With the release of RED 2 in the UK from Friday, the Buz attended the press conference for the film, with Mary-Louise Parker, Dame Helen Mirren and Bruce Willis, on a boat down the Thames on a hot summer's morning to talk franchises, singing and Helen Mirren's ability to play royalty.
Do you have to have a moment in the film where you play a monarch now?
Helen Mirren: I so tried to wriggle out of that particular mantle, but I can't remember how that came about. I think the writers, they thought it was very funny of course, that I would pretend to be the queen. I think that I suggested that it should be Elizabeth I who I have played and I thought that would be a funnier take than being the present queen. One forgets how these things come about but certainly the writers thought it'd be hysterical to see me pretend.
Did comic books play a significant part in your childhood?
Bruce Willis: I wasn't a comic book guy. I spent most of my time outside, playing. Not much of a connection to DC comics, unless you want me to make it up. I'm a big DC comics fan! Nobody's bigger than me with DC Comics!
How difficult is it to stay in shape for some of the things you have to do?
Bruce Willis: Well I have to think about the food that I eat and I also have to think about moving around, weights, barbells, things like that.
Do you not want to let the stuntmen take over more?
Bruce Willis: I do let the stuntmen take over, I don't do that many stunts. I would do the stunts if I could but I'm not allowed to ever be hurt. I wouldn't mind being hurt, I get hurt all the time. I get scolded.
Why have you never taken any singing roles?
Bruce Willis: I shout in key more than sing, there are a lot of really good singers in the world and I'm very happy to let them handle all the heavy lifting of singing really well. I just can't stand to hear the sound of my own voice when I sing, it really is excruciating.
How do you manage getting good parts as a mature woman?
Helen Mirren: I don't manage it, I'm just very lucky and from time to time people ask me to do things. I was so absolutely excited and over the moon when I was offered the role in RED. Actually that's a bit of a lie come to think of it, I was a bit "ooh, are people going to think I sold out" actually. I thought people would think I'd have sold out in a way, and then of course I realised how utterly stupid that was and how it was an incredible opportunity to do something I've never done before. I was very very excited about it and loved every minute, couldn't wait to come back the second time around. It's not like my choice, but I do try and 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 was the perfect opportunity. Just coming off doing The Queen, the first Queen movie, and it was so brilliant just to ump in the opposite direction. But honestly it was pure luck that I was asked to do it.
How was it to work with Anthony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones?
Bruce Willis: I like to work in ensemble casts, I like to work with this group of actors especially and I think we were very fortunate to get Tony Hopkins and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Byung-Hung Lee and the cast that we did the first ilm with. All we try to do all day long is to make each-other laugh and hopefully that gets on to the screen and you'll find something funny as well. I like working with all these actors, I'm a big fan of Sir Anthony Hopkins.
How do you keep your action films fresh?
Bruce Willis: Well, I try not to take it very seriously. It's just a difficult thing if you take yourself seriously, if you take what you're doing seriously, we're all just trying to be entertaining and the action sequences and things like that are just part of a certain kind of entertainment, not my favourite but I like to try and make people laugh more than I like to fight things. I have done a lot of them.
Could you tell us what excited you to be back, and what you feel has changed with your characters?
Mary-Louise Parker: I just love these actors, they're legendary and Bruce, it's so easy to work with him, hang out with him. Almost all of my scenes are with him so I would say that's my main draw. I just feel, like Helen said, that I've gotten lucky so many times and had more than my share.
Helen Mirren: This movie has expanded from the first, they go to incredible locations that they didn't write me in to, like Paris, but the film is bigger in a sense, and I think that you always learn that the great advantage of coming to do a second one is you can learn from the first. What was so wonderful about the first was these wonderful, fully realised quirky characters. Comedy and the romance and the action, and that's a very difficult balance to make a film that has genuine love, romance, in it, great comedy and a lot of action in it and that's the balls we try to keep in the air at all times. But at the same time, playing it with great seriousness, if you like, it's not tongue-in-cheek, all of these characters are very serious about who they are and what they do, and that's a very important part. I think it's just faster and funnier and more furious than the first one.
Bruce, you know a thing or two about what makes a franchise successful, why were you pleased to return?
Bruce Willis: When we did the first film it was very ambitious, it's not often that they try to make a film that has romance action and comedy all in the same film, I always thought that one part of it was going to have to get kicked out but it stayed in, it all stayed in so this time the writers just added more romance, more action and more comedy and when we all got back together I think it was just about two years in-between, a year and a half, but when we tarted back to work it was as if we had just seen each-other the day before. Everybody was already in character and showed up ready to play.
What's it like to return to characters such as these?
Helen Mirren: It's the first time I've ever done something like this, it's fantastic, a wonderful opportunity to come back to a character. There's always more to discover, you can push the character further. I know Bruce has done a lot of that, but in general in an actor's work on film you very rarely play a character twice so it's fantastic to revisit it. I would love to do it again.
Mary-Louise Parker: I've never done a movie with a 2 after it, I thought it was really fun. I do theatre and I like doing television, I like being with the same group of people, working with them and having an emotional short-hand is really a luxury. I'm really lucky that I got to do it.
Bruce do you enjoy making franchises?
Bruce Willis: I don't think about creating franchises, that task is a producer's job, to make things come together and to get everybody together and make sure they're on time. The discipline of film is a specific thing, but if you want to talk about really difficult acting it would be theatre because theatre it's all live and happening at the same time, there's no second take and it creates much more fear in your heart than working in films.
Of all the characters you've played is there anyone you'd like to return to?
Helen Mirren: In a way almost all of them I'd like to revisit. The great thing, Mary-Louise had that experience with Weeds and I did to a certain extent with Prime Suspect, is that it's great to play a character that can develop with time in real-time in a way. That as you get older the character gets older, as the world around you changes the character changes. You can only really do that on television, but there's a character I played many years ago in a film called Cal, very old movie, and it'd be fun to visit that character now, an Italian woman living in Northern Ireland.
Bruce Willis: I was thinking about what my answer might be, my favourite part of making films is the actual day-to-day process of getting in front of the camera and trying to make it seem life-like, trying to make it funny, trying to make it romantic, and all this is, I know, a big part of films, it's the sales of it all, the explanation of how we made the movie, but my favourite part is making the movie and going to work everyday.
I'd like to see Unbreakable 2.
Bruce Willis: Well, I've heard that rumour too.
RED 2 is in cinemas across the UK from Friday.