Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland Discuss the Joy of Working Together on ‘The Leisure Seeker’
Despite both having had illustrious careers that have spanned decades, legends Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland have never shared the screen together until this year. The drama “The Leisure Seeker” sees the pair in the throes of mature romantic love as a long-married couple who decide to take one last road trip. Both Mirren and Sutherland recently sat down with Entertainment Voice to discuss the film, working together, and aging with grace.
“The joy is the wisdom, if that’s the right word. It’s not really the right word that comes with getting older,” admitted Mirren when asked about the joys and fears that come with reaching a certain stage in life. “And the letting go of things that seemed to be so terribly important [during my younger years]… And the fear, obviously, is the fear of becoming incapacitated, the fear of what happens to Donald’s character.”
What happens to Donald’s character, John, is Alzheimer’s. Sutherland discussed how he went about playing a man who sees more and more of himself and his memories slipping away with each and every day.
“[John] just took over,” recalled the actor. “He said things that surprised everybody, sometimes. Things that weren’t in the script, even. He loved his wife as much as I love Helen Mirren. It was not something that I thought objectively about, or consciously. It just existed. I had done a bunch of research, but that had all fell by the wayside.”
“I did a lot of dialect work. And that was about it, really,” explained Mirren when asked how she prepared to play the role of Ella, John’s devoted wife.. “For some roles, you really have to deeply prepare, and for others, it’s sometimes better just to work instinctively. And for Ella, I chose to just work instinctively with what was on the page, and just kind of do that. I think the most important thing that I had to do in this film was make that relationship with Donald believable. And that had nothing to do with research or prep. I couldn’t do that without his presence… We were working together. There was very little prep, but I bought huge amount of energy and commitment and [emotions] into making that relationship work.”
Mirren went on to explain why she was fortunate in having Sutherland be the person with whom she as to make this mature and loving marriage appear real on screen.
“Donald is extremely sensitive and he’s not a closed-off person,” she divulged. “If he’s upset, you know it. If he’s happy, you know it… It became so much easier to make this relationship, that the audience had to believe was real, [look authentic] on the screen.”
Similarly, Sutherland had nothing but the highest praises for Mirren.
“Helen, just by nature, is an extraordinary technician, exquisite,” he gushed. “I just sit in awe of her and listen and think, ‘Okay, yeah, that’s right.’”
One of the more memorable and emotionally impactful scenes in “The Leisure Seeker” comes towards of the film. With their journey coming to a close, John and Ella find themselves unexpectedly making love. A scene like this would not have worked were it not for the trust and mutual respect that Mirren and Sutherland had for each other. Mirren revealed how the pair worked together to make this sex scene one that would do their characters justice.
“I have to say, I was absolutely dreading doing that scene. I really didn’t want to do it. I was mortified,” she admitted, explaining that the scene was originally written very differently from what it became. “It was more, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ And Donald said, ‘No, it’s the wrong turn; it’s the wrong thing.’ And because of his voice, obviously, in the film it’s very powerful. It’s a very gentle, loving moment of connection between two people looking into each other’s eyes, being in each other’s bodies, and that just heightened their love, which was such a better idea, I felt.”
At 83, Sutherland credits passion as being the thing that keeps him going. Like John, he still has a sense of wanderlust, explaining, “I think my work is a constant exploration into the human condition.”
“The Leisure Seeker” opens March 9 in select theaters.