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Exclusive: Red clip
Exclusive: Red clip: Exclusive clip from the action movie Red, starring Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker.
Helen Mirren and John Malkovich brush up on their skills in the upcoming movie Red.

Mirren's men

Helen Mirren has worked with dozens of leading men during her award-winning career. Here's her take on three recent co-stars:

Bruce Willis (Red): "A great [expletive] movie star. He happens also to be a truly great actor. He has done character roles, and I think he should do more of them."

Russell Crowe (last year's State of Play): "There is an internal mystery in him that you can never quite penetrate. Great to watch."

Russell Brand (upcoming remake of Arthur): "Like all comedians, their brains operate on a different level. I wish I was like that. I'm too polite and reserved."

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What's more fun than showing up on set with the combined movie stardom of Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich waiting for you?

For Helen Mirren, it's brandishing a sniper rifle.

Crazy as it sounds, the Oscar and multiple Emmy winner is packing some serious heat as a retired CIA agent on the lam in Red, an action movie for the AARP generation that opens Oct. 15.

And it's not just for show. Mirren, 65, says she's a pretty good shot.

“I don't like guns,” the British actress declares, sounding a bit imperious despite her surprising tendency for salty language. But, she adds, casually brandishing her table knife over lunch, “it's picking it up just like it's anything. You're guided by people who do that sort of thing a lot. Don't blink, for example. That doesn't look very professional. And don't stick your tongue out!”

Mirren may be known for her more dramatic work — as in The Queen and Julie Taymor's adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, which opens Dec. 10 — but she loves joining the likes of Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson as actresses embracing female action-hero roles.

“About bloody time,” Mirren says. “It's taken long enough. It used to drive me crazy when I was going to the movies at the age of 18, 19, 20, when women were always sidelined. They were never allowed to do anything. They always had to be up in the corner. So it's great they're being brought into the center of the story.”

Mirren was in her 20s when she first made her mark on the movie screen, and she still has enthusiasm for her profession, though she says it has changed over the years.

“I don't have quite the sense of desperation that I used to have,” Mirren says, laughing. “Certain things drop away as you get older, and incidentally, it's a great thing they do. It's fabulous. I really recommend it. Let people take you the way they take you. I'm not so worried about the way I look anymore.”

Her newfound lack of vanity doesn't seem to be showing. On this day, the always immaculate Mirren looks quite youthful, clad in jeans and a Harvey Pekar T-shirt, a tribute to the late comic book writer that she wore at Comic-Con in July.

And if you're looking for secrets to how Mirren ages so well on screen and in real life, she professes not to have any.

“I am the age I am, and I am who I am with it,” she says. “I don't try to stay young. I just try to be who I am in any one moment in time.”

How does she stay in such great shape, though?

“Honestly, I don't,” Mirren says. “I go through little phases of being good and exercising, and I can usually keep that up for about two weeks, and it all falls apart again.”

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