Producer Andy Harries says he owes Helen Mirren “a huge debt of gratitude,” but not just for giving “a truly inspired performance” as the British monarch in “The Queen.” It turns out that the actress also inspired the entire project.
It was while overseeing production on the award-winning television series “Prime Suspect,” starring Mirren, that the Granada executive had a breakthrough. “I was watching how everyone treated Helen like a queen on the set, and she looks a bit like the queen did 15 years ago, and it just hit me: Let’s develop a project with Helen playing the queen,” he recalls.
Harries, with longtime producing partner Christine Langan, had also just finished “The Deal,” a TV movie for Channel 4 starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, directed by Stephen Frears and written by Peter Morgan. “We were on the lookout for another interesting project, and I immediately called Stephen and Peter about my idea,” he reports. “Stephen loved it, although Peter was initially a bit unsure, as we weren’t sure what the actual story would be.”
After a few months of research and exhaustive interviewing, it became clear to the team that the story “had to be about Diana, and gradually we realized that there was this huge drama playing out during that week the royal family was ‘trapped’ up in Balmoral, with everyone around them braying for their blood.”
But when Morgan delivered “a fantastic script,” the team, which included experienced line producer Tracey Seward (“The Constant Gardener”), ran into a problem, Harries recalls. “Stephen signed on to do ‘Mrs. Henderson Presents’ literally 24 hours before our script was finished, and we had to wait a year.”
The enforced wait ultimately helped Harries and his team to “really set it up properly,” he adds. “There was some time pressure because of the 10th anniversary of Diana’s death, and this let me talk to distributors and make a great deal with Miramax for the U.S. rights. So, as I’m not a really experienced producer in terms of financing, this extra time turned out to be invaluable.”