'The Good Liar': Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen have 'diametrically opposed' acting styles says director

The Good Liar, a new twisty-turny thriller in cinemas Friday features one of the best casts of the year, with Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Helen Mirren as a career con-artist and a wealthy widow respectively, and Russell Tovey providing brilliant support.

But what’s the secret to getting the best out of a cast as impressive as that? It might seem easy, but it can be challenging, especially when your two iconic leads don’t work in the same way.

We spoke to director Bill Condon, as well as his cast, about how they achieved The Good Liar’s great performances.

“For me the essential thing is about creating an environment that’s most comfortable for them,” Condon revealed to Yahoo Movies UK.

Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen in <i>The Good Liar</i>. (Warner Bros)
Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen in The Good Liar. (Warner Bros)

“And everybody is individual. Here, it was a challenge in the beginning, because Helen and Ian are diametrically opposed. Ian is all about talk, rehearsal and analysis, and Helen is really ‘Let’s not overdo that, let’s find it in the moment.’”

“You had two people who needed different things. If you’re aware of that, and make up for what they might be missing… They were so in love with each other’s talent that they bended a little too.”

“To be a great director is almost indefinable,” Mirren says. “It’s very much to do, as Bill said, with making the environment within which you’re creating, [that allows you] to feel free to create, because you’re very vulnerable as an actor on the set. ‘Do I look hideous? Am I doing too much, am I doing too little?’

Read more: Helen Mirren reveals she was scammed

“You don’t know where you are, so you’re very much in the hands of the director. If there’s a director who can create an atmosphere on set where you feel free, you feel free to make a fool of yourself, you feel not-judged. It’s a very, very specific ability that, and not a lot of directors have it quite honestly. Bill absolutely does have it.”

Bill Condon gives direction to Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen on <i>The Good Liar</i> (Warner Bros)
Bill Condon gives direction to Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen on The Good Liar (Warner Bros)

“I think you can define a good director by how good they’d be at having a party,” McKellen says. “Have they invited the right guests? Have they seated the right people next door to each other? Are they constantly checking that your drink’s filled? Are you drinking what you want? Are you happy? ‘How can I make it better for you?’ Bill is all of those things.

Read more: Helen Mirren says ‘f*** Netflix’

“If, then, you’re in the middle of a take he comes in and says ‘You’re doing it absolutely wrong, you should do it like this.’ [you say] ‘Thanks for that note, I’m with you, I understand.’”

Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen and Bill Condon on the set of <i>The Good Liar</i> (Warner Bros)
Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen and Bill Condon on the set of The Good Liar (Warner Bros)

For more secrets to getting great performances from Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren and Russell Tovey, check out the video above.

The Good Liar is in UK cinemas on 8 November. Watch a trailer below.