Dame Helen Mirren has spoken of her relief that she sent a letter to the Queen while she was shooting her 2006 film about the monarch.
The drama, written by The Crown creator Peter Morgan, focused on the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and whether the Queen would return to London from Balmoral to pay tribute amid growing public pressure.
Dame Helen, who won an Oscar and Bafta for her portrayal, said she had quickly realised she was dealing with a sensitive moment in the Queen’s life and decided to contact her.
The 76-year-old told Radio Times: “I realised we were investigating a profoundly painful part of her life, so I wrote to her. How do you write to your queen? Was it Madam, or Your Highness, or Your Majesty?
“I said: ‘We are doing this film. We are investigating a very difficult time in your life. I hope it’s not too awful for you’.
“I can’t remember how I put it. I just said that in my research I found myself with a growing respect for her, and I just wanted to say that. She didn’t write back, of course, but her secretary did.
“You know: ‘Yours sincerely, da di da di da,’ on behalf of the Queen. I was very relieved subsequently that I had written that letter.”
Dame Helen said that while preparing for the film she had thought of the Queen “as a submarine, with a periscope.”
She added: “Her eyes are the periscope. She (Elizabeth the person) is watching the world through the Queen’s eyes.”
The Hollywood star also questioned whether she was even allowed to portray a living monarch.
She said: “I looked at portraits when I did Elizabeth I and thought: ‘What I’m doing is another portrait’.
“And there are so many portraits of Elizabeth II, paintings and photographs – this is mine. That liberated me.”
Following the release of the film, she was invited to have dinner with the real monarch but was unable to attend because she was filming in the US.
Dame Helen also reflected on suffering self-doubt throughout her career, saying: “I’m hypercritical and if I saw anything now I’d think: ‘I’m terrible’ and get depressed…
“I think I’m useless and I should never be employed by anyone, so I’ve learnt to try not to put myself through it.”
Read the full interview in Radio Times, out now.