Helen Mirren’s autobiography: She’s nothing like a dame


In my weekly perusal of the wonderful wowowow.com, I came across a non-gossipy tidbit from Liz Smith recommending Helen Mirren‘s memoir, In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures.

Wait. Queen-of-my-heart Dame Helen Mirren has a memoir that I didn’t know about? How could this happen? A few clicks later, I discovered that Mirren’s book, which was released in the U.K. last fall, didn’t make it to American shores until a few weeks ago. OK, I’m not as far behind as I feared.

But something is amiss. Take a close look at the book cover. Now look at the woman holding the book.

Photo credit: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

The same woman? Yes. The same beauty? Not even close. The lovely lady’s character lines have disappeared in another unfortunate encounter with an airbrush.

Yes, I know that airbrushing is de rigueur for celebrity photos, but this is Helen Mirren, who eschews cosmetic surgery even when it’s offered for free, as it was before the 2007 Oscars. At the time, she said: “I’m not fond of all those needles and scalpels. I’ll try to get away with make-up, jewelry and a nice frock.” Not only did she get away with it, she was named one of People ‘s “100 Most Beautiful People” in 2007.

Fortunately, according to reviews, we can’t judge In the Frame by its cover. The book is, in fact, a very candid look at Mirren’s life, from childhood to the year that she played the Queen and ended her reign as Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.

She told The Huffington Post that she resisted writing an autobiography for years because she wanted to write it herself — without a ghostwriter — but she didn’t feel capable. Then a friend suggested that she do a scrapbook with brief stories to accompany the pictures. That appealed to Mirren. “I’m a very visual person, I respond a lot to visual images. And I think that was an easy way in for me.”

Once she started writing, she loved it. “Originally I was only supposed to write, really, just little captions for the pictures, and I was supposed to write about 15,000 words,” she said. “And I finished up writing about 56,000 words. The publisher in the end wrote and said, ‘Stop! Stop! We’ve got far too many words it is getting too long.'” As if we could ever have too many words from Helen Mirren.

The resulting book, according to CTV.ca, is “witty, honest, generous and engaging.” The photos track Mirren’s career from her very first role as an Irish nurse at what would become the Royal Exchange Theater, to her first queenly role as Cleopatra at age 18 at

England’s National Youth Theater, to her first starring film role

in Age of Consent in 1969.

An example of Mirren’s candor in In the Frame is her admission that she took LSD in her 20s. She talked to UK interviewer Jonathan Ross about what happened:

I don’t know how people can take it time after time. I had the most wonderful time on it — it was wonderful, partly because my good friend came up to me just as the world was refracting and said, “Don’t worry Hel, it’s gonna be fine. Just let go and enjoy,” and I did. He sort of saved me and I had a fantastic time. But it’s too much, it’s too much.

Mirren always has been open about her wild side and has never shied from on-screen nudity. According to the Sunday Mirror, she once said, “Stripping for the camera is as easy as drinking a glass of orange juice on the set.” In fact, the USA Naturist Society just voted Dame Mirren the No. 1 celebrity for “promoting healthy nudity.” (Kyra Sedgwick came in second.) Oh, to have been a judge in that competition.

Mirren in Calendar Girls (2003)

Mirren has been making the rounds of talk shows to promote In the Frame, and my favorite interview so far is the one she did with Charlie Rose, who kindly posted the entire conversation online. Rose obviously is as smitten with Mirren as I am. But then again, who isn’t?

Despite the accolades, Mirren still describes herself as “being famous for being cool about not being gorgeous.” Cool, yes. Not gorgeous? I beg to differ. But I suppose it is the prerogative of a queen to overlook the obvious, even when the rest of the world cannot.

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