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.