Helen Mirren on Gerard Depardieu and What’s on the Page

Today’s the last day of the 36th annual Telluride Film Festival. There were a couple of highlights, but my favorite was the Q&A after the screening of Michael Hoffman’s “The Last Station,” about the last year of Leo Tolstoy’s life. The movie stars Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy, Helen Mirren as his wife, James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti and Kerry Condon.

Ken Burns moderated a discussion with Helen Mirren and director Michael Hoffman. One audience member asked Helen Mirren where she’d found the character. She told an anecdote that she’d attended the festival twenty years before and was in a Q&A session with Gerard Depardieu. Previous to this, she labored on how to find her characters. But, Gerard said he just found his characters on the page. He’d said if they want him to play a father, he plays a father. If they want him to play a gangster, he plays a gangster. He just found the character as it was on the page.

Helen Mirren said she’d found the character of Mrs. Tolstoy exactly as she was written on the page. She didn’t need to look to excessive material beyond what was on the page because the character had been so well formed.

I found this very inspirational both to the writing process but also for the overall creative process. It reminds me that great characters are fully formed on the page and this is something to aspire to within our writing.

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