NEW YORK | Roles for older actors can fall into some predictable tropes, but Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen say their new film, “The Good Liar,” let them brush aside cliches and even their characters’ mortality for a good cat-and-mouse thriller.
“Elderly characters are sort of there to be the lovely old grandfather or granddad that the kids go and visit,” Mirren said. “As you get older and you realize, ‘You know what? I still have agency in my life. Things are still happening in my life. It doesn’t all stop when you’re 50.”
The film, which opens in theaters Friday, brings Mirren, 74, and McKellen, 80, together on the big screen for the first time.
McKellen plays Roy, a man who has spent his life swindling others and sets his sights on Mirren’s character, a lonely widow named Betty. Roy is hoping to cash in on Betty’s life savings.
While Betty’s grandson, played by Russell Tovey, senses danger in the new suitor, the film’s focus stays squarely on Betty and Roy.
“This film could not happen unless these people were the age they were at,” McKellen said.
McKellen is keenly aware that audiences may balk at seeing a film with two older leads in it, but there are advantages.
“Although my heart sinks when I go, ‘Oh, do I have to go see a film with two old actors in it.’ What you do get … on the whole is pretty good acting because they’ve been at it and they know what they’re up to,” he said.
“There is nothing about mortality in this movie and that I love,” director Bill Condon said. “Putting them into a very contemporary thriller, it’s a good reminder of the fact that people should get to do everything.”
Condon said he’d seen Mirren and McKellen act together on Broadway, so he knew what to expect.
“I knew they were great together, but it is — well, it’s like what we always complain about, right? The paucity of parts for people of a certain age,” Condon said. “They should go on and do four movies now, and I hope they do because they have an incredible kind of rapport.”
Both Mirren and McKellen have some blockbuster projects on the horizon. McKellen appears in Tom Hooper’s “Cats” adaptation, and Mirren is set to appear in the ninth installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise in 2020.
This story has been corrected to show that Russell Tovey plays the grandson.