How Helen Mirren Puts Her Own Twist on Death in Collateral Beauty

Helen Mirren from Collateral Beauty
Helen Mirren from Collateral Beauty

Death becomes her.

In “Collateral Beauty,” Helen Mirren plays an actress who pretends to be Death to help Will Smith snap out of a depression caused by his daughter’s death. Yes, it’s complicated. The actress remembers putting down the script and telling herself, “Oh, my God, this is really dangerous and difficult.”

“And if it does work,” Mirren remembers thinking, “it will be kind of wonderful, because it’s dealing with such true but complex issues about human existence, and dealing with it in a way that has elements of comedy in it, as life always does. In the darkest of moments, there are always moments of comedy.”

Smith plays a successful New York advertising executive who seeks answers from the universe to his crushing grief by writing letters to Love, Time and Death. His friends dig up the letters and decide the answer them, in person, with Mirren’s uncompromising — and unsuccessful — New York stage actress handling the Death duties.

“I always think that maybe in another world, if my career had taken a different path, I could easily have been that actress, still banging away as an artist in an esoteric grassroots way in New York, believing in art, in theater,” she tells Made in Hollywood reporter Patrick Stinson. “She’s been so unsuccessful in her life. I could see her three years, four years ago doing a performance of ‘The Crucible’ or something in front of five people. She’s  been struggling her whole life.”

Playing the embodiment of Death posed a “daunting task,” says Mirren, and she didn’t want to approach it in a conventional way, starting with her choice of costume. It’s in a very non-fatal shade of blue.

“The costume is terribly important, and finding the color blue, for me, was very important,” she says. “I did not want to wear black — although I look great in black, and it’s very slimming. I wanted the costume to look slightly Medieval because the Medievals lived with death. Death was very much a part of their imagery. In Medieval paintings you see death and hell and heaven shown. I wanted a slight sense of costume about it, but at the same time it had to have a reality about it. The color blue is very, very important — the color of the sky, the color of eternity, the color of the sea.”