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Looking in the Mirren

Oscar winner Helen Mirren takes on two challenging new roles in Love Ranch and The Tempest. logo
Helen Mirren in Love Ranch
In just the last five years, Helen Mirren has played Leo Tolstoy's wife, an assassin, a Greek monarch who accuses her stepson of rape, and Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II -- twice. Now, the multi-award winning actress is adding to her extensive repertoire by playing Grace Bon Tempo, the madam of Nevada's first legal brothel, in the film Love Ranch, which opens on June 30, and Shakespeare's mercurial magician, Prospero, in Julie Taymor's film version of William Shakespeare's The Tempest, opening in December.

Based on a true story from the 1970s, Love Ranch -- which is directed by Mirrren's husband, Taylor Hackford -- follows the rocky relationship of Grace and her husband Charlie (Joe Pesci) who wins Argentine heavyweight boxer, Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), in a poker game. Grace first becomes his manager, and then, despite their 20-year age difference, they fall in love -- forcing Grace to choose between the complicated life she's built with husband Charlie and a fresh start with Bruza.

Playing a married woman who falls in love with a younger man implies a sultry storyline, but Mirren is quick to point out that element wasn't the main attraction in taking the role. "It's not about her sexuality or even femininity. It's the milieu. It's the toughness of the woman," she says.

Indeed, shooting the film's sex scenes wasn't difficult for the actress. "Taylor was great; he was absolutely straightforward and practical about it," she says."He might as well have been shooting a scene about washing up. As for me, as an actor, I've often walked into a room and I'm suddenly kissing a complete stranger, or I'm in some fumbling sex scene. Actors are used to that. That's our job. It's natural and easy."

To research what makes a successful Madam, Mirren spent time at Nevada's most famous brothel, The Mustang Ranch. "The thing I love most about my job is that it takes me to the most unexpected places -- places I would never dream that I would be." Susan Austin, the current madam of the Mustang Ranch served as the film's authenticity consultant and taught Mirren brothel etiquette. "She is very elegant, very gracious, very smart, very businesslike. If you met her on the street you'd think she was the CEO of a cosmetics company. She was a revelation to me."

Redefining the traditionally male role of Prospero in The Tempest was more of a daunting task, she says. "I had done a lot of Shakespeare in my past. I haven't done it for quite a long time. It was great to sort of revisit Shakespeare's language. I thought if it was ever going to come to fruition it would be in the theater, so when Julie said she had the financing to make a film, I was absolutely amazed and slightly terrified! But, what an adventure! You grab those opportunities with both hands."

Mirren recognizes she takes a gamble with her career each time she takes on another risky role -- but she wouldn't have it any other way. "It's a bit of a poisoned chalice being that kind of actor, because the audience kind of pushes you toward the same kind of thing," she says." As an actor you have to fight against that, because ultimately, that's what is in your artistic self-interest."

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