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Why Helen Mirren Considers Catherine the Great to Be ‘Superhuman’

It’s no secret that Dame Helen Mirren has a knack for nailing regal roles.

Following her Oscar-winning on-screen reign as Queen Elizabeth II back in 2006, the thespian brings yet another powerful ruler to life in HBO’s limited mini-series “Catherine the Great.”

Just as she does on the small screen as Russian Empress Catherine II, Mirren commanded all attention as she walked into the show’s Los Angeles premiere on Thursday night. Although Mirren left behind the sedan chair and all-male entourage who carried her into the show’s London premiere last month, the actress made just as big of a splash as she strolled into the Hammer Museum in a regal blue Badgley Mischka gown and coordinating silk opera coat as if she were walking through the halls of a palace.

“I felt like I should up the ante if as I’m representing the Empress of Russia,” Mirren said with a smile. The billowy look was an homage to the intricate 18th century costuming in the TV series, which Mirren described as “incredible, very heavy, beautiful, all hand-embroidered extraordinary museum pieces.” But the stunning designs did not come without their challenges.

“A lot of them had padding to make me look bigger,” Mirren continued. “Not easy to move around in. Very difficult to go to the toilet in. Almost impossible with a tiny toilet in a caravan in your trailer,” she said with a giggle as she reenacted how she tried to manage.

Still, any struggle — big or small — was worth it for Mirren as she took on the role of Catherine the Great, whom she came to admire. “When you approach any character, it doesn’t really matter whether they are regal or not,” Mirren said. “You’re looking for the human being within the costume and the sets and everything.”

“Your job as an actor is to find the reality, the vulnerability, the attitudes, and the complexities of the human being inside of all of that,” she continued. “But then you do come across people who are almost sort of superhuman, and Catherine was like that. She was extraordinary. She held onto power and the throne during an incredibly difficult, dangerous time in Russia. For her to handle the whole thing as a woman and a foreigner was an extraordinary feat. It was an incredible honor to walk in her shoes for a few hours.”

The four-part limited series gives a glimpse into the monarch’s life as she ruled the empire and fought to keep her crown. It also follows the love affair between Catherine and Russian military leader Grigory Potemkin, played by Jason Clarke, who said he came away from the project, his second with Mirren, “a better actor and a better person.”

“I don’t mean to say that lightly. But literally, you have your day, and at six o’clock in the makeup chair where you’re sitting there together and you laugh. I love hearing how Helen packs her bag, things that make her life easier when she travels as an actress,” he continued. “Just watching her work. We did ‘Winchester’ together and then, we’ve done something like this, which is monumental in size. Any great actor gives another great actor license and confidence, and Helen gave me that in spades. That is just the best feeling in the world.”

“Catherine the Great” debuts Oct. 21st on HBO.

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