Helen Mirren on lacking confidence: “I thought I looked stupid when I smiled”

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Amy Swales
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Helen Mirren seems an enviably together kind of person – dispensing life lessons here, striking down sexism and ageism there, advocating women’s rights. Not to mention the small matter of maintaining an extremely successful acting career for decades.

However, like most of us, the award-winning actor says her confidence has wavered throughout the years, and in a new interview explains that she still struggles with self-esteem issues on an “almost daily basis”.

Speaking to Victoria Derbyshire on the presenter’s BBC2 show, Mirren says: “Well I don't know whether anyone else is different from me, it's something I have to handle on almost a daily basis.

“Certainly, it's more exacerbated I think when you're younger because you don't quite know what your place in the world is going to be. You’re trying to fit in with everyone and yet you want to be an individual and [have] a personality all of your own, so it’s very challenging I think when you’re young.

“But I think those moments of self-esteem certainly don't go away as far as I'm concerned, you know, into your adulthood. Maybe it’s one of the reasons I became an actress, I don’t know.”

The star has been discussing issues of confidence while on the promotional trail for cosmetics and skincare brand L’Oreal Paris’s new All Worth It campaign in sponsored_longform with The Prince’s Trust, a programme aiming to provide confidence training for young people.

And, though she was only 30 when she famously and expertly shot down boring misogyny in her first TV interview, she says her low self-esteem around that time had a particular effect on her.

“It was only actually in my mid-thirties that I learnt how to smile,” she explains. “I couldn't smile before that, I thought I looked stupid when I smiled.

“And then I learnt the power of a smile. And funnily enough when you smile, even if you don't feel like smiling, you immediately feel better. And life feels a little bit better when you’re smiling.”

Discussing whether there were as many roles for women like her as there are for male actors, Mirren, 71, goes on to say there aren’t but the Hollywood sexism and ageism issue is improving: “It is changing, it’s changing radically. I’m so excited, one of the reasons I’m really glad I didn’t die young is because I’m so excited about the changes that are happening in my culture, in my world, at this moment in time.

Asked if she was already “seeing equality”, the star replies: “No of course not, not yet, but it’s a lot better than it was and I think it will get even better.”

Mirren, who took part in last month’s Women’s March, also says it’s important that people are now “vigilant” to the threat to women’s rights posed by America’s new president and his team.

Elaborating on the “potential” risk to women’s rights, she explains: “I think they [women’s rights] might be eroded. We have come a long way since I was in my teens and for a while we could sit saying this will never change, ‘Oh great, we’ve done it, we’ve won the battle’. But that battle will never be completely won and I think we all have to be vigilant in maintaining the advantages and the advances that have happened, and pushing further.”

Images: Rex Features


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.