The mogul refers to the Oscar winner as "The Helen" and couldn't think of anyone better-suited to play the starring role in The Hundred-Foot Journey, which hits theaters Aug. 8 and features Mirren as the haughty head of an upscale French restaurant suddenly facing competition from an Indian eatery opening across the street.
"It was [fellow producer] Steven [Spielberg] ... who said, 'I think we should ask Helen.' I said, 'The Helen?' And then we all held our breath to see if you'd say yes," Winfrey told Mirren while interviewing her for the August issue of O Magazine. "When you did, we sighed and said, 'Now we have a movie!' "
Mirren, 68, has been pivotal to many movies in her nearly 50-year career, most notably in 2006, when she played Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, which earned her an Academy Award.
"I was terrified," Mirren says. "There are certain people who can deal with meeting the queen. But the vast majority of us get queenitis. You just – you cannot think of anything to say."
Mirren was notably less reserved in January, when she twerked while receiving the Hasty Pudding award at Harvard – despite later insisting she's not a sex symbol.
One person who might not agree? Husband Taylor Hackford. The happily married director and actress got together in their late 30s and waited 13 years to wed on New Year's Eve 1997.
"I used to say to Taylor, 'I wish we'd met earlier on. We've missed so much time together.' And he'd say, 'We'd never be together now if we met earlier,' " she says. "And I think he's actually right because we were both on a trajectory of work and ambition and, of course, to a certain extent, wanting to resolve ourselves as ourselves."
Now, Mirren admits, her priorities are different.
"Before I met Taylor, all my relationships took second place to my work. If I had to go to Africa, it was 'Bye-bye, I'm off to Africa.' And then he came into my life, and I started thinking, 'Maybe it's time to have a different attitude – and to say that my relationship is at least as important as my work.' To give it the time."