We'd never get lost, bored, or run out of tea.
Contrary to popular belief — after her convincing modeling at the 2018 Oscars, at least — Helen Mirren has never taken a ride on a jet ski. “That was the only time in my life I’ve ever been anywhere near a jet ski,” she told Travel + Leisure, with a laugh.
But while the actress' life off stage doesn't involve many aquatic sports, that doesn't mean it's lacking adventure. In Mirren's latest film, “The Leisure Seeker,” she plays Ella, who embarks on an epic final road trip with her husband, John, played by Donald Sutherland. In real life, Mirren is not only a huge proponent of travel, she's also a total pro at navigating the back roads.
“I’ve always enjoyed an American road trip, you know, it’s a classic genre,” she said of the film, Italian director Paolo Virzì's first English-language feature. “I love road trips myself, I love traveling, exploring new places, I love the freedom of the road and going somewhere.”
Mirren noted that making the film, which had the cast and crew traveling from Atlanta down to Key West, was a road trip in itself, complete with plenty of visits to RV parks. (“The Leisure Seeker” is the name of the old RV Ella and John travel south in, an “RV they bought when they were much younger and excited.”) Mirren's character is battling cancer, and Sutherland's Alzheimer's, but that doesn't stop them from taking one final, long and very eventful ride.
“I hope I never have to deal with what Ella is dealing with with her husband; you never know and an awful lot of families do have to deal with that,” Mirren said. “I think it’s important if you want to do something — climb a mountain or visit an ancient Indian temple or something — if you have the resources to be able do it, then I think everyone should really not hang about, because life travels on and before you know where you are it becomes impossible.”
The couple's journey in the film is, by definition, a bucket-list trip. And while Mirren's own bucket list includes a trip to India — “I’m hopefully going to take my own advice and do it in the near future,” she said — one of her most memorable trips was a road trip taken right here in the United States, from Nashville to Charleston, with her off-screen husband, director Taylor Hackford. Her one rule? “I refuse to take the freeways — they’re so boring.”
“I’m a great navigator — well, in the days of maps, not GPS. Now everybody is a great navigator because all you have to do is follow that little blue spot. But before all that technology, to navigate with a map was a whole different thing and I was always a brilliant navigator. I’d find all the back roads, ‘Oh you can make a left here; that right no not this one down that little track there!’ We’re big for taking a long drive, my husband and I.”
Mirren says the key to not getting lost is attention to detail. She's always loved studying maps, and even picking out details below from the window seat when traveling by plane.
“I always sit on the window side of an airplane and I love looking down at the earth, at the countries from afar,” she said. “I love looking down and the way the mountains are and the little roads.”
While on that road trip, she also discovered her love for a good all-you-can-eat buffet.
“My husband taught me the enormous pleasures of an all you can eat buffet,” she said, “and real southern cooking, which I didn’t really know about before. When you find those places they’re usually called Ruben’s, or Mama’s ... and they are great food. Just fantastic.”
But life on the road didn't change Mirren's daily diet completely — she always brings along her PG Tips tea bags. “I cannot get through the day without my cup of tea,” she said. And although Hackford sounds like a great travel companion, there is one other man Mirren would love to take a food-focused trip with: Anthony Bourdain.
“We all love Anthony Bourdain, don’t we? I would love to just go along with Anthony Bourdain wherever he goes, really. But Indonesia or Thailand; I’d love to take a food trip to that part of the world.”
“The Leisure Seeker” is now playing at select theaters nationwide.