The 67-year-old, Oscar-Winning actress got her start in film adaptations of Shakespeare plays, but says that gender relations back then were no better than in the time of the Bard.
“The ‘60s and ‘70s were pretty ghastly, I think,” said Mirren in an interview with the Daily Mail. “And into the ‘80s, as an actress, you would be the only female on set, apart from the continuity person, who was always a woman, and maybe your own personal wardrobe person.”
“Otherwise,” continued Mirren, “it was completely male, and a particular kind of testosteroney male that was quite hard to deal with.”
Mirren referenced disgraced BBC disc jockey and personality Jimmy Savile, who Mirren said “could get away with anything.” (After his death in 2011, Savile was accused of hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse, and in life may have been one of England’s most prolific sexual offenders.) “Actresses have always had to work harder to be accepted,” said Mirren. She spoke of needing a “sense of humor” and accepting the fact that she was “never going to be one of the boys.”
That’s why Mirren would have taught her daughter to say “fuck off” in the face of sexism.
Mirren, who has never had children, said, “It’s quite valuable to have the courage and the confidence to say, ‘No, fuck off, leave me alone, thank you very much.’”
Helen Mirren and Tom Conti in a still from "The Gospel According to Vic" (1986)
Women are taught to be demure, to accept, to be coy in the face of unwanted male attention. “We weren’t brought up ever to say that to anyone, were we?” asked Mirren. (See the hilarious “Blurred Lines” parody we blogged about earlier this week that plays off this dynamic.)
In a 1975 interview with Michael Parkinson, the actress was described as “sluttishly erotic,” and asked if “her equipment” hindered her acting career. “I was very polite with [Parkinson], far more polite than I should have been,” remembered Mirren. In the interview, she took a polite but reserved stance, saying that “people may think what they like” of her. She shot down any question that involved “being flattered” by these statements with quick, direct no’s, the only real answer to that sort of question.
The 1975 interview with Michael Parkinson - really, just watch from the beginning
Obviously, things have changed quite a bit since the ‘70s, but Mirren continues to be her badass self.