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THE QUEEN

Casting Queens, Princes And Prime Ministers
When it came to casting THE QUEEN, the challenges were obvious. The film's roles were made up entirely of real, living people with well-established personas, not to mention legacies to protect. "The trouble is that we already think we know these characters so well and they're so familiar – so the cast had to find a kind of collective line to ride in being human without being ridiculous,” says Frears. "It wasn't something that we talked about so much, but it was taken into account in choosing the actors.”

Perhaps no role would pose as many potential pitfalls as that of Queen Elizabeth herself, a woman who, as a largely ceremonial yet protected symbol of a once imperial England, has never been depicted so intimately or humanly on the screen. Having reigned for more than half a century as Queen, she seemed an almost impenetrable character. But Andy Harries had someone in mind who he thought could pull it off. He had just overseen production on the award-winning television series "Prime Suspect” starring Helen Mirren, and she struck him as having not only the right appearance but also the talent and courage to take on the role. "She's the Queen of British drama and she looks a bit like the Queen. So I thought what a good idea, Helen as the Queen,” he recalls.

For Mirren, who has created a vast array of memorable characters on stage, screen and television, it was an irresistible offer. "I thought ‘The Deal' was a fantastic piece of work so I knew I would be in very good hands,” says the actress. "This story is delicate material -- dangerous material in a way -- so you have to be confident that the people you are working with have the intelligence and ability to put a story like this on the screen without a cheap betrayal of the subject.”

Still Mirren was acutely aware that she was stepping into a potential minefield by playing a person as famous, and mysterious, as the present monarch. ”Given the iconic status of the Queen, I was terrified. I was probably more nervous about this role than almost any other role I've ever done,” she admits. To set herself at ease in the role, Mirren worked from the outside in, starting with the Queen's uniquely upper-crust speech patterns and then getting closer to her essence as a mother, grandmother and national figurehead. "My work with dialogue coach Penny Dyer was invaluable. She is quite extraordinary in her understanding of voice,” Mirren says. "Then I found a thought that relaxed me -- which was to think of myself as a portrait painter. What good portraitists do is to bring their own perception of their subject, and then reproduce that person through their own personality, their own psychology – and thus, every portrait is different.”

All along, she carefully attempted to tread that razor-thin line between giving a truly human portrayal and tipping over into caricature. "You don't want the audience caught up in your brilliant impersonation,” she explains. "You want them to believe who you are and go on your journey with you in an imaginative way. If the impersonation is too brilliant it can mean the truth is too intrusive; sometimes you have to step back from the truth, because in theatrical drama it can jar the audience out of their imaginative engagement with what you are doing.”

Frears was quite pleased with Mirren's humanistic and layered approach. "I'm not sure Helen would have let us get away with any cheap shots,” he remarks.

To get a better understand of the Queen's inner struggles, Mirren did do a lot of research. "Of course you also have to get certain things right, the hair, the hands, the stance, the walk, the voice,” she comments. "I had photographs of the Queen in my trailer and watched tapes all the time.

It was a bit intimidating, because each time I watched them I would feel I was failing her, failing the

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