The name Helen Mirren immediately brings to mind “The Queen” for most people, but she is so much more and Cinema/Chicago recognized this at their Spring Gala last night. Both she and her illustrious husband, Taylor Hackford, were given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for their respective careers, acting and directing. The annual event raises the necessary funds for the long-running Chicago International Film Festival headed by Michael Kutza. It was a night filled with live and silent auction items, including a guitar signed by each of the Rolling Stones and a trip to the People’s Choice Awards in Los Angeles. The main draw for tickets, however, was the chance to see both Hackford and Mirren in person—a ticket worth every penny.
Bill Kurtis, the iconic face and voice of Chicago, hosted the interview with Hackford and Mirren, allowing us to learn more about the life and experiences of this talented couple. A montage of film footage characterizing their careers as well as heartfelt and comedic personalized video messages from Bryan Cranston, Richard Gere, and Ryan Reynolds, to name just a few, added a special touch to the evening for the stars as well as the audience. Hackford fondly reminisced about his career and its origins, stating that “…it all started here” in Chicago at CIFF.
Hackford shared his insight about directing, recognizing that “…casting is one of the most important things if not the most important thing” in creating a successful film. He reiterated that an actor must “empathize with the character” and that “no one acts alone.” He continued to discuss “An Officer and a Gentlemen” starring Gere and Debra Winger, his love of music and the importance it has not only in augmenting a film, but being the topic itself as he created “Ray,” the biopic drama about Ray Charles.
Mirren, always stunning, seemed humbled by the kind words from her former directors and co-stars. She and her husband both recalled her preparation for various roles, particularly that of Queen Elizabeth, honing in on what makes this actress one-of-a-kind. Her rather soft-spoken and demure nature was unexpected, but this just added to her appeal. As Kutza handed her the Gold Hugo Award, it was obvious that she was truly honored.
The evening concluded with a well-deserved standing ovation while the couple proudly held their awards. For more information about CIFF, Cinema/Chicago, and upcoming events, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com