Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren promotes the Russian premiere of Tolstoy movie and decries lack of women's film roles.
The premiere is timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his death.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA (NOVEMBER 29, 2010) REUTERS - Oscar-winner Dame Helen Mirren talked about the lack of women's movie roles on Monday (November 29) in a news conference to promote the Russian premiere of her new film "The Last Sunday," about the tumultuous last year of famed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy.
Mirren plays Tolstoy's wife and muse Countess Sofya, who, after almost 50 years of marriage and several decades as his personal secretary and scribe, becomes incensed as the writer denounces his noble title and family and decides to leave the rights of his iconic novels to the Russian people, rather than his wife or their 13 children. The film follows Sofya as she fights for what she believes is rightly hers.
Mirren, who has played fearless female characters from Elizabeth Windsor in "The Queen," which garnered her an Oscar to "State of Play," and scores of traditional stage roles, decried the declining number of women's roles and that women like Sofya are unexplored.
"History has tended to wipe women out of the picture, as indeed Sofya. Sofya was wiped out of the picture in many ways. I think her contribution to Tolstoy's works was really not recognised and maybe still isn't. There are extraordinary women in history and hopefully, you know, I'll get to play some of them," Mirren said.
Mirren just finished shooting a film in Budapest with German actress Martina Gedeck in which there are two strong women leads, and said she relished the rare opportunity.
"It's always great to play with another woman, because you rarely get that opportunity as an actress. You're very, usually your whole working life is with male actors because there are basically not enough female roles for young or for old, for any age of woman or girl."
Mirren said she realized immediately that Sofya would be a dramatic, vibrant woman to portray.
"I met with a costume designer and she said, 'now this is the dress you wear when you smash all of the furniture or the china. And this is the dress you wear when you shoot at the portrait. And this is the dress that you wear when you climb out of the window and you're climbing along the balustrade, and you fall in through the... into the library. And this is the dress you wear when you try to kill yourself.' And I thought 'Oh I remember why this is such a good role."
Mirren, born Mironov, is the daughter of a noble Russian father and a working-class English mother. She talked about her lineage, and told reporters she felt at home in her role as Sofya, at once grasping and comfortable with the trappings of nobility.
"The most remarkable thing to me was when I walked on to the set, on the first day, it was exactly like walking into one of my family photos, because all we had from our time in Russia, was just this little handful of photographs, and they were of that era, exactly of that era. So I had lived growing up with those photographs, and I loved them, um, and walking onto the set was absolutely like walking into one of those photographs, and that just astounded me," Mirren said.
Russia has had a difficult history with the legendary writer, the author of "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace." Tolstoy compared the beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Church to witchcraft and was excommunicated in 1901, a decision which stands today.
Unlike the 150th anniversary of writer Anton Chekhov's birth, which prompted an emotional outpour from President Dmitry Medvedev and spurred a nationwide festival earlier this year, as the anniversary of Tolstoy's death passed on November 20, the Russian government was mum.
Mirren plays opposite Christopher Plummer in "The Last Sunday," adapted from the book, "The Last Station" by Jay Parini which draws on diary accounts of Tolstoy's closest relatives and friends. The film, directed by Michael Hoffman, was released in the United States in January.