Helen Mirren stars in Winchester, a ghost story. She talks with Michele Manelis.

Is there anything in your life that you were able to connect to in Winchester in the sense of being haunted by emotional ghosts?

I think anyone who gets to my age has lost people. I have never lost anyone as tragically as Sarah Winchester did. She married an immensely wealthy man, she was a beautiful young girl and it was a love match. Very soon after, she got pregnant, so it was like the perfect, wonderful, happy marriage. And then first she lost her young child at the age of 2, and then shortly after that she lost her young husband. So, she went from great joy to absolute devastation and despair. Then basically, she retired and became a recluse and started building the Winchester house.

And where are you on the subject of being haunted by ghosts?

I have never suffered that kind of a loss but I think we are not exactly haunted, but the people we have lost stay with us whether it's friends or family, parents obviously, siblings sometimes. But I can't imagine the pain of a loss of a child.


Do you believe in life after death?


How do you picture death?

I picture it like going to sleep at night. Woody Allen said a very funny thing, he said that death is like having a colonoscopy. They say relax and count backwards from 10 and by about five, you are gone. And you only know you are not dead because you wake up. But maybe you don't.

What about the power of belief?

Yes. I have seen it and I have witnessed it in certain cultures, especially in Africa, where the world of the spirits and the belief in the world of the spirits is so present and in the culture that it's absolutely a working part of people's lives. And certainly every culture in the history of mankind has had a belief of some sort or another from the Mayans with the sun god or the Norwegians and Thor, and the Greeks or the Romans and Zeus. Every culture in every country and every race has had some sort of belief system. So, you have got to tip your hat to that.

What did you see in Africa that moved you?

Well, I travelled through Africa a long time ago with a theatre group and we were working very small communities. I saw ceremonies where people were possessed by spirits. The people in that community completely believed that they were possessed by spirits and it was an absolute truth for them, and I am not denying their truth, if you know what I mean.

Would you describe yourself as spiritual?

No I wouldn't. But I would describe myself as imaginative.

It's a pity that you were shooting in the Winchester house, which is famously haunted but you never had any otherworldly encounters?

I wish I could tell you that I saw this ghost in the corner of a room, a little girl who was crying, but no, absolutely not. But I think that I am so pragmatic actually and realistic, that if I saw a ghost I would probably not notice it. I would probably say 'Oh, right,' and walk right past it. I'd probably be thinking, 'Who was that guy I just saw there?'

Some actors will tell you that they feel cursed. Do you feel like that?

No, I don't feel cursed. On the contrary, I feel blessed. I am so lucky, so unbelievably lucky.

How do you feel about the Times Up movement? Do you think the culture will change?

Things have changed already and they are going to continue to change.

In what way? Have you seen or experienced anything?

No, not me personally, but yeah, they have changed, there's no question. I can see in the men around me, there's a whole new thought process that has come into their heads that we have actually been trying to put into their heads for a really long time. But it's taken an awfully long time for the penny to drop. It took a law case to make the penny drop. But you can see them going, "Wow. I didn't really fully understand that and didn't get it and didn't grasp it, and now, how do I operate in this new world?" It's very interesting.

Winchester, in cinemas from Thursday.