Pop Culture

Young Helen Mirren shuts down sexist comments in 1975 'Parkinson' interview

In 1975, Helen Mirren wasn't the beloved grand dame of cinema that she is now, but she already an inspirational actress all the same.

A vintage interview with the then-30-year-old star has gone viral and it reveals that, even then, she was sure of herself — and absolutely sure that she didn't have to sit by and take sexist comments from a rude talk show host.

“You are, in quotes, a serious actress," Michael Parkinson, the host of the long-running BBC show "Parkinson," said to Mirren — complete with an air quotes gesture — in an video of the interview that's been circulating on the web.

“In quotes? What do you mean in quotes," she interrupted. "How dare you."

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But Parkinson clearly didn't catch Mirren's warning, because he quickly took the interview from a bad direction to a far worse one.

"Do you find it fact that what could be best described as your 'equipment' hinders you in that pursuit (of being taken seriously)?” he asked in another moment.

When she asked him to clarify just what he meant by that, he eventually admitted he meant exactly what she and everyone else suspected.

"Because serious actresses can’t have big bosoms, is that what you mean?” she countered.

"I think it might detract from the performance, if you know what I mean," Parkinson said.

She did not.

"What a crummy performance if people are obsessed with the size of your bosom over anything else," Mirren shot back. "I would hope that the performance and the play and the living relationship between all the people on the stage and all the people in the audience would overcome such boring questions, really."

The back and forth continued, with the veteran broadcaster bringing up such hard-hitting topics as the kind of men Mirren went for and what she thought of stripping down for a film.

All the while, she maintained her composure and her sharp retorts.

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Looking back on the exchange decades later, Mirren admitted that, despite appearances, she was "terrified."

But she told the Telegraph, "I watched it and I actually thought, bloody hell! I did really well. I was so young and inexperienced. And he was such a f---ing sexist old fart. He was. He denies it to this day that it was sexist, but of course he was.”

Evan Agostini / AP
Helen Mirren arrives at the Tony Awards in 2015.

And she knows all about his denials because she sat down with him again to promote "The Queen" in 2007, and found that he was just as sexist when it came to excusing his past behavior.

"The first time we ever met, he had to talk about my breasts" she told his audience of their earlier interview.

Mirren then told him just how she felt about him after their first chat, in case he had any doubts.

"I hated you," she said with a smile.

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