Portraying a real-life icon — be it Queen Elizabeth or Sofya Tolstoy — isn’t always a matter of simply making like the real thing.
“The queen is still alive, right?” laughs Helen Mirren, who plays Mrs. Tolstoy in Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station.”
To prep for the film, which tells the story of Leo Tolstoy’s (Christopher Plummer) last months with his wife of 45 years, Mirren did little in the way of the usual historical research.
“With the queen, everybody knows what she looks like, sounds like, walks like. You have to fulfill those requirements.”
But very little is known about Mrs. Tolstoy, so the Oscar-winning actress simply did what came naturally.
“I didn’t really think of Sofya as being a real person,” Mirren explains. “I thought of her just as this character in this film. And they’re such beautiful characters and scenes, something I know that people could identify with.”
Sofya’s relationship with her husband is, at best, flammable — though, as Mirren says, it’s still riddled with the basic love she tries to wrangle back from her ideological spouse and those who deify him.
“When you know someone as well as she knows Tolstoy, you can debunk them,” which Sofya does several times during the film, often to her husband’s delight.
In one such scene, Sofya has snared Leo back from an important engagement with news of her “illness,” only to find his alluring wife in bed waiting for him. But she quickly turns his anger into the playful love of their youth, declaring “I’m your little chicken, and you’re my big cock!” Says Mirren, “You think you’re still that young person, and you feel you’re still that person, even when you’re older,” she observes.