Helen Mirren: The Power and Performance of Raw Emotion

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The Clearing (2004)

The legendary British actress muses on the movies that tested her emotional limits

“I would say in terms of pure, raw emotion, there was a scene at the end of a film called The Clearing. It isn't a terribly well-known film, but there was a scene at the end of it where I had to do a breakdown. In terms of just completely emotionally losing it on film, I would say that was the only time I have ever gotten to that point. I did it because I had to; I had to find that within me and I found it through – as you have to sometimes in acting – very difficult personal, painful things. That is why I loved Julianna’s film today, because you could feel the emotion, the loss and pain of losing her father infiltrating the story. I didn’t know the story behind it at first, but I just felt that, somehow, there was a deeply personal story present through the making of her film. It is amazing how, through something being so deeply personal, pain became universal. Those are stories that we can all recognise – and there is a power in that sort of personal pain."

Dame Helen Mirren is, as Tim Blanks described her earlier this week at the BFI's London Film Festival, one of Britain's most "garlanded" actors – and with a career that spans decades of leading roles from Ophelia to Queen Elizabeth, she has long established herself as one of Britain's most beloved figures. But it is not only her extrordinary capacity to inhabit such storied characters on screen that has earned her such renown, but equally her frank approach to gender bias – particarly for older women – in the media, and her refusal to acquiesce to the silence commonly expected of female actors. This year, in honour of Giorgio Armani's second edition of 'Films of City Frames' – a series of shorts from around the globe that explore the world through the lens of Armani's Frames of Life collection – Mirren has taken on a new role: one of ambassador and mentor to the young directors spotlighted within the initiative. 

"Very often young filmmakers feel that it is all about control, but in many ways it is actually about letting go" – Helen Mirren

"As an actor, I would say that an incredibly important part of a film is its cast," she told the filmmakers at the BFI premiere of the films. "It is all about finding the right person for the role, because once you have absolutely the right person, in a way you can step back. I think very often young filmmakers feel that it is all about control, but in many ways it is actually about letting go and allowing people to create within their own space."

Giorgio Armani's series 'Films of City Frames' is available to watch at framesoflife.com