Helen Mirren's "RED" Inspiration

Summit Entertainment's "RED" arrives in theaters on Friday, October 15, serving up a thoroughly entertaining blend of action and comedy (with a little romance thrown in) which benefits from one of the finest ensemble casts assembled this year. Considering that 2010 has already delivered dynamite ensembles in "The A-Team," "The Expendables," "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" and "Machete," this is no small feat. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Mary-Louise Parker, Richard Dreyfuss, Brian Cox, Ernest Borgnine and...Helen Mirren? That's right, the Oscar-winning star of "The Queen" plays the role of a retired government assassin in the big screen adaptation of the DC Comics/Wildstorm comic, and it may surprise you to hear where she drew her inspiration from.


"It's always great to find someone that you can pin your character on," she said to a group of gathered journalists in New York City last weekend. "Obviously in "The Queen" it was very easy to find the person to pin the character on - she's called Queen Elizabeth. But here, I was kind of looking for who this woman might be. Then I had this flash of inspiration - and Martha Stewart came into my mind."

The admission drew laughter from the attending audience, but the proof is right there on the movie screen. We first meet Mirren's Victoria in the living room of a stately manor, a bed & breakfast that she owns and operates. She's preparing a tray filled with teacups when we see her, though one of her hands is concealed and hiding a small automatic weapon. This assassin-turned-homemaker personality is the beating heart of the Victoria character, and Mirren has no trouble capturing that.


"From that point on, I based everything on Martha Stewart," she continued. "The hair was Martha Stewart's hair, the color, even in the cut and the clothes were Martha Stewart. I thought Martha Stewart combines this perfect combination of sweetness and kindness and gentleness and unbelievable efficiency with this kind of laser-like ability to concentrate and get the job done. I thought that was a perfect sort of thing for Victoria, so I had a picture of Martha up in my trailer and in the makeup so every day I could look at her and be inspired."

The flip side to Victoria's no-nonsense homemaker is her cold-blooded killer persona. She seems perfectly lovely to talk to or share a meal with, but you'd better hope your name never comes to her in a target dossier. Once she commits to getting back together with her old gang, Victoria gets caught up in one action sequence after another. And while she wasn't necessarily fond of having to handle guns for most of the production, Mirren admitted that doing action scenes is "fun."


"It's always great to do action scenes. They're called 'action scenes' because they do the acting for you," she said. Asked if there are any specific franchises that she would look to after the positive experience of working on "RED," Mirren admitted that she's too "ignorant" of the genre to make an informed choice. Thinking aloud, she did settle on two action-oriented filmmakers whom she would love to work with: John Woo and Quentin Tarantino.

Discussing Woo especially, Mirren would inevitably end up wielding - or dual-wielding, in slow-motion, with flying doves behind her - a gun or two. With "RED," she appreciated having actors around who knew what they were doing. "I was very lucky, because a lot of my action scenes were with John Malkovich. He was just so good at all of that gun stuff. The difficult thing that I found...was not sticking my tongue out when I was shooting my gun." She demonstrates with an imaginary gun what it looks like. "That doesn't look very professional."

Mirren hedged when the subject of specific guns and which she preferred to use came up. "I don't like to ever say a gun is fun," she said. "But guns can be fun in the sense of... target practice? Trying to hit a target. On that level, I guess I liked the sniper gun. I hate to even hear myself saying that but it's true."

"The guns I found the most horrifying were these small machine guns. They're not funny, they're terrible. You can cause such havoc. I mean, I could literally wipe almost all of you out," she said, laughing. "That would be a headline, wouldn't it?"

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