Dame Helen Mirren didn't define herself as a feminist until ''quite recently''.

The 'Woman in Gold' star had ''always lived like a feminist'' but never really joined the movement because she didn't want to seem ''too political''.

Giving a commencement speech at Tulane University over the weekend, she said: ''I didn't define myself as a feminist until quite recently, but I had always lived like a feminist and believed in the obvious; that women were as capable and as energetic and as inspiring as men. But to join a movement called feminism seemed too didactic, too political.

''However, I have come to understand that feminism is not an abstract idea but a necessity if we - and really by 'we,' I mean you guys - are to move us forward and not backward into ignorance and fearful jealousy. Now, I am a declared feminist. And I would encourage you to be the same.''

Meanwhile, Helen previously revealed she is ''fed up'' of always wanting to better herself.

She said: ''Well, of course, my career is pretty amazing. I am lucky in my profession that I am still working. So I can't complain about that.

''But that doesn't mean that my nasty, niggling little nub of ambition hasn't shut up yet: 'Why aren't you doing this or that? Why didn't you do that better? Oh you blew it there.' That sort of drive is there and I wish it wasn't as I'm kind of fed up with it.''

And the 71-year-old star ''hates'' the word sexy and dislikes when people say she ''lives in the world of imagination'' because she's an actress.

She explained: ''I hate the word sexy. But be free, be liberated, be what you want to be. It's to do with liberation, not sexiness: that's probably in the past ...

''I am very girly in that way. I have my happiest moments sitting in front of my make-up mirror, putting on my mascara. I love that process: I'm not embarrassed about that at all. I know it is kind of a dream, the whole thing, but I think we need dreams in our world.

''I get very cross with people, often men in the financial world, who say I live in the world of imagination. Well, what the f**k is the world of finance if not imagination? Why does the stock market go up or down because someone is elected president? The whole thing is kind of a fantasy.''