Who is responsible for the $1.2 billion runaway success of the race-car epic Fate of the Furious? A 72-year-old art-house actress from the Royal Shakespeare Company named Helen Mirren, said Vin Diesel, 50, a presenter at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s April 30 Chaplin Award Gala, which honored Mirren, who also has won the Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Golden Globe, Laurence Olivier, and AARP Movies for Grownups Career Achievement awards. “It’s probably her, which is why the Fate of the Furious was the fastest movie in history to hit a billion dollars,” said Diesel.
Actually, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the fastest to hit $1 billion, while Fate of the Furious is the fourth-fastest. But there's no question that Mirren's performance as Jason Statham's character's mother — who appears only in two scenes — helped boost the profile of the franchise, which began as a $50,000 Roger Corman exploitation flick. The success of the highbrow actress in action-adventure roles points up the importance of grownup talent in mass-market movies, and also the importance of flicks made mostly for kids in sustaining the careers of mature actors. Most of Mirren's live-action film grosses — 53 percent — are from action films, which keep her visible, bankable, and capable of doing smaller, grownup fare like The Leisure Seeker, about a wife's last holiday with her Alzheimer's-afflicted husband (Donald Sutherland). And working with towering grownup talents has an impact on the next generation: As Diesel said, “No one else in the room mattered. Nothing existed but this bond between her and I, and there was something really magical and really special about it. And it’s something that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life.”
Similarly, Royal Shakespeare Company-trained Judi Dench, 83, does 007 films that generate 88 percent of her total gross, enabling her to revolutionize Hollywood by starring in such grownup-pleasing fare as the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel films, which shockingly grossed $80 million despite their all-AARP-eligible cast.
Mirren told Entertainment Weekly she's as fond of Diesel and her younger costars as they are of her. But in real life, she is a skilled, lead-footed driver who beat other celebrities on a British reality show set at a racetrack, and she demands equal time for grownups in action films. "The whole reason for me wanting to be in Fast and the Furious was because I wanted to drive," she said. "I'd love to come back [in a sequel]. But guys, I want to drive next time, OK?"
So if Diesel wants the franchise to keep hitting that billion-dollar benchmark, next time he might just have to put a grownup in the driver's seat.