Back in December, Fandango was invited to spend the day on the London set of director Dean Parisot’s take on the action-packed, star-studded RED 2. We wandered the historic, ornate, cavernous Fishmonger’s Hall – doubling as the Iranian Embassy in the film– and watched a plethora of action shot during what will be a major sequence in the film’s third act.
One of the scenes included Helen Mirren – reprising her role as retired assassin Victoria – walking through a metal detector in a tan fur coat, then opening it to reveal a stock of guns hidden beneath. She maintained her hilariously deadpan matter-of-fact style while simultaneously pulling guns from her SWAT vest and shooting multiple baddies, and she made it all look easy.
In between takes she practiced with a firearms specialist, perfecting the way she handled and pointed her guns. She also commiserated behind the monitors with the crew during replays, even suggesting they add more guns to her coat. During her downtime, she chatted with fellow costars Bruce Willis and John Malkovich, at one point perching next to her stunt double for an animated discussion about Beasts of the Southern Wild – a bizarrely entertaining visual of double Helens.
We chatted with Mirren about returning for the sequel, perfecting her shooting technique and finding inspiration in… Martha Stewart?
Fandango: Not to tattle on all the dudes in a five-foot radius, but they’ve been hovering behind the monitors during your scenes yelling, "She is so cool!" This has to be such a fun role to reprise.
Helen Mirren: It's a guilty pleasure! I think next time a journalist asks me, "What's your guilty pleasure?" I'll say, "My guilty pleasure is playing in RED."
The last RED was the first time you ever worked with guns, right?
Mirren: Yeah, absolutely. On the first one, I had to really think, you do not blink, you do not go [sticks out tongue] like this, you know? [Laughs]
They seem to be giving you a lot more practice in this one - more than the first RED?
Mirren: No, on the first one I was sent out to a shooting range and shot with real ammunition, which was incredibly valuable. The guys are great, you have such incredible experts around you and all you have to do is really listen to them and not think that you know better, because you don't! So just really listen to what they're telling you and just try to do whatever it is that they say.
And then it's all fun from there.
Mirren: It's so much more fun than having long pages of dialogue.
You even managed to use your clutch as a weapon in the first movie. Any other accessories making a deadly appearance in RED 2?
Mirren: No - my hand has become my accessory! A little bit of [makes karate chop movement]. Again, it's all the magic of the movies - they can make it look like anything.
Brian Cox is back as Ivan, too. Where do things pick up with you guys, romantically?
Mirren: Oh, we sort of bond over an execution site. [Laughs] His hair dye job is worse than ever. It's like the worst ever. And it's very romantic. We almost get to drink champagne out of my shoe, but not quite.
You worked with Anthony Hopkins on Hitchcock. Did you know you were going to be working together again on RED 2 while you were shooting that film?
Mirren: No, in fact - while we were doing Hitchcock Tony said, "Oh, they've asked me to do RED 2." I said, "Oh please - I hope you do it, that would be fantastic!"
Well then we'd like to think that you're responsible for his decision to be in RED 2.
Mirren: Oh, I don't think so. I think that was a completely independent idea. But it was fabulous, great to go from Hitchcock to this. Two extremes, you know?
From very buttoned up to totally looney!
Mirren: Yes, and he's going to be brilliant... as always!
Is it true the reason you signed on for the first RED is that you'd always wanted to work with Bruce?
Mirren: Yes, oh yes. I've always wanted to work with Bruce, and the idea of being in this kind of action movie - absolutely irresistible! I've always been a huge fan of Bruce's... since Moonlighting! I just think he's a really amazing actor. An actor's actor, in many ways, which not a lot of action stars are.
That's what was the huge surprise of RED. No one knew quite what to expect, and you had to trust that this leap you were making was going to work out.
Mirren: It was a nice, smart little script, really. And I think we all - maybe Bruce wasn't so much, but we were all a little bit, "Oooh, I wonder if this is gonna work!" But we knew it was going to be fun to make, so even if it hadn't worked it would've been a lovely experience. It's true - when you put sort of substantial, actor-y actors in this sort of material, the better the acting in general.
You’re dressed in some amazing sniper wear today.
Mirren: I'm sort of permanently in this. I have one gorgeous, beautiful dress that I wear in one scene… and my lovely, lovely coat [strokes tan fur coat she’s wearing]. But apart from that - I'm in camouflage in one scene; my clothes are not that over the top. I wear a kick-ass pair of rubber gloves.
Oh, pray tell - what do you do with those?
Mirren: I'm not telling! [Laughs] Whatever you imagine, it's probably not that.
This may sound weird, but Victoria kind of brings Martha Stewart to mind.
Mirren: I based her on Martha Stewart! She's completely who I based her on the first time around: Martha Stewart as an assassin.
Honestly, it would not be shocking in the least if tomorrow news broke that Martha's been an undercover assassin all this time.
Mirren: No, me neither! I totally based her on Martha Stewart - someone who's just really good at everything! Very feminine, totally into all the feminine things. Victoria probably does make quilts, I can see her crocheting. She's very crafty. She cooks beautifully. Great desserts, great baker probably. The thing about Martha Stewart is she's very detail oriented. She's very obsessive. And careful. And very powerful. It's this lovely mixture of a very powerful woman dealing in very feminine things.
It's perfect training for a sniper, really. Being that detail oriented.
Mirren: Absolutely... being that precise. If she folds a towel, it's perfect. So that's totally who I based her on. I hope she takes it as a flattery because it's meant as a flattery!
As with any sequel, this is upping the ante. You're all globe-trotting in a jet now.
Mirren: Yes, a stolen jet.
Is there any particular scene that you think the audience is just going to go wild for? Perhaps one you can't wait to see in the theater, yourself?
Mirren: I'm sure there are a lot, but a lot of them don't involve me! I've not seen them yet! I can't wait to see Catherine in her scenes. I think that's going to be fabulous and she's going to look amazing.
We hear that you don’t share any scenes with Catherine, so who do you hunker down with in this?
Mirren: I hunker down with Bruce and Marvin [John Malkovich] - the gang. And obviously with Ivan. I'm sort of sent in to clean up the mess each time, that they make.
As only Martha could, really.
Mirren: [Laughs] As only Martha could!
RED 2 comes to theaters July 19.
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