Helen Mirren on Reprising her Role as Elizabeth II in ‘The Audience’: “I was determined not to do it”

"When I took my bow at the end, they were not applauding me. They were applauding the queen." - Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren in The Audience

One would that Helen Mirren would’ve welcomed the opportunity to play Queen Elizabeth II again after she won an Oscar for playing her in the 2006 film The Queen, which was written by Peter Morgan. While she did reprise the role in the historical play The Audience on the West End in 2013 — for which she was awarded her first Olivier Award — as it turns out she didn’t initially want to do it. In an interview with the New York Times on the eve of The Audience starting preview performances on Broadway, Mirren explains why she was hesitant to do the play in the first place, how it differs from her Oscar-winning portrayal, and why she wishes Queen Elizabeth came to see her in the play when it was in London.

Mirren reveals that she was unhappy when she found out Morgan wanted her to star as Her Majesty in his new play. She explains, “It was a terrible day for me. And when I read the play, my heart stopped: I was onstage for two hours.”

The acclaimed actress admits that she was concerned that her stage performance would be unfavorably compared to the Oscar-winning film. She says, “I was determined not to do it. The film was so successful. But by this point, I was trying to wriggle out of that role. I went to a read-through convinced that at the end I’d say no because it’s just not right for me. Not now or at any time.

However, Mirren changed her mind once she met the behind-the-scenes talent that would be involved in the production. She recalls, “I walked into the rehearsal room. There was the great designer Bob Crowley; there was Stephen Daldry, one of the great theater directors; there was Robert Fox, the producer; and there was Peter Morgan. And I looked at that team, and I said: ‘Don’t be an idiot. You can’t walk away from this.’ A team like this doesn’t happen often.”

Unlike The Queen, which revealed a more personal side of Elizabeth, The Audience offers glimpses of Elizabeth’s weekly meetings with the prime ministers of England throughout her long reign. She explains, “The play is not like the movie in the sense that you’re not going behind the velvet curtain to see the emotional woman. She’s in formal mode throughout.

Mirren admits that she wishes Elizabeth would have come to see the play when it was originally produced on the West End. She says, “I wish the queen had come to see the play, but it would have been impossible. She doesn’t go to the theater anyway.” After all, Mirren believes that at the end of the play it isn’t she who is getting the cheers. She points out, When I took my bow at the end, they were not applauding me. They were applauding the queen.

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