While most Londoners were sweating over their office keyboards on what has now been confirmed as the hottest day for seven years, I, on behalf of CelluloidHeroes.co.uk took some respite from the heat and went messing about on the river with the cast of RED 2. During the short cruise through the capital, Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker and Dame Helen Mirren chatted to the press about returning for the sequel, as well as working with new cast members, Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Helen Mirren and Mary-Louise Parker chatted about Royal babies as the press waited for a clearly disinterested Bruce Willis to take his place on the panel. Willis's contempt for press tours was made known a number of times during the interviews, and it was clear from his tardy shuffle across the deck that he was going to be in "One Show" mode. The RED, or Retired and Extremely Dangerous, series was based on a limited series of comic books released by D.C., but Willis never had much time for comics. "I was never really a comic book guy." He mumbles. "I spent most of my time outside so I never really had a connection with comics. Unless you want me to make something up? I'm a big DC guy, let me tell ya, nobody's bigger than me!"
Joining the cast for RED 2 are Welsh superstars Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones. When asked what it was like working with them, Parker offered a quick "They were both wonderful", while Willis, staring into the middle distance, had to be reminded of the question. "Oh, sorry." he quickly apologised, joking that he was thinking about an earlier question about his singing career. "I like to work in ensemble casts, especially with this group of actors. I think we were very fortunate to get Tony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the cast that we did the first film with. All we try to do all day long is make each other laugh and hopefully that gets onto the screen and the audience find something funny as well."
RED 2 arrives three years after 2010's original and, although the scale and budget have been augmented, the tone, and cast, remains the same. "I just love these actors." says Parker, when asked what made her want to return. "They are just legendary and Bruce and I have a great relationship. It is so easy to work with him and just hang out with him and also most of my scenes are with him. I would say that's the main draw for me. I feel like I've got lucky so many times and I've had more than my share."
Helen Mirren explains further, "The film has expanded from the first. They go to incredible locations (that they didn't write me in to, like Paris!) But it's bigger in a sense. I think that you always learn that the great advantage of coming to do a second one is that you can learn from the first, and the first movie had wonderful, fully-realised, quirky characters, comedy action and romance. That's a very difficult balance to make work. They are the balls that we try and keep in the air all the time through this second movie. However, at the same time, you must play it with great seriousness, it's not played tongue-in-cheek. All of these characters are very serious about who they are and what they do, and I think that is a very important element. I think it's faster, funnier and a little more furious than the first one."
Dame Helen is cool and collected under the heat, and omits a wry half-smile of recognition when the obligatory question about roles for older women is asked. "I'm just very lucky and from time to time people ask me do things." She replies modestly. "I was so excited and over the moon the first time I got offered the role in RED... Actually, that's a bit of a lie, come to think of it. I was actually a little bit "ooh, are people going to think I've sold out?". Then, of course, I realised how utterly stupid that was and that it was an incredible opportunity to do something I've never done before. So I was very excited about it and loved every minute. I couldn't wait to come back!"
"That was just luck that they asked me to do it, honestly. So much of it is to do with luck, it's not much choice but all I try to do is mix it up all the time. When the penny dropped as far as RED was concerned, I realised that it was the perfect time to do so. I was just coming off The Queen and it was brilliant to jump in the opposite direction."
Mirren's Royal baby icebreaker also leads conversation to a scene in the film which suggests that she is willing to have fun with her Oscar-winning portrayal of HM. In a section in which Mirren's character, the deadly MI6 assassin, Victoria, is attempting to infiltrate a mental asylum, she poses as a mad woman who believes she is Queen Elizabeth I. Her reference to Shakespeare's Henry IV part II suggests that the writers had little to do with it, and when asked whether the scene was indeed ad libbed, she replies, half-jokingly, "I've tried so hard to wriggle out of that particular mantle. I can't remember how that came about, actually. The writers thought it would be very funny if I pretended to be the Queen, I think I suggested that it should be Elizabeth I, who I have played before and I thought that would be a funnier take than being the present Queen. One forgets how these things come about but the writers certainly thought it would be hysterical." Her turn of phrase is playful, but unabashedly sarcastic.
As the luxury yacht we are sailing on heads for the Embankment pier, there is time for one lighthearted question in which a seemingly exhausted Bruce Willis is asked if he has any advice for maintaining a happy relationship. "Oh, Christ!" He looks particularly jaded now. "I dunno. Attention must be paid to your family and friends? Is the boat sinking?" Somehow I imagine that Willis would rather have spent the last hour in a watery grave than cruising down the Thames in the glorious sunshine, answering questions about his work.
RED 2 is released in the UK 2 August
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