Helen Mirren's Secret to a Happy Marriage? Giving Each Other Space

The star of Woman in Gold adores spending time with her husband – but also likes to do her own thing

Photo: David M. Benett/Getty

Spending every waking hour with your significant other is not the key to a happy marriage – at least for Helen Mirren and her husband, Taylor Hackford.

“The thing is to allow the other person freedom to do what they want to do, which is so important,” Mirren tells PEOPLE. “Let them do it. Encourage them and support them and vice versa.”

The 69-year-old, who wed the Oscar-winning director in 1997 after 11 years together, adds, “It doesn t work if it only goes one way. It’s got to go two ways.”

Mirren and Hackford are both doing what they want to work-wise right now, living – and working – in two different cities.

Mirren, whose new movie, Woman in Gold with Ryan Reynolds, opened Wednesday, is starring on Broadway in The Audience, playing Queen Elizabeth II. (She won an Oscar in 2007 for playing Elizabeth in The Queen.

Her equally busy husband “is doing a musical play in Chicago called Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, she says. “He is directing it.”

Besides giving each other space, another reason for their successful union could boil down to the fact that Mirren is a guy’s girl, according to her longtime friend and colleague Peter Morgan, who wrote The Audience and The Queen.

“Men love her because she has this irresistible quality about her,” he tells PEOPLE. “You never forget you are with one of the world’s great, beautiful women but she can also be earthy and uncomplicated – like a guy.

“She is so confident of her femininity that she can enjoy her masculine side, too.”

For more on Helen Mirren, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now

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