Helen Mirren dares you to ask her anything

Diane Lane, Jay Roach and Michael Stuhlbarg on "Trumbo"
Diane Lane, Jay Roach and Michael Stuhlbarg on "Trumbo"

BY DONNA FREYDKIN

There's no modern equivalent to Hedda Hopper, the power-mad gossip-monger played by Helen Mirren in "Trumbo," about the screenwriter who was a victim of her poison pen.

Hopper ruled with an iron phrase, and during the Joseph McCarthy era, she named suspected Hollywood communists in her widely-read column -- ruining careers, destroying lives, all in the name of a perverted version of democracy. She's played with steely manipulation by Oscar winner Mirren, who relished being the bad guy of the movie.

"I think she was terrifying although she was obviously very, very charming," says Mirren, of Hopper. "I'm sure she did manipulate. She did have power and she certainly had venom. She was very conscious of the fact that she was ruthless. You know your business better than I do. There is a side of journalism that is utterly ruthless. It's all about the story. She found herself ultimately on the wrong side of history."

Mirren, who has bagged the triple-crown of acting (Oscar, Tony and Emmy), got her start doing theater in England and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the '60s. Which means she's been answering interview questions for going on 50 years. She's blunt, very funny (mocking what she calls her "fat knees" -- which, spoiler alert, are shapely) and unfazed by just about anything.

"I started having to handle the media when I was in my early 20s and it has never stopped. Because of that, I've witnessed an enormous change. I was never afraid of the media. I was never particularly guarded, often to my detriment. Often, I put my foot in it," she smiles. "On the other hand, I thought it was sort of boring that you were so guarded that you never said anything to anyone," says Mirren. "We're in a symbiotic relationship. You have to get people into the cinema. We need to have an audience. I see it as part of my job."

That being said, there's one story that still stands out.

"The most annoying thing ever written about me was early in my career. I was doing Shakespeare in England in a town called Stratford-on-Avon and I was called the sex queen of Stratford. It was my very first interview that I'd ever done in my life and that was the headline. That headline stayed with me for my whole career," says Mirren. "If I saw that journalist, I'd give him a Hedda Hopper talking-to."

Mirren is a fan of Spanx. She likes Justin Bieber. And she doesn't fixate on what's written about her -- except for that aforementioned story that labeled her the sex kitten of the stage.

"Quite honestly, I don't take note. Sometimes, I've said things in the wrong way. Very often, things are taken out of context. The context within which you say something is so important. You can lift something out and it looks shocking or controversial. If you read the whole thing, you realize it's neither shocking nor controversial," says Mirren.

It's why she's not on Twitter or Instagram, preferring to avoid that whole morass.

"People can be led by the nose so easily. The mob mentality is so dangerous. People jump on the bandwagon and follow the mob so easily. That's why I'm not on social media. I don't like the tendency of social media to do that," says Mirren. "It really worries me."

And she can't imagine starting her career today, when every move a Bieber makes is chronicled, mocked and scrutinized.

"I call it 'torture the teenager.' These people are so young and they're so exposed. They're trying to live their lives. I don't believe in torturing the teenager," she says.

Back in her 20s, "I could go to a bar and get drunk and sleep on a park bench overnight and nobody knew!" she says.

See more of Mirren here, because too much is never enough.

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