Helen Mirren asked about how her ‘equipment’ gets in the way of being “a serious actress’ in 1975

08.23.16 2 years ago

Women the world over have to deal with sexism but women in Hollywood tend to have to deal with it in a much more public way. Dame Helen Mirren has never been quiet when it comes to issues of sexism and equality but a 1975 interview proves it.

Mirren is a treasure who will soon be seen in Fast 8 and the Winchester Mystery House film. She has a long acting history but I can't say I've ever seen footage of her doing interviews at a younger age until now.

YouTuber Caesonia's channel posted the videos from the British talk show Parkinson, with host Michael Parkinson, back in 2008 and somehow Entertainment Weekly just discovered them.

When referencing her time with the Royal Shakespeare Company (one of the most serious and illustrious acting institutions), Parkinson noted she was “once described as the 'sex queen' of that company,” adding “the critics spend as much time discussing her physical attributes as assessing her acting ability.” When the host asked if those types of comments flatter her, bother or annoy her, Mirren's response to all was, “no.”

It seemed at first Parkinson was trying to have an intelligent discourse about the discussion around women's physical attributes when it comes to their professions but he quickly falls into the same trap by asking her if her “equipment” hinders her in her pursuit of being a “serious actress.”

“I'd like you to explain what you mean by my 'equipment,'” she replied. “Because 'serious actresses' can't have big bosoms, is that what you mean?”

“What a crummy performance if people are obsessed with the size of your bosom or anything else,” said Mirren without missing a beat. “I would hope that the performance and the play and the living relationship between all the people on the stage and all the people in the audience overcomes such boring [laughs] questions.”

Boring questions indeed.

When they moved on to her time in primary school and Mirren said her first role was the Virgin Mary, some of the audience found that amusing. “Why do they laugh?” she asked. “I didn't laugh, I kept a straight face,” said Parkinson.

And just when you thought we might be done with the awkward conversation, Parkinson broached another topic. “Let's talk about the fact that you, in fact, have taken your clothes off on-screen and partly disrobed on stage as well. Do you have any feeling of embarrassment about it?”

Here's how Mirren responded:

There are lots of reasons for feeling uncomfortable about taking your clothes off in a movie and one of them is that, basically, whatever the director says you know basically you know that it's being done for commercial reasons. And it's a male chauvinist kind of, you know that phrase I'm sure [laughs], you've heard it before, right? And I think that that's probably the main source of the discomfort is that you somehow feel as though you're being got at and you can't explain why. For instance, I used to go swimming in Jamaica with my friends without any clothes on and that was no embarrassment at all, just a very nice feeling. I think that, I do think that if girls have to take their clothes off on film sets then everyone should do it who's engaged in the film and then…because the thing about being naked, in that sense, is that you're the only one. You know, you'e all alone [laughs] and everyone else has got their clothes on. It's just a funny feeling, it's not nice to be the outsider.

Sexism is still alive and well in Hollywood and I for one and very thankful Mirren has always spoken out about it. Here are the videos of the interview if you'd like to watch.

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