Recently, an archived interview has resurfaced that by no means has aged well, due to the fact that we now know women are actually humans and not sex objects. The footage from 1975 shows a 30-year-old Helen Mirren being subjected to a slimy late night host, Michael Parkinson, who asked her if the size of her breasts “hinder’s her in your pursuit of the ambition of being a successful actress or serious actress.” among other atrocious moments of British sexism at its best:
For her introduction, Parkinson proudly states, as though it was a compliment and not at all an issue, “My guest tonight, one of our rising stars a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, was once described as the sex queen of that company. Indeed, the point about her is the critics spend as much time discussing her physical attributes as accessing her acting ability. One called her an amorous boa constrictor, others have called her sensual, graceful and the final accolade and I quote, 'That she is especially telling in projecting sluttish eroticism,' she is Miss Helen Mirren.”
Watching the footage, you can tell by the casualness of the nefarious questions, that this was par for the course of what actresses had and still have to endure. During the interview, Mirren is often referred to as sluttish, bringing up her body and undermining her acting ability. He clearly makes her uncomfortable so many times during the interview that it's hard to keep track, but you can also understand that with blasé nature of the questions, this is something actresses dealt with on the daily and couldn't lash out or walk off without being referred to “as difficult," as Helen pleads innocent of being towards the end of the interview.
Mirren does manage to call out Parkinson a few times, getting jabs at his expense. Fast forward 35 years later, Mirren was interviewed by the same person, where she was able to finally say what her 30-year-old self was feeling but couldn't say. I'd also like to point out that Mirren's has remained a successful and serious actress for over six decades despite her "equipment," whereas most people need to look up the name Michael Parkinson.
Back in 2010, BUST interviewed Mirren, asking about the interview and how she handles sexism.
"It was enraging,” Mirren told BUST. “But it was par for the course to a certain extent. It was fairly common, that kind of attitude. Looking back, I think I handled it really well. It was the first time I had ever done a talk show, ever. I’d only done Shakespeare before, and I was a serious actress. I was so nervous, terribly nervous, and I was mortified by the end of it. But when I look back, I see I handled it with humor, but I wasn’t taking it.”
She added, “At least now young actresses can say ‘Fuck off’ and still work again. If they want to, they can use [their sexuality], and if they don’t want to, they can just say ‘Fuck off.’”
That's right — now and forever, fuck off, Michael Parkinson!
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Courtney Bissonette is a New York based writer and improv comedienne. She writes primarily about movies, pop cultures and feminist heroes. She gets along best with old people. She has seen more old movies than your grandma, probably. Salt from Salt n Pepa once took her Trick'r Treating. You can follow her on instagram at @gddamnitcourtney or twitter @courttette