Linda Kenney BadenLinda Kenney Baden

Helen Mirren on What It Means to Be “Linda-Lite”

  • What drew you to Phil Spector?

  • 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, I’m just going to take two or three months off, I’m not going to work for a while, I could do with a break” when the call came. But I couldn’t 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.

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

  • 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, they’re very precious about their work. Obviously, they’re very word-oriented and very specific and very controlling, but David was the opposite. He was very, very free in the whole process.

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

  • Well, no. Obviously I’m playing a real person, who’s 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.

  • Did you work with Linda in preparation for your role?

  • Yes. She wasn’t 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 didn’t happen like that,” or “I never said that,” or “That would never have happened,” not really understanding that drama is a different thing.

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

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

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

  • I didn’t know the details but I knew it generally and I remember, very powerfully, the images of Phil – who could forget those images? I’m not a huge murder trial aficionado; I didn’t 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 she’s covered, Phil Spector’s 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.

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

  • 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 you’re constructing a character like Phil Spector, there’s a very powerful interior process that has to go on, so you don’t, 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.

  • Some of the most powerful scenes are those where Linda goes to Phil’s mansion for the first time. They’re very intense and spooky.

  • 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 you’re making this kind of piece. The production design becomes a character in a way. And that was very much David’s vision – to go into this labyrinthine, mystical, strange place. And Phil certainly lived like that.

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

  • 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.

  • Did you have a favorite scene in filming?

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

    I think the scene where Linda’s 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.