Helen Mirren is shooting a film in New York. Even better, it’s the first time she and her husband, director Taylor Hackford (“Ray”), have ever worked in the same town at the same time.
While she films “Collateral Beauty,” with Kate Winslet and Will Smith, he’s making “The Comedian,” with Robert De Niro. She confesses they spend a lot of time apart, which she maintains is not a bad thing. “It’s fabulous,” Mirren tells us, with a laugh. “I’m a great believer in spending a lot of time apart.”
The Oscar-winning actress (and Dame), now 70, is taking a break to talk about “Eye in the Sky,” a British drama that most unfolds in real time. It traces as forces, from her colonel in London to a drone pilot (Aaron Paul) in Las Vegas, try to blow up a house containing terrorists — without accidentally killing a little girl playing near their target.
Drones are something people can see in black-and-white terms, but “Eye in the Sky” isn’t interested in flattering either side. How did your thoughts on drones evolve on this film?
You know, you can’t just say, “Drones — what’s my take on drones?” Well, I don’t want a drone coming into my back garden and taking pictures of me sunbathing. But I’m sure as a surveillance tool, it’s incredibly valuable and useful.
You might as well say, “What’s your attitude about telephones?” People can phone each other up and plan terrible things. Do we ban telephones? It’s a technology we’re going to have to live with. You can’t just suddenly get rid of it. So the question becomes how and where do we use them or not use them? The whole point of the film is to throw up those questions.
It raises a lot of questions, and even suggests at times that drones make war more precise and easier to cut down on collateral damage — though not completely.
The same questions have been thrown up since time immemorial. What do you sacrifice and to what end? Innocent people are always killed, in every war. War is about killing innocent people. In the 18th century, 17th century, there was incredible collateral damage: local people, farms. That’s always been with us. Whenever there’s war there’s innocent people dying. The planes that flew over cities when the Brits bombed Dresden — they didn’t know where their bombs were dropping either. And nor did they care.
Were there things you were particularly surprised to learn while researching this?
Honestly, my research was the script. But I didn’t know that drone pilots sat in trailers in Las Vegas. The other interesting thing is fighter pilots, who had to then transition to becoming drone pilots, were useless at it — or not as good at it as kids who grew up playing video games. Kids who play games are used to it. Fighter pilots are used to being able to change the trajectory quickly, whereas drones take a bit of time. They could never get their heads around it, whereas kids who play video games are totally adroit at that.