Helen Mirren lowers her voice to a whisper and her eyes take on a devious twinkle as she makes a confession: When she has a really good time making a movie, as she did on “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” she fears: “Is it going to suck?”
Mirren, a Dame of the British Empire who won an Oscar for playing the Queen, also said that when she takes time off, she worries she has forgotten how to act altogether. Of course, her 48-year career says otherwise.
In “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” Mirren plays Madame Mallory, a prickly restaurateur whose Michelin-starred restaurant sits in a village that looks like a postcard. She presides unforgivingly over its staff and cuisine. Her chilly demeanor turns icy when an Indian family opens a restaurant, Maison Mumbai, across the street.
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Though Mirren, 69, was ready for a break after reprising her royal role on the London stage in Peter Morgan’s “The Audience,” she couldn’t say no to “The Hundred-Foot Journey.” The leadership was top-notch – Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey produced, and Lasse Hallstrom directed – and the project allowed Mirren to make good on a lifelong dream. “I’ve always secretly wanted to be a French actress and never actually managed it,” she said.
Adding to the project’s charm were its picturesque setting in the south of France and nightly homemade meals by co-star Om Puri, who plays the patriarch of the Indian family.
The director said Mirren (in character and out) added to the magic on set: “She’s so smart and skilled. She knows every aspect of filmmaking.”
Except how to feel comfortable between projects. Time off makes her anxious. She fears breaking her concentration and losing the momentum of the character she’s meant to play.
Mirren said that, when she sees movies or theater well done, she feels fearful of her own ability to execute.
“And then maybe (I’ve) got a project coming up, and I get really nervous because I think, ‘I can’t do that,’ ” the award-winning actress said. “Then, of course, you start and you realize, ‘Oh yes, I can. This is what I do. This is my job.’ ”