Kerri-Ann Roper, PA Entertainment Editor
Director Sam Mendes has paid tribute to actress Helen McCrory following her death aged 52.
Mendes (55) directed McCrory in James Bond film Skyfall as well as in theatre roles, including productions of Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night.
Her husband, the actor Damian Lewis, announced in a statement on Twitter last week that she had died after a “heroic battle with cancer”.
— Damian Lewis (@lewis_damian) April 16, 2021
In a piece written for The Guardian, Mendes recalled how “people would light up at the mention of her name. I was one of those people”.
McCrory gained prominence for her role in Harry Potter as well as gritty crime drama Peaky Blinders, in which she played the family matriarch Polly Gray.
Mendes ran the celebrated Donmar Warehouse theatre for 10 years and previously worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Writing about staging productions of Uncle Vanya, featuring McCrory as Yelena, and Twelfth Night, where she played Olivia, Mendes wrote: “She could talk for England – even an old blowhard like me was put in the shade – so rehearsals were always a hoot. Opinions, gossip, secrets, wisdom, all dispensed with fervency and passion. Once on stage, however, she was utterly focused.”
In 2012 she starred alongside Judi Dench and Daniel Craig as home secretary Clair Dowar in Skyfall.
Recalling casting for the role, Mendes explained that he “needed an actress who could publicly haul Judi Dench’s M over the coals, whilst also making a roomful of other giant personalities and talents cower”.
He added: “Of course I thought of Helen, and she didn’t disappoint. On top of which, she was just… fun. It’s an underappreciated trait, but so important in what we do. Helen understood how to take the work seriously, but never yourself.”
Mendes ended his piece writing: “I already miss her”.
McCrory and husband Lewis were married in 2007 and have two children – a daughter Manon, born in 2006, and son Gulliver, born in 2007.
Billions star Lewis wrote a tribute to his wife in The Sunday Times.
He said that in the weeks before her death she had joked about his future relationships with women, saying that “love isn’t possessive”.
“She said to us from her bed, ‘I want Daddy to have girlfriends, lots of them, you must all love again, love isn’t possessive, but you know, Damian, try at least to get though the funeral without snogging someone’.”