“All that getting sanctioned by authority, settling down and doing the right things—well, I can’t say it appeals much,” Helen Mirren once said to a reporter. “What I really fancy is getting a bit notorious … ”
It was 1974, and she was a 29-year-old actress teasing the journalist much as she would the press and audiences for the next 36 years. Mirren was then a rising star at the Royal Shakespeare Company—luridly dubbed “Stratford’s very own sex queen” by one paper. It was long before the authorities sanctioned her with a pile of awards (including an Oscar for The Queen), and before the Internet made her a viral phenom thanks to bodacious paparazzi shots of her cavorting in a bikini. At the age of 62. And guess what? She had it both ways: She got her notoriety and the fusty accolades.
“I am a little notorious,” Mirren remarks, still teasing. She says nearly everything with a mischievous twinkle, like a naughty teenager appending “ … in bed” to the end of every sentence. The actress, who turns 65 next month, is elegantly attired in pale rose and silver, her delicate hands (the nails tinted a matching pearlescent rose) constantly buttoning and unbuttoning her cardigan. It’s probably not meant flirtatiously, but with Mirren, every action can feel like a seduction. Perhaps it’s the small, black Native American tattoo on her left hand (the result, she says, of a wild, drunken night in Minnesota), her subtle finger to propriety. “It’s weird when your life becomes vintage, like a period movie,” she says half-seriously. “I’m getting less notorious as I get older. People forget that I ever was.”
Her latest role, not to mention the Juergen Teller photos attending this article, should help remind everyone. After a raft of prestigious parts and three Oscar nominations in the last decade, Mirren signed up to play Grace Botempo, the madam of a booming seventies Reno whorehouse in her husband Taylor Hackford’s film Love Ranch, opening June 30. (The film, based on Nevada’s real Mustang Ranch, is scripted and produced by New York contributing editor Mark Jacobson.) For years, Hackford, whom she married in 1997, has asked her to play smaller parts in his films. “And I said ‘Oh, for God’s sake! Of course I’m not going to do that!’ ” says Mirren. “They were never interesting enough parts, and I wasn’t going to do it just because he was directing it.”