I keep saying we've got to find another word for 'beauty,'" Dame Helen Mirren said as she waited for her cue backstage at a catwalk show in Paris. "I think we should start calling it 'character' instead of beauty, because that's really what it is."
It was Fashion Week in the city last fall, and Mirren was arguably the star of the L'Oreal show at the grand Monnaie de Paris, where she was joined by actresses Amber Heard, Eva Longoria and Andie MacDowell, and singer Camila Cabello. When she finally hit the catwalk Mirren didn't just walk, she ran, barefoot, her flowing Giambattista Valli gown billowing behind her.
At 74, Mirren has taken on an innumerable number of characters during more than a half-century on stage and screen. Her first role was Cleopatra, no less, in a stage production of "Antony and Cleopatra" when she was 20. After that Mirren joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, was a cast member in 1980's controversial tale of Roman excess "Caligula," and became a mainstay in -- mostly tamer -- period-piece fare, including 1995's "The Madness of King George" and 2001's "Gosford Park."
In her first Fashion Week outing with L'Oreal, a 2017 collaboration between the cosmetics brand and fashion house Balmain, Mirren sported trousers and tails, as part of a show ton the busy Champs de Elysees.
One of her best known roles is Queen Elizabeth II, whom she portrayed in 2006's "The Queen," and which earned her an Academy Award. Not short of accolades, Mirren also has an Olivier Award, a Tony, Emmy and BAFTA Awards, a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, and was awarded a DBE (by the Queen herself) in 2003 for her services to drama.
Given her staying power, it came as little surprise when in 2014, L'Oreal named Mirren an ambassador for its "Age Perfect" range of cosmetics. While eight years earlier, a 68-year-old Jane Fonda had been the face of L'Oreal, and Susan Sarandon was announced as a spokesperson for Revlon at age 60 (in 2004), it is still not common for mature women to be the face of beauty products -- despite being one of the target audiences for many cosmetics and skincare lines.
Perhaps unusually for a cosmetics brand ambassador, Mirren said she doesn't have a set beauty routine. "I like to experiment," she offered. "But I use a moisturizer every day. It makes me feel good."
This sentiment marks a change in outlook since she made headlines two years ago after claiming that moisturizer "probably does f--- all," while sitting on a L'Oreal panel in the South of France, no less.
Despite her reservations about the word beauty, Mirren sees the professional application of cosmetics as a key part of her work. "Makeup and hair is one of the most important things for getting into character," she said. "I spend many hours in the mirror finding the best ways to get into character, and of course makeup is a good one."
"I was being made up today and the makeup artist said something I thought was really interesting: eyebrows are the things that give us character," she added. "I very much agree with that for every individual character I've ever played."
One of her favorite looks of all time came courtesy of "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" (2018), in which she played Mother Ginger, the wild ruler of the Land of Amusement, replete with fault-line cracks through her face. "I loved that," she said of the dramatic look.
Recently, Mirren appeared alongside Sir Ian McKellen in the "The Good Liar," and received glowing reviews for her role as Catherine the Great in the titular HBO miniseries. Two vastly different characters, but both leading roles that called for age and experience-- a rarity in an industry that many consider to be obsessed with youth, especially in women.
"I think I've grown up a lot around this issue," Mirren said about her changing views on ageing. "What's terrifying about being young is that you have all these wonderful things going for you. But along with that comes this terrible thing: insecurity."
"It's a tragic, terrible truth," she continued. "You know, you don't realize it when you're young; that it's not going to last forever."
Despite heeding us all to grasp our youth while we can, Mirren's greatest acting honors -- the Oscar, the Olivier and the Tony Awards -- all came after she turned 60. And she has a message for young people who might assume that life ends after 40, or even 50.
"What's coming later," she said, "is just as exciting as what's going on when you're young."