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Helen Mirren Makes a Hobson's Choice

The Oscar-winning actress discusses the filming of the comedy Arthur with Russell Brand. logo
Russell Brand and Helen Mirren in Arthur
(© Barry Wetcher)
The upcoming remake of the 1981 comedy film classic Arthur -- about a lovable man-child whose life is transformed when he's forced to choose between inheriting multiple millions and true love -- will have to compete with fond memories of the original, which starred Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli and Sir John Gielgud. If the film has a not-so-secret weapon, it's not star Russell Brand, but two-time Tony Award nominee and Oscar winner Helen Mirren, who is taking over Gielgud's mantle as Arthur's devoted companion-cum-servant, Hobson.

Following in Gielgud's footsteps didn't make Mirren anxious, but getting a laugh did. "I have never done a film that was called 'a comedy' before. It was one of the reasons I wanted to do the film," she says. "Comedy is hard especially when you're an old cart horse like me, and you're put out to work with a couple of race horses and stallions. I was surrounded by brilliant performers. The kind of improvisation that Russell does is to really riff on a subject like a jazz musician. It's an extraordinary thing to witness."

While Mirren will admit to being intimidated by punch lines and pratfalls, she wouldn't tolerate her co-stars being intimidated by her. On the second day of rehearsal, she felt Brand was being a bit timid in her presence, so she smacked him on the arm and said 'stop respecting me!'"

Fortunately, Hobson's dry wit and wisdom is at the heart of the film, and it's where Mirren found her footing. "I didn't have to be out there. I could play it straight," she says. Mirren also found that doing physical comedy had its privileges -- especially when a professional heavyweight boxer teaches you how to knock out your co-star.

"Punching Russell was great, but the best thing was being taught how to punch by Evander Holyfield, who was my personal trainer on the set," she explains. "He is such a gentleman, but he is a big guy and sort of scary. Still, I went up to him, and said 'I've got to punch Russell, will you show me how?'"

Having won nearly every accolade in show business -- including four SAG Awards, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, four Emmys, and two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Awards -- one would think honors are old hat for Mirren. But she was truly excited to recently receive her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"The whole world of film makers is encapsulated on that one street. That street has always been the street of dreams to me, "she explains. "To find that my hands and feet are there! I'm absolutely blown away by it. Becoming a Dame, fantastic. Winning an Oscar, amazing. Hands and feet, incredible!"

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