Dame Helen Mirren Reflects On Infamous Parkinson Interview Almost 50 Years Later

The Oscar winner previously described the interviewer as a "sexist old fart" after their uncomfortable exchange.
Dame Helen Mirren at a special screening of her new film Golda
Dame Helen Mirren at a special screening of her new film Golda
Dave Benett via Getty Images

Dame Helen Mirren’s appearance on Sir Michael Parkinson’s talk show back in 1975 has been repeatedly held up as one of the most uncomfortable celebrity interviews of all time.

The two British stars had a tense exchange when the host questioned whether the future Oscar winner’s “physical attributes” may have “hindered” her career as an actor.

Because serious actresses can’t have big bosoms, is that what you mean?” Dame Helen responded at the time, at which point the host suggested her body could be perceived as a “distraction” by some.

She then insisted: “I can’t think that can necessarily be true. I mean, what a crummy performance if people are obsessed with the size of your bosom or anything else.

“I would hope that the performance, and the play, and the living relationship between all the people on stage and all the people in the audience will overcome such boring questions.”

In the years that followed, the interview was branded “sexist” by many critics – including Dame Helen herself, when she said he’d been a “sexist old fart” – and after Parkinson’s death earlier this year, clips of the exchange resurfaced on social media.

Speaking to the latest issue of Radio Times, Dame Helen was asked about the awkward exchange and the ensuing fall-out, saying: “I didn’t feel sorry for Parky, but then in a way I did because in lots of ways he was right. My physicality did get in the way of me being taken seriously as a classical actress.”

Agreeing that “times change”, she added: “They really do. And fast. And we can only kick down the patriarchy one brick at a time.”

Dame Helen also noted that she didn’t want to “diss Parky”, pointing out other examples of his work, most notably his interview with Sir Elton John after the music singer was “outed in a bad way” in the press.

“He held out a hand and helped Elton John at a very important moment,” she insisted.

Michael Parkinson in 2008
Michael Parkinson in 2008
Samir Hussein via Getty Images

Sir Michael Parkinson died in August at the age of 88, following what his family described as a “brief illness”.

Tributes quickly began flooding in from many of his industry peers, many of whom hailed him as a “king” of his field.

Read Dame Helen Mirren’s interview in full in the latest issue of Radio Times.


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