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Bev Cohn: Helen Mirren & Sergio Peris-Mencheta
EDITORíS NOTE: The following interview originally appeared in the July 2nd, 2010 edition of the Santa Monica Mirror and the edited version is being reprinted as a courtesy of that publication.

A Moment With Helen Mirren & Sergio Peris-Mencheta
By Beverly Cohn

Helen Mirren in the film The Love Ranch
Helen Mirren as Madam Grace Bontempo in the film The Love Ranch. Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

hen Dame Helen Mirren walked into the pressroom, one was quite tempted to stand up and courtesy as she is undisputedly one of cinemaís most gifted actors and is most outspoken. Mirren is currently starring in "The Love Ranch," the first film she and her husband director Taylor Hackford worked on together since "White Nights" in 1985. The script by Mark Jacobson is loosely based on the Mustang Ranch, the first legal brothel in Nevada. Mirren plays the tough madam Grace Bontempo and Joe Pesci plays her philandering husband Charlie. The following interview is with Mirren and co-star Sergio Peris-Mencheta, an up-and-coming star who plays Armando Bruza.

Q: The role of Grace showcased your sexuality and femininity that obviously is quite different from playing the Queen. Is that what attracted you to the role?

Mirren: I have to say that you always look for your next piece of work to be as different from your last piece of work because that way you keep interested and hopefully keep the audience interested as well. It’s a bit of a poison chalice to be that kind of an actor because the audience, especially a film audience, really wants you to be the same character over and over again because that’s what they’re familiar with. The great movie stars are exactly that. If you want to be a certain kind of an actor, you have to resist that even if sometimes it’s not in your own self-interest, but ultimately it is in your artistic self- interest. Anyway, I looked for something different, and this was different from the Queen. That said, I don’t agree that it’s about sexuality or femininity. It’s really about a tough working class woman.

Q: Did you feel good chemistry with Joe Pesci and were your styles of working compatible?

Mirren: We don’t have different styles of working and I don’t know why people keep saying this. We work in exactly the same way. We look at the script, we learn the line, we hit our marks, etc. He doesn’t like to rehearse and I’m in accord with that. I don’t mind running the lines with someone, but I don’t want to rehearse it. You want it to happen in the moment on the set. Joe, above all, is a professional. He’s been in the business a long time. He knows what’s required and he delivers and I respect that more than anything. He happens to be a great actor with incredible energy and it’s great to work with that “Joe thing.”

Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci in The Love Ranch
Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci in The Love Ranch. Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

Q: You met with a real madam. What was that like?

Mirren: Honestly, the great thing about the work we do, and the thing that I love most about my job, is that it takes me into the most unexpected places, places that I would never dream that I would be, and along comes a role that takes you to that place. One of the places we visited was a brothel in Nevada and was introduced to a pretty extraordinary woman, Susan Austin, madam of the Mustang Ranch. She’s very elegant, very gracious, very smart, very business like and if you met her on the street, you would think she was the CEO of a cosmetics company. She was a revelation to me and it was great to meet her.

New Year's celebration in the film The Love Ranch
New Year's celebration at the Love Ranch. Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

Q: Can you both talk about your torrid love scenes? Was it harder for both of you or for your husband Taylor?

Peris-Mencheta: It was more difficult to do the audition than the shooting. Two days after I met Helen Mirren, we did the reading and we had to kiss each other and touch each other. For me it was very difficult. I got to know her and said to myself she’s not Dame Mirren, she’s Helen and I can touch her. After a while, it was very normal and natural. After all, I’m from Spain. (laughter)

Mirren: I have done this quite a few times and I think in general itís harder for the guy. I know thatís a broad generalization. Taylor was great because he was incredibly straightforward and practical about it. He might as well have been shooting a scene about washing up. He gave us direction about where we should lie down and how he was going to shoot it, which really helped Sergio and me. I know itís really hard for people to understand and itís always a question. I can understand why because kissing and sex are so intimate and something you only do with a loved one or a drunken night with someone. (laughter.) The thought of doing it with a complete stranger with whom you are not intimate is difficult for people to get their heads around it. Iíve often walked into a room and within ten minutes Iím kissing a complete stranger. Actors are use to that because thatís what we do. Itís our job. Itís natural and itís easy. Believe me, itís no big deal unless you choose to make it so.

Q: Sergio, to prepare for this boxing role, you trained with hall-of-fame trainer Jimmy Glenn. What was that like?

Peris-Mencheta: I worked out for four months in New York, training for five hours a day. I ate a lot because I had to gain 35 pounds. I turned into another guy that helped me lot to play this role. The worst part was to go into the ring to spar. That was tough.

Q: Knowing you were not really a boxer, did they hold back in their sparring with you?

Peris-Mencheta: At the beginning they were polite, but after a while, when I learned some moves and tried to punch, sometimes I would connect and they would want to fight with me, but they did try to respect my face.

Q: Are you loosing some of those 40 pounds?

Peris-Mencheta: Iím on it. Itís more difficult to gain weight because you have to eat when youíre not hungry and youíre thinking about having to lose that weight after the movie. So before and after dinner every night, I had to drink Haagen Daz ice cream that I microwaved.

Q: Taylor is a boxing fan. Do you have a sport that you love?

Mirren: Ever since I was in my teens I watched boxing and all my boyfriends have been boxing fans, so Iím quite a fan. Three of them boxed themselves, one of them almost professionally. I can certainly watch a boxing match and do love fight night in Vegas.

Q: Do you have a special thing that you like to do?

Mirren: Crocheting. Not! (laughter) My husband, incidentally, also loves dance and will happily go to the ballet. We enjoy all kinds of forms of physicality.

Helen Mirren and husband Taylor Hackford
Helen brings husband Taylor Hackford a cup of tea during the press conference.
Photo Credit: Beverly Cohn

Q: One canít imagine you having difficulty doing anything, but was capturing an American accent a challenge?

Mirren: Someone said that you are good at accents if you are musical and Iím completely unmusical. I cannot sing in tune or hear a tune and I do find accents very difficult and have to work very hard at them. Some people do them very easily and brilliantly, but I donít. Iím very bad at it. So whenever you see me doing an accent, believe me, itís a lot of work. Given that Iíve lived in America for 20 years, youíd think it would be easy.

Q: Sergio, you’ve made your first American film, directed by Taylor Hackford, co-starring with Helen, love scenes with Helen. How was this whole experience for you?

Peris-Mencheta: Too much. (laughter) At the beginning it was too much but they tried to make me feel at home and I think that was the key, including the make-up guy Luigi Rocchetti who put on my beard every day. I finally found my place in this big thing. I saw the movie the other day and thought, “I did that!”

Q: In the end you go off with the young, gorgeous guy. What is your feeling about the expression Cougar?

Helen Mirren with Sergio Peris-Mencheta in The Love Ranch
Helen Mirren and Sergio Peris-Mencheta. Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

Mirren: I think it’s offensive. Mind you, a Cougar is a rather beautiful animal, but it’s still offensive. Men have been going off with younger women forever, but there’s no special name for that.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your photo spread in New York magazine?

Mirren: The photographer is one of the top ten European photographers. He’s an art photographer. I lived with a photographer for four years so I’m very much into the art of photography and always give photographers artistic freedom and time, especially if they’re top notch. I don’t try to control what they do.

Q: Thank you so much.

Mirren: You’re welcome. Bye. Bye.


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Let Bev know what you think about her traveling adventure.

* * * * *

Thanks so much for those lovely tourism photos, especially of Ireland. I certainly enjoyed all the places you suggested, and am working towards my next vacation. Don’t forget Cuba. That’s an exciting place.

Rosalie, Los Angeles

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Enjoyed your article on Mira Sorvino. Such an interesting background – family, education, career and now human rights activist. I'm not a gossip mag fan so getting more meaty news about movie celebrities from you gives me hope that there are some inteligent life forms in Hollywood.

Peter Paul, Pasadena, CA

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Thank you, Bev. This reminded me to go see the movie, "An Education," which I had already almost forgotten about, having seen the preview a few weeks ago. I enjoy this actress quite a bit--she has a uniqueness about her and she pulls me in. I enjoyed this.

Sandeee, Seattle, WA

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Thank you Beverly,I really enjoyed reading about your intimate conversation with Forest, of whom I am a great admirer. I look forward to seeing the film "Our Family Wedding."

Yoka, Westlake Village, CA

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Thank you for the sending me the beautiful article you wrote about Ireland. We will use your recomendations for hotels in the Southern part. We plan to also go to Dublin and some other Northern cities so I will get some recommendations for these from others. After reading your article, I am getting more excited about going. I think we will be in Ireland for 8 days altogether.

Leah Mendelsohn, Santa Monica, CA

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Very much enjoyed Ms. Cohn's article about Munich, especially the visuals. Though it has been 25 years since my last visit, the piece brought back countless pleasant memories of the city and the people!! Many thanks.

Lawrence, Los Angeles

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Marianplatz and that general area is truly one of the best Christmas celebrations in the world. Between that and Oktoberfest (which I can only imagine) Munich is one of the greatest cities in the world for major annual events.

Christopher Dale, New York, NY

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Hi Bev, you have done some wonderful pieces on some great celebs...Great work. The travel articles are just wonderful too.

Scott Mueller, Huntington Beach, CA

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Your great Zurich article makes me want to go there for the holidays! I love the photos, too, especially the ones of you in the sleigh, the view over the houses and the zoo!

Anna Marie, Santa Monica, CA

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Lovely article! As a European, and having been to Zurich (albeit in summer) I can vouch for this lovely city. Great pictures, too!

Helene Robins, Santa Monica, CA

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Hi Bev,

Nice review, nice seeing you, nice website interface "...Talk to Bev" - Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Richard D. Kaye, Marina del Rey, CA

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Hi Bev,

Your interview with John Cusack is very interesting. I always wondered why these actors/actresses always get top billing when really, if you think about it, the real work come from the animators, writers and tech whizzes who spend far more hours on the movie than those actors. I know, I know, it's the all about marketing. The names of these actors are what bring in the big bucks. Still, I think these actors are way overpaid for the "little" that they do.

I remember that once upon a time, the early animation classics never mentioned the voices behind the characters. I think it was only later when Walt Disney tapped into the voices of known celebrities like Walter Matthau in the Jungle Book or Zsa Zsa Gabor in The Rescuers that the voices became a marketing magnet.

Keep up the good work. I enjoy your interviews as you peer into the lives of the Hollywood celebrities.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA


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