Helen Mirren on What She's Learned About Love After Nearly 25 Years of Marriage: Just 'Get on with It'

Helen Mirren tells PEOPLE what the "most important thing of all" about love is

How does Taylor Hackford make Dame Helen Mirren — the cover star of People's 2022 Beautiful Issue — feel beautiful? "Oh, he doesn't!" she says with a laugh. "I don't think he ever makes me feel beautiful. It's not necessary. That's not what I love him for, honestly."

Mirren met Hackford, the esteemed director behind films like An Officer and a Gentleman and Ray, while auditioning for his movie White Nights. But the Oscar-winning actress says these days her husband doesn't give her notes on her performances. "You know, I believe in unconditional praise from one's loved ones. I don't want any criticism. And I give him unconditional praise likewise — more or less," she says, adding, "We allow each other to do our own thing, and get on with it."

The actress enjoyed the time the couple had together during the pandemic.

"I've worked every year since I was 20," she says. "COVID was the first time in the whole of my life I've not worked for six months." So many people, she acknowledges, "were suffering through that terrible, terrible time, but what was valuable for me was that I got to spend time with my husband and sit across the table from him every night for six months — which I've never done before — and not worry about or even think about work."

"Madres Paralelas" Red Carpet And Opening Ceremony - The 78th Venice International Film Festival
Stephane Cardinale/getty

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During that stay-at-home period, Mirren also had a viral moment for shooing off a "naughty bear" near her Nevada property. She also kept up her sewing.

"I've still got my mom's treadle sewing machine, that I still make things on, her sewing machine. I learned a love of fabrics from my mother," says the actress and L'Oreal Paris spokesperson. "I'm forever trying to make the perfect wrap skirt that you sort of just hook on and it falls perfectly."

Keeping up hobbies and interests in marriage is essential, she says: "A really important part of love is to maintain your own sense of identity. In a way, that's the most important thing of all, to not subsume yourself into someone else, far from it. Be honestly and authentically who you are."

Helen Mirren photographed at Milk Studios in LA , April 1st
Andrew Eccles

She advises letting a partner do the same. "It's work," she says about love. "And it's very important to allow the person you love to be who they are — even if [sometimes] you don't like it very much."

Mirren finds joy in their journey together. "You're constantly discovering, learning about the person you love, who suddenly, completely surprises you," she says. "You find depths of courage or patience or generosity or that you just didn't know were there."

The couple will celebrate their 25th anniversary in December and were together for a decade before they wed.

For more on Helen Mirren's Beautiful Issue Cover Interview, pick up this week's PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

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