Helen Mirren Talks ‘Fast 8,’ Women in Hollywood and Pay Inequality

helen mirren power of women
Warwick Saint for Variety

In Variety’s 2016 Power of Women issue, Helen Mirren is honored for her work with SAY, the Stuttering Association for the Young. Just after the issue’s cover photo shoot in New York, she sat down for a chat with Variety’s Gordon Cox to talk “Fast 8,” women in Hollywood and the pay gap.

You tend to move easily between serious, thoughtful dramas — like last spring’s “Eye in the Sky,” or “Collateral Beauty,” hitting screens in December — and popcorn fare like the upcoming “Fast 8.” What guides the decisions you make in your career?
Usually what I do is a reaction against what I’ve just done. I’m always looking for something that’s a bit different from my last gig. But I don’t plan my career. I never have. It’s potluck, really, what happens to come along. But I had always had a secret hankering to do “Fast and Furious,” because I love driving cars. Of course, when I finally got my chance, I wasn’t driving the bloody car. I was in the back of an ambulance with Jason Statham.

What superhero would you want to play?
I’m not really into superheroes very much. But certainly someone who can fly!

Who do you think should play Bond?
Kenneth Branagh would be a fabulous Bond. He never would do it, because he’s too busy doing other stuff, but he’s got the urbane-ness and the intelligence and the wit. And he’s quite hunky.

Warwick Saint for Variety

Could a woman play Bond?
I think a woman could play, and has and should played, a similar character. But I think — Hm, I’m wading into murky waters here, but I wonder if the iconic-ness of James Bond… Maybe I’m wrong. I played Prospera in “The Tempest” [a gender-bent version of the Shakespeare play’s male protagonist, Prospero], much to the hilarity of certain older actors who found it hysterically funny. I don’t want to find myself in the position of those geriatrics, saying women can’t play men’s roles. Let’s put it this way: There are no rules about anything. Anything is possible.

What are your thoughts about how women in Hollywood are faring right now?
There’s been massive progress. I’ve always said this, for my whole career:  Don’t worry about the number of roles available for women in drama; worry about the number of roles for women in real life. Because as women’s profile gets raised in all the arenas in real life — politics, business, the medical professions, science, technology, whatever — the world of drama will inevitably reflect that, and roles for women will get better. However, having said that, it still really pisses me off that in many movies, the only time you see more women on the screen than men is in a swimming pool scene, in which case suddenly the world is populated by women in bikinis. And often they’re wearing high heels! No woman ever wears a bikini and high heels around a swimming pool!

Have things changes much for women in the industry, over the course of your career?
I have witnessed such a huge change. The biggest change for me, and the best change, is to seen women on the set, in the crew. It wasn’t that long ago I saw my first female electrician. And to me, that’s really exciting. That’s a really big change, because that was such a macho, male world.

Salary disparity has also become a hot topic recently. What’s your take on it?
It’s such a complicated issue. How much money your last movie made, how many days you’ll spend doing the role. It’s not as simple as saying, “I want parity.” Of course, if there are a man and a woman on a set, and they’re doing the same number of days, and they’re of the same stature, then of course they should be paid the same.

And it’s a hard thing to talk about, too, because obviously you’re not going to get much sympathy from people, since we’re talking about pretty massive sums of money. Which I think is why women in general, rather sweetly, said, “I’ve got enough money, that’s fine.” Men didn’t.

I love the fact that women are speaking up. I thought what Jennifer Lawrence did was fabulous, and what Patricia Arquette did. They’re brave and I really approve of that. I certainly do believe that the influence of the younger energy, the younger understanding, of how things should be, or can be — or actually are, only you guys haven’t caught up with it yet — is powerful. I would say: Listen to the 20- to 30-year-olds.