As the posters and commercials for Red prove, there’s something about seeing Dame Helen Mirren holding an assault rifle. It’s unexpected, to say the least, and that’s one of the main reasons the famed British actress signed up for the project, based on Warren Ellis’ graphic novel about over-the-hill spies going back to work. (The title stands for “retired, extremely dangerous.”)
“The whole idea is to do something different from what you’ve just done,” Mirren explains.
“The Queen was an incredible experience for me in terms of the attention the film got, but that sort of attention kind of sticks. And I was getting a bit sick of people saying, ‘Oh, you’re so regal and you play all these queens.’ And I thought, actually I don’t play queens. I play lots of different things. For a long time before that, I was a police detective.”
So to subvert such royal expectations, she grabbed a gun. Despite her proficiency with weapons onscreen, Mirren insists she’s not a fan of firearms.
“I don’t like to ever say a gun is fun,” she says. “The guns I found the most horrifying are these small machine guns. They’re not funny, they’re terrible because you can cause such havoc. Dreadful, dreadful.”
Given that Red focuses on agents that have been put out to pasture, the topic of retirement is obviously on Mirren’s mind — not that she has any specific plans to pack it in.
“As night follows day, inevitably it will happen, but I have no idea,” she admits. “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.”
Of course, it’s not the actual acting — or the awards and attention — that Mirren would miss if she called it a day. Instead, she explains, it’s the interactions with everyone from directors to co-stars to journalists.
“In my job and in all the jobs related to my job, you get to meet and work with and be involved with clever, imaginative people who constantly surprise you.”