Helen Mirren Doesn't Want to Call Her Cannes Red Carpet Hair and Makeup "Beauty"

She explains why she thinks of it more as "performance."

Helen Mirren at the 2024 cannes film festival wearing a purple elie saab gown
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Dame Helen Mirren made her grand entrance at the Cannes Film Festival red carpet on Friday, May 24. Her regal Elie Saab gown draped into a half off-the-shoulder shape with a folded bodice, extending into a skirt with a dramatic train. Her entire dress was cut from a rich, throne-room-worthy purple satin, emphasized by a slick, elegant hairstyle and light makeup. The decorated actress looked like she was inhabiting the part of an early-twentieth century monarch, come to rule over the red carpet. And in a way, she says she was.

Speaking to Marie Claire the following morning from the L'Oréal Paris suite at the Hôtel Martinez in Cannes, Mirren didn't want to refer to her slicked-back, curled bob and classic red lip accompanying her look as "beauty"—or even hair and makeup. Instead, she thought in terms of the age-old Shakespeare quote: the carpet was her stage, and the 360-degree ensemble represented a part she came to play.

Helen Mirren at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival

Helen Mirren attended the Cannes Film Festival premiere of La Plus Precieuse Des Marchandises wearing a regal Elie Saab gown.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"I wish we didn't have to use the word 'beauty' because it's not about 'beauty,' is it? It's about presentation," she says. "It's like you're walking as a sort of character; a caricature version of yourself."

Mirren thinks of her hair, makeup, and styling teams as "artisans" who prepare her for what she considers an ideal role: walking out on to the carpet to communicate with her presence alone. "It's a performance where I don't have to learn any lines," she explains. "That's like a dream for me, to play a role where I don't have to learn any lines."

Helen Mirren wearing a blue dress with blue hair at the cannes film festival 2024

At the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, Mirren wanted to channel 18th century fashion and beauty with the twist of coordinating her hair to her Del Core dress.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Compared to other carpets, the Cannes Film Festival is known for a dress code where over-the-top glam is the norm (not the exception). The heightened atmosphere has encouraged Mirren to dream up unexpected hair and makeup ideas for the sake of playing her most glamorous self.

While she wanted to keep her look more simple this year to emphasize her purple gown's royal energy, shocking blue hair in a towering up-do felt appropriate for the character she inhabited on the 2023 red carpet premiere of Jeanne du Barry. "I thought I wanted a sort of 18th century thing because I love 18th century [fashion]," she explains. "So I was thinking of a huge 18th century wig and then I thought, oh, it'd be great to have it in blue to match my dress."

L'Oréal hairstylist Stephane Lancien delivered with what Mirren called "a wonderful blue bird's nest on my head." "It's a mixture of him, his achievement, and my ideas," she says.

Helen Mirren at the Loreal spotlight on women's worth awards at the Cannes Film Festival

In her years of attending premieres and events like L'Oréal's Lights On Women's Worth Awards, Mirren says she has a sharp eye for "what looks good"—like this sequined black gown and bold red lip.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hair, makeup, and wardrobing are maybe the lowest-commitment roles Mirren has played in her 60-year career. When the red carpet ends, so does the part. "It's a lovely thing because it's just for one night, you know, you're not gonna have to live with this forever," Mirren says.

Then, as if remembering how the nature of performing on the red carpet has changed, she corrects herself with a smile. "Of course, now with the internet, you do have to live with it forever."

Halie LeSavage
Senior News Editor (Fashion & Beauty)

Halie LeSavage is the senior fashion and beauty news editor at Marie Claire, where she assigns, edits, and writes stories for both sections. Halie is an expert on runway trends, celebrity style, emerging fashion and beauty brands, and shopping (naturally). In over seven years as a professional journalist, Halie’s reporting has ranged from fashion week coverage spanning the Copenhagen, New York, Milan, and Paris markets, to profiles on industry insiders including stylist Alison Bornstein and J.Crew womenswear creative director Olympia Gayot, to breaking news stories on noteworthy brand collaborations and beauty launches. (She can personally confirm that Bella Hadid’s Ôrebella perfume is worth the hype.) She has also written dozens of research-backed shopping guides to finding the best tote bags, ballet flats, and more. Most of all, Halie loves to explore what trends—like the rise of doll-like Mary Janes or TikTok’s 75 Hard Style Challenge—can say about culture writ large. (She justifies almost any purchase by saying it’s “for work.”) Halie has previously held writer and editor roles at Glamour, Morning Brew, and Harper’s Bazaar. Halie has been cited as a fashion and beauty expert in The Cut, CNN Underscored, and Reuters, among other outlets, and appears in newsletters like Selleb and Self-Checkout to provide shopping recommendations. In 2022, she was awarded the Hearst Spotlight Award for excellence and innovation in fashion journalism. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Harvard College. Outside of work, Halie is passionate about books, baking, and her miniature Bernedoodle, Dolly. For a behind-the-scenes look at her reporting, you can follow Halie on Instagram and TikTok.