The Sitter's Tale: Helen Mirren
New faces at the National Portrait Gallery: 'It's me and yet not me,' says Britain's most alluring actress
Sunday 13 June 1999
I couldn't sit for the portrait in London because I had to be in LA, so they flew her out. I didn't know Ishbel before, but it was fantastic for her, as she got a trip out of the commission. She came to my house and worked there for about nine days. She came every day - usually for about four or five hours at a time. It was quite a lot of work, for both of us.
The timing was good for me because I was preparing for a role, Ayn Rand, an American philosopher. At the time I was preparing for it, and I had quite a lot of research to do. A lot of it was watching tapes, trying to pick up her voice and mannerisms.
Sitting in my library watching TV was Ishbel's suggestion. She said, you can do whatever you want - maybe she wanted that distance, me busy doing something other than just sitting for her. I am wearing what I had on the first day she came. It didn't really matter to me what I wore as it was only a head-and-shoulder portrait.
I did enjoy the experience of sitting. Ishbel was very entertaining - we had lots of conversations, and she told me her life story. She's one of the most beautiful girls I've met - you don't expect this from your portrait painter; you feel it should be the other way around.
Last time I had my portrait painted, it was by Patrick Procktor, and it was a long time ago. I was younger and sillier and a terrific poseur. I would say to Patrick, throwing my arms in the air, "What about like this?". He would say, "Great", and I had to stand like that for hours and hours.
Ishbel's portrait of me was pretty well finished by the time she left LA. It's a great portrait and I love it. It's me and yet not me; it has a removed quality about it. My husband doesn't think it's the me he knows, but he knows a different me. It's not a photo representation, but it's very precise and nearly realist. It's an extreme of me. At the time I was observing something else, so I look like that in the painting.
The portrait was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery, and being able to see it in the context of other portraits over dinner in the gallery was a truly memorable evening for me.
INTERVIEW BY CHARLOTTE MULLINS
Helen Mirren's 1997 portrait by Ishbel Myerscough hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, WC2 (0171 306 0055). The BP Portrait Award 1999 will be announced on 22 June, and an NPG exhibition runs from 25 June - 26 September.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Emma Watson on Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak: 'Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated is reading the comments'
- 2 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Cee Lo Green: It is only rape if the victim is conscious
- 5 Nigerian witch-finder Helen Ukpabio threatens legal action against human rights organisations
Scottish independence referendum: Franz Ferdinand, Mogwai and Frightened Rabbit to play in support of Yes campaign
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
Olivia Colman and Mary Berry top Radio Times' female power list
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming in September 2014
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain