Who Is Helen Mirren?
Born on July 26, 1945, in London, England, Helen Mirren pursued stage work before debuting in film during the '60s. A versatile, highly skilled actress, Mirren has starred in many movies, including Caligula, Excalibur, Calendar Girls and The Last Station. She was lauded for her lead role in the series Prime Suspect and she's portrayed Queen Elizabeth I and II, winning an Oscar for the latter role. She was later cast as Alma Reville, the wife of director Alfred Hitchcock, in the 2012 biopic Hitchcock.
Award-winning actress Helen Mirren was born Illiana Lydia Petrovna Mironova on July 26, 1945, in Chiswick, London, England, the second of three children of Vasiliy Petrovich "Basil" Mironov and Kathleen Rogers.
Mirren's father played the viola with the London Philharmonic. He later left the orchestra to become a cab driver and driving test examiner, both professions that better supported his family, and eventually ended up working as a civil servant with the Ministry of Transport. Mirren's mother was the daughter of a butcher who supplied meat to Queen Victoria.
When the future actress was 9 years old, her father—whose family was Russian aristocracy—legally changed the family surname to Mirren.
Mirren was attracted to theater at an early age, finding her inspiration at the age of 13 at an amateur production of Hamlet. "I was blown away by all this over-the-top drama," she said in an interview with The Times UK. "We grew up without TV and never went to the cinema, so after Hamlet, all I wanted to do was get back into that world where all those fabulous things were possible."
Mirren was steered away from the career by her parents, and was instead sent to St. Bernard's High School, a Catholic convent, in Southend-on-Sea. An English teacher at St. Bernard's, who happened on a recruiting circular for the National Youth Theatre, urged Helen to audition for the troupe. She did, and at the age of 18 was accepted into the company. At the urgings of her mother, however, Mirren entered a London teaching college in order to learn a stable profession.
Stage, Film & TV Roles
'Antony and Cleopatra,' 'MacBeth'
By age 20, Mirren was starring as Cleopatra in the 1965 production of Antony and Cleopatra. Her performance as the Egyptian leader landed her an agent, as well as a place with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She began playing sexually charged roles such as Castiza in the 1966 staging of The Revenger's Tragedy; Cressida in a 1968 production of Troilus and Cressida; and Lady Macbeth in the 1974 Trevor Nunn production of MacBeth. These roles, as well as several others, earned her the label "The Sex Queen of Stratford"—a title she greatly resented.
Mirren's film career began as an extension of her stage performances, starring in the film versions of her RSC productions. She appeared in Caligula (1980), which also starred Malcolm McDowell and Peter O'Toole. The film, controversial for its strong violence and explicit sex scenes, had a self-imposed X rating. As a result, Caligula performed poorly at box offices and received pans from critics, who dismissed the movie as thinly veiled pornography. It was eventually re-cut and rated R for its re-release a year later.
'The Long Good Friday,' 'Cal'
Mirren fared better in the gangster film The Long Good Friday (1979), which received strong praise. She followed this performance with a role in the fantasy film Excalibur (1981), which was based on the legend of King Arthur. But it was her role in Cal (1984) that landed Mirren her first major film awards: The Cannes Film Festival prize for best actress, and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award.
'White Nights,' 'Mosquito Coast'
In 1985, Mirren was cast in White Nights; she worked on the film with director Taylor Hackford, and soon began seeing him off the set. The following year, Mirren appeared in the critically acclaimed Mosquito Coast, followed by another critics' favorite, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989).
In 1992, Mirren landed her breakthrough TV role as Detective Inspector Jane Tennison in the public television mystery series Prime Suspect. By the time the show concluded in 2006, Mirren had taken home five BAFTA Awards and several Emmy Award nominations for her performance on the show, including a win in 1996 for Outstanding Lead Actress. Mirren continued to shine on stage as well, receiving a Tony Award nomination her role in 1995's A Month in the Country, and again in 2002 for Dance of Death, co-starring Sir Ian McKellen.
'The Madness of King George,' 'Gosford Park'
Mirren's film career was also heating up, and in 1996 she earned her first Academy Award nomination for The Madness of King George. The film also earned Mirren her second Best Actress win at Cannes, and yet another BAFTA award. Mirren continued to star in critically acclaimed fare, including the British mystery Gosford Park (2001), which led to her second Academy Award nomination, as well as another Golden Globe nod. Her string of award-winning works also gained notice of Queen Elizabeth II and, in 2003, Mirren was invested as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.
'The Queen,' 'Elizabeth I'
In 2007, Mirren finally gained a reputation as an A-list actress for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen. Her performance landed Mirren her first Oscar, and also earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress. She then nabbed a Golden Globe and Emmy Award for her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in the HBO movie Elizabeth I.
'The Last Station,' 'Red'
In 2010, Mirren was nominated for her fourth Academy Award for her turn in the Leo Tolstoy biopic The Last Station. For the performance, she also earned her first Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit awards. Mirren soon tackled a very different type of film —a fast-paced action thriller. In Red (2010), she co-starred with Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis as a former spy who gets pulled back into the game to help a friend. She later reprised the role for the 2013 sequel.
Mirren earned accolades for her portrayal of Alma Reville, the wife of director Alfred Hitchcock, in the 2012 biopic Hitchcock. She co-starred with Anthony Hopkins, who plays the film's title character, as well as actresses Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel and Toni Collette.
'The Hundred-Foot Journey,' 'Trumbo'
In 2014, Mirren earned another Golden Globe nomination for her part in the restaurant comedy The Hundred-Foot Journey. She returned to the role of Queen Elizabeth in the Broadway play The Audience, which was written by Peter Morgan, who also penned the screenplay for The Queen. In June 2015, she won her first Tony Award for the performance, and later that year she garnered more awards buzz with a Golden Globe-nominated turn in Trumbo.
'The Leisure Seeker,' 'Catherine the Great'
In 2017, Mirren teamed with Donald Sutherland for The Leisure Seeker, earning another Golden Globe nod for her role in director Paolo Virzi’s tale of an aging couple on a road trip. She went on to star as rifle company heiress Sarah Winchester in the 2018 horror film Winchester, and played the mother of Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw in 2019's Hobbs & Shaw. Mirren then pivoted back to dramatic fare later that year by portraying the titular Russian empress of the Sky Atlantic-HBO miniseries Catherine the Great.
Mirren, who once vowed she would never marry, tied the knot with Taylor Hackford in 1997. They reside in both Los Angeles and London.
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