September 3, 2003
Article taken from The Telegraph.
Helen Mirren used her decades of experience of nude film scenes to relax fellow stars of Calendar Girls, based on middle-aged women who posed naked for charity.
The 58-year-old actress, who first stripped on screen more than 30 years ago, admitted last night : “I had a head start, or a bottom start, I’m not sure which.”
Mirren was attending the premiere of the comedy drama inspired by 11 members of Rylstone and District Women’s Institute who stripped for a fund-raising calendar in 1999, after the husband of one died from leukaemia. The women became stars on both sides of the Atlantic.
Mirren called the film “loving to women”. “It showed a different way of taking your clothes off. There was a huge amount of mutual support, not of the bra sort.”
Of the nude scenes, she said: “Some of the cast had done it before and some absolutely had not.” Only Julie Walters of the four other cast members present admitted yesterday to previous screen nudity.
Walters said most of the actresses, like their real life counterparts, found stripping off nerve-racking. She said: “I was going, ‘Do I need to get this out?’ I was glad to show the camera my best side – my back.”
Six of the original WI members from the Yorkshire Dales were at last night’s premiere at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London. Angela Baker, the basis of Walters’s character, said that her late husband John, whose illness prompted their fund-raising, would have been delighted with the film and their achievements.
“He’d be amazed and very proud of what we’ve done,” she said. When she saw the film, “I laughed a lot and cried a lot. It was very emotional”.
Tricia Stewart, the inspiration for Mirren’s character, said that tension and arguments between her and Walters’s character had been made up. But she claimed not to mind, saying: “It’s fictionalised and dramatised. There’s much more of us in it than I expected.”
An olive branch has been extended to the five of the 11 original calendar girls who refused to be involved with the film, after some backed an unsuccessful rival bid for rights from the comedienne Victoria Wood.
The producer, Nick Barton, said that the women, still members of the Rylstone and District WI, had been invited to the Yorkshire premiere, in Harrogate on Sept 12, where 900 seats have been booked for WI branches.
Real life in the WI was more bizarre than the original script, said the screenplay writer, Tim Firth. When he asked the women for comments, “they thought that having a talk on the history of broccoli was pushing it a bit, then one of them said, ‘Well, we did have a talk last week on the history of the tea towel’.” He then wrote that into the film.
The premiere was attended by Alastair Campbell, who resigned last week as Tony Blair’s director of communications. He has been a keen fundraiser for leukaemia charities since his best friend, John Merritt, and Mr Merritt’s nine-year-old daughter Ellie died of the disease.