One Oscar, three Golden Globes, four BAFTAs, four Emmys and a Damehood- it’s safe to say Dame Helen Mirren has conquered the acting world with performances in films such as “The Queen” and “The Long Good Friday”, but we’re about to see her as never before- as the voice of dragon headmistress Dean Hardscrabble in the new Pixar film “Monsters University”! Her character is the stern head of the school, and tough taskmaster to our heroes Mike and Sully (Billy Crystal and John Goodman) as they try to achieve degrees in scaring.
Although she insists the character isn’t based on any of her teachers, the notion of fear and conquering one’s insecurities took her back to her past. “Funnily enough today I suddenly remembered my headmistress” she reveals. “My first interview with my headmistress when I was 10, my interview for going into grammar school and that change in going from primary school to grammar school. And the terror – she was a nun as well – I was so frightened of her, and she gave me the best advice that I’ve ever had and I’ve lived by ever since. She said the thing to fear is fear itself, she understood that. So actually she was scary but she (was also) wise, and I like to think that Dean Hardscrabble is like that, not just nasty and scary. She’s got a wisdom about her.”
Her character is something of an antagonist in the film, and Mirren worked hard to make the character come to life even if she was only providing her voice. “They (the filmmakers) basically guide you and allow you to experiment and do different things and eventually the character appears” she explains. “It’s really a combination of the actor working with the director, and then of course the animators, who are incredibly creative people who come and visualise it… it’s really finding the right voice, once you’ve found the voice then the character sort of follows along quite naturally with the voice.”
Finally, the actress is now ‘Dame Helen’, an honour about which she had some trepidation. “I was quite worried about accepting it” she recalls. “You don’t want to be set apart – I don’t want to be set apart.”
“Monsters University” is released 12th July and is reviewed in this issue.
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