NEW YORK — Trust Helen Mirren to look regal while surrounded by rats, seat hogs and grime.
The 69-year-old Oscar winner has been spotted riding the city's squalid subway system and offering a lesson in elegance along the way.
She was photographed during one commute sitting up straight in a fur-trimmed coat and long lavender gloves. A sleek taupe tote sat politely on her lap, not beside her.
"I would never dream of putting my bag on the seat," the actress said during a recent interview during rehearsals of her new Broadway play. "You've got to leave room for other people."
Mirren seems a bit bewildered by all the fuss over her underground style, which Buzzfeed declared "the classiest thing to ever happen on the subway" and prompted InStyle to offer a shopping list inspired by her outfit.
She said she adores New York, even in the depths of winter: "I love it. I've got nice cozy boots, warm coat and hat and scarf." And on her decision to brave the city's public transport system, she didn't hesitate: "It's the quickest way to get around."
Mirren may be queen of the subway these days, but she's a monarch above ground, too. She's playing Queen Elizabeth II in the play "The Audience," which wowed crowds in London in 2013.
Peter Morgan's play imagines the private weekly meetings between the monarch and Britain's prime ministers over her six-decade reign, including Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. It begins previews Tuesday at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
"It's about the clash of her being, on the one hand, the most visible woman in the world and, on the other hand, the most invisible woman in the world," said director Stephen Daldry. "Helen is extraordinary."
Mirren was initially reluctant to join the show since she'd already portrayed Queen Elizabeth II in the movie "The Queen," another Morgan-written story set after the 1997 death of Princess Diana.
"I didn't want to go back to her, I must say," Mirren said. "It felt as though I was going backward. And it's always a mistake for an actor to get overly identified with any particular character."
That changed somewhat when she read Morgan's clever script for "The Audience." He sent it to her to read, and she sent him a two-word email back: "You bastard."
Both projects have forced Mirren, who was raised in a "staunchly republican" family, to evolve her view of the monarchy. These days, she's not exactly a monarchist, but she calls herself a "queenist."
"I never really thought of the queen. She was just there, like Big Ben. You see it, but you don't really think about how it works," she said. "You just sort of see it and like that it's there."
Mirren's respect for the queen has burgeoned. "I just found I liked her more and more," she said. The actress thinks Elizabeth works hard and likely hates the dull paperwork and meetings associated with being monarch.
"She just wants to be walking across the moors with the dogs. She'd be very happy as a farmer's wife," Mirren said. "So that's her sentence — to be in palaces when actually she just wants to be in a muddy lane in a pair of Wellington boots and dogs running around."
The Broadway version of the play will have some actors from the West End run, but many will be American, including Judith Ivey as Thatcher and Dylan Baker as John Major. The playwright has changed a few things, including tweaking the David Cameron meeting and adding a whole new Tony Blair chat.
Mirren, who was acclaimed for her starring role in the TV detective series "Prime Suspect," isn't certain that her royal portrayal is perfectly accurate but stresses it's an interpretation.
"This is my portrait. And, in a way, there's as much of me in it as there is the queen," she said. "I'm the artist, and it's reflected obviously through my sensibility."
So far the queen herself hasn't said anything. Mirren and the monarch have met several times, and Queen Elizabeth II hasn't brought up any of her portrayals.
"I have to say, if she had mentioned it, I wouldn't tell you. But she didn't mention it, in fact," Mirren said. "But there is an understanding whenever we see each other."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.