Helen Mirren on Gray Hair, 12-Minute Workouts and Her Secret to a Life Well-Lived

Hannah Coates

October 4, 2021

Article taken from Vogue.

Dame Helen Mirren has played everyone from DCI Jane Tennison to the Queen, and has won too many awards to list here. After more than 30 years in the spotlight, at 76 she shows no signs of slowing down. Most recently, she starred in L’Oreal Paris’s runway show in Paris (she’s an ambassador for the brand). She spoke to British Vogue’s acting beauty and wellness editor, Hannah Coates, ahead of the show about confidence, dancing with Vin Diesel and always laying out her clothes the night before.

On walking in the L’Oréal show

I’ve done a lot of theatre in my life so the whole idea of walking out to do a show is in my DNA. But what I love about fashion shows is that—unlike theatre where it’s all rehearsed and everyone knows what they’re doing (you hope!)—it’s absolute chaos! I love the technicality of how they put a fashion show together, it’s so fun to watch. And I have to say that all the real models are so sweet. They’re relaxed because they do it over and over again, so they’re used to the chaos. Meanwhile, I watch it all in awe and wonder. Somehow, miraculously, there is a moment where you all line up and go on one after another and it all comes together. It all looks perfect and everyone knows what they’re doing and I never quite get it! But it’s really fun.

On how she approaches makeup

I always mix it up and do something different. I apply make-up according to how I feel. Usually I apply whatever is immediately to hand in my make-up drawer—I put my hand in and grab the first thing. If it’s a silver eyeliner or a black smudgey one, I use it and make it up as I go along. I love make-up and products in general—I love the feel and smell of them, as well as the bottles. I like to break my own rules as much as possible. If I’m working with a makeup artist, they will ask what I like and I always tell them that my face is their canvas and to do what they want. You always find new ideas and ways of looking at yourself that way. We all get stuck in our ruts in the way we make up our eyes, hair or lips—it’s good to shake it up.

On the secret to a life well-lived

As lovely as it was to dance with Vin Diesel in the rain in Piazza San Marco—was it a dream?—that’s not the secret to a life well-lived. Don’t feel paralyzed by your own insecurities and don’t be too polite or apologetic in life. I mean, I hope I am a very polite person, I hate rudeness, but I don’t mean that. More that you should be open to opportunity. Chat to people and be as open as possible. It’s a very good idea, occasionally, to look at the world as a child or foreigner and witness your own environment. Imagine you’re seeing it for the very first time and try and experience the magic in it—because there is magic in every environment. All it needs is to be seen with fresh eyes.

On how she gets ready for an event

Usually if I have some sort of function to go to, or if I’m traveling or have an interview to do, I sort my clothes out the night before. I’ll lay out my tights, shoes, sweater, underwear—whatever it is—all of it is ready to go. It means that if I am in a panic in the morning, which I often am because I’m late, I’m not worrying about what I’m going to wear because I know it’ll all work together. That’s the only little thing that I do.

On when she started to feel most confident and comfortable in her own skin

You grow into it, without question. It was a long time ago but I remember the moment I learned to smile. I always had fat cheeks (and I still do!), so I was always sucking my cheeks in. But you can’t suck your cheeks in and smile at the same time! It’s absolutely impossible. So I guess I never smiled. Then I discovered that, actually, it’s nice to smile openly and with freedom, not a tight little smile, a big one. It certainly has served me in good stead. Normally if you see me in photos, I’m almost always smiling. I don’t do a Victoria Beckham—who I love, incidentally, she’s one of my favorite people—but she’s always got the smolder on. I’m not so good at that anymore.

On going gray

I have to say it was very easy for me because my hair was always blonde. I was a natural blonde and although it was quite dark at times, in the summertime when I’d spent time in the sun, it would basically go white. So the process of me losing the color of my hair was very easy—it just looked more and more as if I had been in the sun, but year-round. I put low lights in it in the past—and I’d like to do it again soon. I’ve always done it myself, I never went to have my hair colored; I couldn’t be bothered, it’s so boring and expensive. I think it can be more difficult [to go gray] if you have much darker hair, but the women of my age who have made the leap recently look so spectacular.

I played Queen Charlotte, King George III’s wife [in the film The Madness of King George], and it was set in the 18th century, a period when they wore wigs. They would be powdered in white and gray because it was incredibly flattering and they understood that. Going gray is to be encouraged—that’s not to say you can’t have fun with your hair, because it’s a very important part of how you feel about yourself. People should do whatever makes them feel comfortable.

On how to approach growing older, happily

My advice is to work from the inside out. First of all, take control of your diet and find one that makes you feel good. I’m the first one at the fish and chips, but what you’re putting inside your body does influence how you feel about yourself, so start there. The next thing is exercise, which doesn’t mean joining expensive gyms. I’m a big believer in the Canadian Air Force women’s exercise regime, which is 12 minutes. It is an exercise regime that starts from very low and easy, then if you follow it through, it can become quite difficult. I’ve never gotten past the second level, but it’s a nice little exercise program. Nothing extreme, but you need to do it every day. That’s a great start, because it’s all to do with taking control of yourself. I’m incredibly lazy and if I can avoid doing it, I will, but every now and then I pull myself back and do what I know works.

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