Helen Mirren recalls first trip to Aust

Helen Mirren recalls her first visit to Australia in 1969 as an extraordinary adventure (File).
Helen Mirren recalls her first visit to Australia in 1969 as an extraordinary adventure (File).

Almost 50 years ago, a 22-year-old unknown English actress named Helen Mirren boarded a plane in London and made the long flight to Australia to shoot the film Age of Consent.

"That was an amazing experience for me," Mirren, now 72 and one of the great actors with an Oscar win and three other nominations, said.

"I think I had been on a plane just once before and here I was flying halfway across the world.

"I think it was the first movie I ever did - a real movie."

Mirren was plucked from obscurity to star in 1969's Age of Consent alongside James Mason, based on Norman Lindsay's novel of the same name, and shot on Queensland's yet to be developed Dunk Island.

Her role as a young, wild girl with a dream of being a Brisbane hairdresser launched her acting career.

Almost half a century and more than 100 film and major TV roles later, Mirren returned to Australia to star last year in the horror film Winchester alongside another Australian actor Jason Clarke and directed by Brisbane brothers Peter and Michael Spierig.

Instead of a pristine Great Barrier Reef as the shoot location, Winchester was shot in Melbourne at Dockland Studios where elaborate sets were constructed and other locations around the city, including the National Trust building, were used.

The film is inspired by true events, with Mirren playing Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, who maniacally ordered the family mansion located outside of San Francisco be expanded with 24-hour construction.

It stood seven storeys high and contained hundreds of rooms with hallways that often led to dead ends.

The mansion still stands and is an odd tourist attraction.

Mirren shot some scenes at the California location, although she did not experience any ghosts like her character in the film.

"I so wish I could tell you at one point I saw a little girl in the corner crying or something," Mirren laughed.

"No, absolutely not.

"I'm so pragmatic at heart I think even if I saw a ghost I would probably not notice it.

"I'd probably say, 'Hi' and walk straight past."

Mirren's US director husband Taylor Hackford joined her in Melbourne and the Hollywood couple loved their time in the city.

It brought back plenty of memories of her first trip to Australia for Age of Consent as a 22-year-old.

"What an amazing experience and then not to end up in Sydney or Melbourne or Perth, but to finish up on Dunk Island at a time when that part of Australia was very undeveloped," Mirren said.

"I know the Gold Coast is the centre of filmmaking in Australia now and in fact a lot of my Australian friends who were on the movie have houses or live up there.

"But, in those days it was an extraordinary adventure actually."

Winchester opens in Australia on Thursday.

Australian Associated Press