometimes the running away from it is what makes you who you are.”
7. On women being characterised as “strong” or “feisty”: “Two phrases I hate in reference to female characters are 'strong' and 'feisty'. They really annoy me. It's the most condescending thing. You say that about a three-year-old. It infantilises women.”
8. On the lack of good roles for women: “There isn't a King Lear for women, or a Henry V, or a Richard III. You reach a level where you can handle that stuff technically and mentally, and it's not there.”
9. On performance anxiety: “I still suffer terribly from stage fright. I get sick with fear. Not every night, but at the beginning and on occasion – not necessarily when I'm expecting it. You just have to cope with it – take it on the chin and work through it, trying to use the adrenalin to perform.”
10. On gender inequality in the workplace: “I was part of the first generation of girls and women to be educated and go to grammar school even if we didn't have much money. Then that generation went, 'OK, great', and went into medicine or the police, and hit this wall of discrimination from older men who hadn't caught up.”
11. On not needing to be a mother: “I have no maternal instinct whatsoever. Motherhood holds no interest for me.” And, “I am so happy that I didn't have children. Well, you know, because I've had freedom. And I've so loved my freedom.”