'Hedda called her house 'the house that fear built,' and she absolutely wielded it.'
In Trumbo, Dame Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper, the 1950s diva of Hollywood dish whose conservative politics come in conflict with the leftist leanings of black-listed Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). As one of the most influential voices in the media during the early, paranoid years of the Cold War, Hopper wielded an almost royal sway over her readership.
Here, Mirren chats about the ugly side of celebrity life — and getting the eyebrows right.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve played lots of strong women, but Hedda Hopper is sort of in a class by herself.
HELEN MIRREN: She’s very fierce. She’s a woman who was very successful in that era, all of her own volition. To become that kind of force to be reckoned with has always been interesting.
What did you know about Hedda before playing here?
That whole era of Hollywood, I had always found quite fascinating. I knew quite a lot about it, and I had read about Hedda, so I was quite aware of her and her personality. In fact, I think I had even read a book about Hedda Hopper at some point. I got rather fascinated by that whole power trip of those women. I knew that it would be an interesting journey to investigate her.
Do you think as Hollywood gossip goes that the nature of the beast has changed?
It has, and it hasn’t. I don’t think that anyone would have the power that Hedda had. Hedda called her house “the house that fear built,” and she absolutely wielded it.
Are you glad she hasn’t been replaced?
Absolutely. The whole business of celebrity gossip is very anti-art. It doesn’t countenance experimental work. The shock of the new is unacceptable. I would say that most actors and directors feel uncomfortable with all of that, but it’s become part of your job.
How did you build your version of Hedda?
She wanted to be the center of attention. In every photo I had ever seen of her, she had her mouth wide open. The way that Hedda dressed herself was a deliberate ploy. In my creation of her, it was all about the eyebrows. My makeup artist and I would spend at least half an hour — maybe longer — just to get her eyebrows right.
Did the eyebrows change your performance?
Absolutely! It made me put my face into it.