Although there seem to be very few roles for more seasoned actresses these days, many of the best parts seem to go to Damn Mirren… and for good reason. No one else of any age or gender seems to have her abilities and/or charisma on screen or stage. I had the privilege today of getting to sit down and speak with Helen Mirren about her phenomenal performance in Michael Hoffman’s latest film, The Last Station (interview coming soon) and while there the topic of her role in The Tempest came up and she briefly spoke about the changes they made to “Prospero” in order for her to film the part.
When asked why they decided to change “Prospero” to “Prospera” she told us with a laugh that it was “To give me a great role to play!” Although she is completely humble, there is no getting around the fact that there are very few good female roles for women of her age. But if you want Damn Mirren, swapping genders and changing a few of Shakespeare’s words won’t stop you!
Surprisingly, there weren’t that many things that needed to change for her to be able to play Prospera, in fact one Shakespeare’s monologues in “The Tempest” was actually ripped off by another famous play and was meant to be performed by a woman. I’ll let her tell you the rest…
How do you approach such classic roles as Prospero and make them your own?
Yes it’s “Prospero,” which is normally played by a man. I played “Prospera,” a woman… We did the full on Shakespearian text. It’s a very different thing all together. A great challenge.
Why was the gender change in that?
To give me a great role to play! (laughs) Shakespeare gave crap female roles, even Rosaline is crap. She talked a lot. There’s very few, and as you get older they really drop away. The only way for me to get to play a good Shakespearian role is to change the gender. With Prospero you can change it into a woman without changing much of the text, very little of the text has changed, only at the very beginning — the backstory. In fact, one of the most famous of Prospero’s speeches, it’s an invocation — brilliant, fabulous speech — is actually from “Medea”, almost lifted lock, stock, and barrel from the play “Medea” and it’s Medea’s speech and Shakespeare just took it. It’s incredible. Like three words have changed. So it’s actually a woman’s speech.
So take that Shakespeare! Your words are finally being performed by the proper sex!
What do you think about them changing Shakespeare in order for Mirren to play the part?