“F-U-C-K,” Helen Mirren let out a primal scream from the stage of Alice Tully Hall, receiving her Film Society of Lincoln Center Chaplin Award from Jeremy Irons. “I just had to get that out of my system,” Mirren started the long version of her career history beginning with acting as the Virgin Mary at age 6. Well known for bawdy humor, she’s also known to have played the Queen “more times than RuPaul,” quipped speaker Robert DiNiro, who also noted, see what happens when you have weak immigrant laws. Isn’t it great that this award was given to both Charlie Chaplin and Helen Mirren, he went on, before launching into a commentary on the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner: seeing her look mildly hurt, he almost for a moment thought Sarah Sanders was human. And so a night dedicated to great acting over decades took a turn into the immediate and timely.
Aside from playing powerful characters, saucy sirens and paragons of leadership good and bad, as Mirren once pointed out to me at a party celebrating Trumbo, a biopic in which she plays gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to McCarthy era screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, “Make sure you are on the right side of history.”
For her, the right side was surely this austere occasion, being celebrated by an eclectic group, including her Fast & Furious co-star Vin Diesel. She said it was like one of those fantasy dinner parties where you imagine Elvis seated beside Einstein, Trump with Stormy Daniels. The only woman director among the speakers, Julie Taymor, cast Mirren as Prospera, transforming the god-like protagonist in Shakespeare’s The Tempest into a powerhouse mother—on a windy cliff wearing a sixty-pound cape.Most touching was Taylor Hackford not even pretending to be objective about his wife’s genius. He and Mikhail Baryshnikov cast her in White Nights after seeing dozens of actresses. She read the part beautifully in a no nonsense way that stunned them. But as Baryshnikov said gamely, Hackford got the girl. He did find out though, Helen was in fact, of Russian origin. Therefore, if he kissed her, he might be accused of collusion.
Funniest was Billy Crystal joining in on video, speaking about Grampires, a film they made as a vampire couple, a parody of When Harry Met Sally. The clips showed lots of fang and gore, featuring, “I’ll have what she’s having.” Guests filed out to “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”