Exclusive: Helen Mirren on Ageing, Confidence, and Mental Health
It's no secret that people are wrought with worry when it comes to ageing. Even though it's literally just a number, there's a lot of dread (and many misconceptions) that surround it. For proof, just look to the skincare industry, where products are marketed as time-rewinding and youth-boosting miracle salves. Although certain skincare ingredients are better for diminishing fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation than others, a single magical anti-ageing formula doesn't exist (at least not yet). A solid skincare routine can prevent damage and lessen the appearance of age-related concerns, but it will only slow down the process. It won't stop it altogether. And that's totally ok. In fact, there's something empowering—almost freeing—about embracing the skin you're in.
That's what Helen Mirren does. She's 72 years old and a major inspiration. We've always been fans of her unique, colourful, and confident approach to life, so imagine our excitement when we were able to sit down with her face-to-face while she was on a promotional tour for her latest role in the movie Winchester.
In the film, a psychiatrist comes to visit your character to inquire about her mental state. What’s something you do every day for your own mental health?
My mental health? Not a lot. I have cups of tea. That helps.
I’m sure. It’s very calming.
Well actually, you know, tea’s not really calming. Tea kind of perks you up, but I do like the phrase that became famous in the second world war in Britain and now they print it on cups and aprons and things, which is “Keep calm and carry on.” And if I am getting a bit tizzied, I just say to myself, “Keep calm and carry on.” Just take it one step at a time. If you can’t deal with what’s going to happen tomorrow, don’t deal with it now; deal with it when you come to tomorrow, and then you will be able to deal with it.
Can you talk about how your confidence and your sense of self have really changed with age?
I don’t know because that sort of thing is incremental, and also it’s not constant. You know, some days you feel great and confident, and other days you don’t. It’s been like that ever since I was young [laughs]. I mean, I think it is true that as you get older, it’s not that you get more confident. You don’t—but you care about it less. You care less about being un-self-confident. It’s not such a big deal as you get older. And I think what happens is that you, less and less, see yourself as the center of the world and you start to lose your self-obsession, and in losing self-obsession, you lose the very things that are making you feel unconfident or whatever.
I also wanted to know, this idea of falling in love with yourself and relearning how to fall in love with yourself as you change and evolve, is that something that you feel you’ve experienced or you work toward?
No, I’m not in love with myself. I’m not in love with myself at all. I’m in love with other people, I mean, other things. It’s the opposite of falling in love with yourself. It's going outside of yourself. Don’t go “oh, me.” Go “oh you, him, her, that tree.” Go outside.
So that’s how you feel the happiest?
Yeah, definitely, absolutely.
What’s your ideal day like if you’re not working and you have nothing planned?
I’d just be horribly lazy and then finish up feeling guilty by the evening going, “Oh, God, I’ve completely wasted today.” But it’s much better to go out and do something, actually. You know, go for a walk. But I do; I like to garden, actually. I love gardening.
Do you have a garden at home that you tend to?
I’ve got gardens all over the country! All over the world, I mean [laughing]! I have a garden in Italy; I have a terrace in New York; I now have a rock garden in Tahoe, so I’m forever planting things and never quite getting to see them flower because I’m off working somewhere.
But I guess that must be nice to come home to them.
Yeah, it’s great. It’s always an adventure. Oh, look how that’s grown!
Ed. note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
There you have it. Life advice from Dame Helen Mirren herself. Excuse us while we buy a Keep Calm and Carry On mug for our desks, remind ourselves that appearance is unimportant and fleeting, and tend to our winter houseplants (to, quite literally, stay grounded). After all, if it's good enough for Helen Mirren, then it's good enough for us.