Helen Mirren is a revered, award-winning actress who’s film and TV work includes ‘Prime Suspect,’ ‘Caligula,’ ‘Shadowboxer,’ ‘Elizabeth I’ and ‘The Queen.’
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, to Vasiliy Petrovich “Basil” Miranoff and Kathleen Rogers. One of three children, Mirren’s father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov, 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. Her mother, Kathleen Rogers, was the daughter of a butcher who supplied meat to Queen Victoria. When Mirren was 9 years old, her father—whose family was Russian aristocracy—legally changed the family surname from Mironova to Mirren.
Helen 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.”
Helen 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.
By age 20, however, 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.
Helen 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 the film 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. 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.
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.
In The Fame
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.
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. 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.
Mirren, who vowed she would never marry, tied the knot with Hackford in 1997. They reside in both Los Angeles and London.
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