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Interview with Helen Mirren

Linda Kenney Baden

HBO

What drew you to Phil Spector?

Helen Mirren

Really, it was the opportunity to work with Al Pacino and David Mamet. As you know, I stepped into this role because Bette Midler, who would have been wonderful, unfortunately had to retire because of an injury. When the call came, I was away on holiday in Italy and having a lovely time. I had been thinking, Oh, Im just going to take two or three months off, Im not going to work for a while, I could do with a break when the call came. But I couldnt resist working with such incredible luminaries of drama and literature. They wanted me to start in four days, but I asked for a week so I could study the script and so forth. They gave me a week and then I was up and running.

HBO

What was it like to work with David Mamet, who was both the writer and director?

Helen Mirren

Mamet is one of the greatest American playwrights, so I knew it was going to be an extraordinary experience. Often when you work with writers, theyre very precious about their work. Obviously, theyre very word-oriented and very specific and very controlling, but David was the opposite. He was very, very free in the whole process.

HBO

So were you able to shape the role a little more than you might have been able to in a more traditional environment?

Helen Mirren

Well, no. Obviously Im playing a real person, whos very much alive, so I had to produce a certain kind of character who was Linda-like or maybe Linda-lite. She was very generous with her time. No one could quite be Linda. I think what I do is not an impersonation of Linda, far from it, but on the other hand there are elements of Linda in my performance.

HBO

Did you work with Linda in preparation for your role?

Helen Mirren

Yes. She wasnt there all the time, but I met with her. The film is not a perfect, precise, forensic representation of what happened in that first trial and she was very generous  a lot of people say Oh no, no, it didnt happen like that, or I never said that, or That would never have happened, not really understanding that drama is a different thing.

HBO

Were there any aspects of the real Linda that you could relate to? Was there a draw on a personal level?

Helen Mirren

Well I think whenever you have a strong woman, and Linda is most certainly that, thats always an appealing thing. And Linda is very full of personality; shes got a very distinctive personality.

HBO

Did you know anything about the case prior to taking the role?

Helen Mirren

I didnt know the details but I knew it generally and I remember, very powerfully, the images of Phil  who could forget those images? Im not a huge murder trial aficionado; I didnt follow it day by day, deposition by deposition. One account I thought was interesting was from a journalist who covers all the big criminal trials, and she said of all the trials shes covered, Phil Spectors was the most troubling. I think in the sense that no matter how much evidence was produced no one could ever clearly get to the bottom of what actually happened.

"When youre constructing a character ... theres a very powerful interior process that has to go on."

HBO

The film focuses on the relationship between Linda and Phil. How did you and Al Pacino work together to create that?

Helen Mirren

We chatted off screen as well as on screen. We spent time together  as much time as I could spend I spent with him. When youre constructing a character like Phil Spector, theres a very powerful interior process that has to go on, so you dont, as a fellow actor, want to intrude too much on that process. I know as an actor how much energy and concentration that needs. It was just such a treat for me to watch him work and be a recipient of his work.

HBO

Some of the most powerful scenes are those where Linda goes to Phils mansion for the first time. Theyre very intense and spooky.

Helen Mirren

We had a wonderful location and a great set that we shot on that was brilliantly production designed. Obviously all of those elements are massively important when youre making this kind of piece. The production design becomes a character in a way. And that was very much Davids vision  to go into this labyrinthine, mystical, strange place. And Phil certainly lived like that.

HBO

You really do feel her apprehension as she navigates those halls.

Helen Mirren

Throughout the trial Linda had a very, very bad cold that developed into bronchial pneumonia, which we replicate in the film. On top of everything else she was very sick, so that must have heightened her senses; she must have been taking drugs to combat the sickness, so surely that heightened the weirdness of the whole scenario.

HBO

Did you have a favorite scene in filming?

Helen Mirren

Well, for me, the overpowering experience really was to work with Al Pacino and to realize something that Ive always kind of known but only from a distance  seeing up close what an extraordinary actor he is.

I think the scene where Lindas training Phil in a mock trial, which apparently criminal lawyers do. They set it up so that the person on trial really has a sense of how they have to behave and the sorts of things that are appropriate or inappropriate to say. That was a pretty powerful scene for me to play with Al.

Phil Spector

HBO Films