Helen Mirren talks ‘Winchester’ film, impact of gun deaths

Actress Helen Mirren is shown in this Nov. 11, 2017 file photo. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Actress Helen Mirren is shown in this Nov. 11, 2017 file photo. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Los Angeles (AP) – Helen Mirren says her new film “Winchester” isn’t a horror flick, but rather a ghost story with foreign roots and a distinct American element — the psychological impact of gun deaths.

Mirren plays the real-life Sarah Winchester, a 19th-century heiress who inherited a massive fortune from her husband’s creation of the Winchester repeating rifle shortly after the Civil War.  In the film, Winchester believes she is haunted by those killed by the firearm, which allowed for more rapid firing than previous rifles.

“It’s a ghost story, hopefully in the tradition, the very grand tradition, of Japanese ghost stories, ghost films,” Mirren said in a recent interview.  “You know, the Japanese love ghost stories and have great belief in the power of the ancestor spirits, of the ancestors, as many cultures do.”

Part of the film was shot at Winchester’s mansion in San Jose, California, where she moved after the death of her husband in 1881.  Now known as the “Winchester Mystery House,” it is a popular tourist attraction and has more than 160 rooms, 10 thousand windows, two thousand doors and forty staircases.

According the lore around Winchester’s life, she ordered constant construction on the home to try to confuse the ghosts she believed were haunting her.

“There are many theories why she did this,” Mirren said.  “And one of the theories that we explore in the film was that she was trying to placate the ghosts of the people who’d been killed by the Winchester rifle.  She felt their deaths very strongly.  She felt responsible.  She felt the weight of their deaths upon them.  And she was trying, in her own way, to placate their spirits.”

Despite “Winchester’s” themes, Mirren, 72, said the film isn’t trying to make any broad statements about gun ownership in America.

“What I like about it and I think … about America is that it doesn’t deal with whether you can carry guns or not.  That’s kind of not the issue,” she said.  “The issue is more putting the question mark or the weight of moral decision upon the people who make a fortune from making arms — whether they’re guns, bombs, grenades … or whatever it is.  It puts a moral decision upon the people who make huge fortunes from making them.”