Majestic Mirren set to reign on the stage as she takes up the role of Queen Elizabeth for the second timeHelen Mirren will take up the role of Queen Elizabeth II again – but this time on stage The talented actress will portray the Queen from the time she acceded to the throne, aged 25, through to her 80sThe Audience will begin
preview performances at the Gielgud Theatre on February 15
22:23 GMT, 20 September 2012
00:34 GMT, 21 September 2012
Fit for royalty: Helen Mirren with her Oscar award for Best Actress for her portrayal as Elizabeth II in The Queen
Helen Mirren, who won an Oscar for her screen portrait of the Queen, has revealed, exclusively, that she will play the monarch again — this time on the West End stage.
Mirren will star in a play that exposes some unlikely alliances between the Queen and a few of her 12 prime ministers, who stretch from David Cameron all the way back to Winston Churchill.
Called The Audience, the play — which is bound to be one of the hottest tickets in town in years — will begin preview performances at the Gielgud Theatre on February 15, with an official opening night tentatively marked for March 5. Producer Matthew Byam Shaw told me it’s scheduled to run to June 15.
Next week, during a short break from shooting the thriller Red 2 with Bruce Willis, Mirren will travel from Montreal to London to liaise with the play’s creative team.
She will meet with director Stephen Daldry, writer Peter Morgan (who penned the 2006 film The Queen) and designer Bob Crowley, and do a second read-through of the play. They will also discuss how best to deal with the age range — the actress, 67, will portray the Queen from the time she acceded to the throne, aged 25, through to her 80s.
‘That’ll be a challenge,’ she said drily. However, Mirren observed the Queen’s ‘unbelievable consistency in everything’ — from dress to hairstyle to professional attitude — made the age problem not as insurmountable as it might seem.
‘Her voice has changed, and I can use that — she had a terribly posh voice when she was young,’ Mirren said, skilfully mimicking the youthful Queen’s cut-glass received pronunciation.
‘But now even the Queen, while she isn’t quite dropping the ends of her lines — though her grandsons do! — there’s a tiny bit of estuary creeping in there. I can use all that to signify the age range, and we’ll come up with other things.’
Mirren told me that when Morgan initially emailed her about doing The Audience, she wasn’t wild about the idea, and shot back a salty message that started: ‘You B*****d!’
‘I certainly don’t want to be known as the actress who played the Queen, so there was a slight sense of apprehension about that element,’ she told me.
By the time she turned up for a reading of The Audience back in June, she said she’d made up her mind to turn the project down.
‘I was thinking: “You shouldn’t really be doing this, Helen. I don’t think it’s right.” And the thought of doing a play — you can’t go anywhere for six months!’
But then she walked into the room and saw Daldry, Morgan, Crowley and producers Byam Shaw, Robert Fox and Andy Harries (one of the producers of The Queen) — and had a change of heart.
Class act: Helen Mirren as Her Majesty in The Queen alongside Michael Sheen as Tony Blair
Winning performance: Helen Mirren portraying the Queen reading anout the death of Princess Diana in the 2005 film
‘I thought: “Here are some of the best people at what they do in the world. If you don’t do it, you’re an absolute idiot!” So here we go again.’
She revealed that the play is about the history of Britain as much as it is about the relationships between Her Majesty and her prime ministers.
‘I think it’s about what power means and how people handle it. Not the Queen, incidentally, because she is comparatively powerless. But how power is held in the hands of these men — and one woman — and the effect that has on their personalities and their psyche.
‘In the beginning, the Queen is the young, nervous, unknowledgeable one.
‘But as she progresses through them, they become the nervous ones. She’s the one constant, through a revolving door of prime ministers.’
Historical: Helen Mirren staring as the first Queen Elizabeth in the channel 4 series Elizabeth I in 2005
Versatile: Helen Mirren is currently filming the sequel to the 2010 comedy thriller film RED
Morgan is working on a new draft of The Audience and, for now, no one knows exactly which prime ministers will be showcased. Tony Blair didn’t appear in the first draft, but he may take a bow in the new version that Mirren will read next week.
‘She was a very young woman with Churchill, who was trying to bamboozle and then educate her; and she has gotten on better with some than she has with others,’ producer Byam Shaw told me. He added that people may find it ‘surprising who she gets on well with’.
He said Morgan conducted extremely thorough research, talking to assorted PM’s principal private secretaries and Cabinet ministers. John Major had been ‘very helpful’, he said.
Meanwhile, Mirren and her fellow stars from Red 2 will be in town filming over the next few weeks.
‘We’ll be shooting up London,’ Mirren joked. ‘What a contrast of characters: from retired assassin to Queen!’