On Friday’s Late Show, Stephen Colbert invited a typically delightful Helen Mirren —sorry, that’s Dame Helen Mirren, Commander of the Order of the British Empire to you—to talk about her newest movie and dish about some of the legendary British actors she’s worked with. Naturally, being Helen Mirren, her reminiscences about former theatrical and film partners like Peter O’Toole, Ben Kingsley, Mark Rylance, and Patrick Stewart were both classy and a little saucy, delighting Colbert and, no doubt, everyone else. Jokingly balking at Colbert’s loose-lipped talk of her being a leading lady “since the 196os,” Mirren nonetheless has a strikingly long and varied theatrical and cinematic résumé from which to draw stories.
Like the fact that Kingsley (the pair starred in As You Like It for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1968) has always been “very serious” and “very hard working,” but will actually loosen up and be “very funny once he lets himself go.” According to Mirren, Patrick Stewart “was very handsome,” with a “great body” in their 1970 RSC production of The Two Gentlemen Of Verona. Or “Two Gents,” as Mirren put it with thespian’s insouciance. (Insouciant also was Mirren’s response to Colbert’s delighted, “And how would you know this, Helen Mirren?”) As for the infamous, Bob Guccione-produced cinematic debacle of 1979's Caligula, Mirren confided that costar Peter O’Toole, having been forced to give up booze by that point lest his liver leap from his body, was perpetually on “cannabis,” and thus “very smart, very funny, and just wanted to tell long, long stories.”
As to her new film, The Leisure Seeker, about an elderly couple coping with fading health, Mirren wasn’t forthcoming with any juicy tidbits about costar Donald Sutherland. However, considering the tear-jerking nature of the project, she and Colbert did ruminate on the things that make them cry, with Mirren’s “parades with little kid drum majorettes” vying with Colbert’s revelation that he can’t get to the end of Tennyson’s ode to defiance in the face of advancing age and ability, “Ulysses,” without turning into a “slobbering, snotty mess.” Asked by Mirren if he’d like to test his resolve against a reading of the poem from the actress herself, Colbert, not without trepidation, gratefully accepted the challenge (although their impromptu poetry reading only took place online). Guess how that went. He’s only human, people.