Stage, television and movie actor of Russian-English heritage, Helen Mirren became a household name in her native United Kingdom playing the popular role of female detective Jane Tennison in the superb Prime Suspect series (1991-1996, 2003), where she picked up such awards as three BAFTA awards, an Emmy award and a Golden Satellite award. She gained further recognition as Mrs. Porter in the TV movie Door to Door (2002), in which she won a Golden Satellite award. She was also seen as the falling star Karen Stone in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2002, earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations) and Chase Philips in the television drama Losing Chase (1996, won a Golden Globe award).
On the silver screen, two-time Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress Mirren won two Cannes Film Festival awards for playing a widow of a British soldier in Cal (1984) and the loyal queen in The Madness of King George (1994, also earned an Oscar nomination). The actress gathered even more appreciation after portraying the officious housekeeper of an English estate in the Robert Altman-helmed Gosford Park (2001), wherein she nabbed numerous awards like a Screen Actors Guild award, a New York Film Critics Circle award and a National Society of Film Critics award, as well as a second Oscar nomination, in addition to a Golden Globe and a BAFTA nomination. In Last Orders (2001), Mirren was handed a London Critics Circle Film award and a National Board of Review award for her stunning, scene-stealing performance as a widow who refuses to accompany her dead husband’s friends as they go to spread his ashes. In a more recent film, Mirren took home a European Film award with her starring turn as a woman who posed nude in Calendar Girls (2003). She is also well-remembered playing roles in such movies as the acclaimed The Long Good Friday (1980), Excalibur (1981), 2010: Odyssey Two (1984), The Mosquito Coast (1986, opposite Harrison Ford), Pascali’s Island (1988), Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999) and Raising Helen (2004).
In addition to her film and television career, Mirren also has built a solid career on stage, winning a London Theatre Critics award for a starring performance in “The Seagull” (1975), and an Outer Critics Circle award, a Theatre World award, as well as a Tony nomination for her part in the Broadway production of “A Month in the Country” (1995). She also offered imposing performances in such plays as “Dance of Death” (2001, earned a Tony nomination), “Orpheus Descending” (2001) and “Mourning Becomes Electra” (2003-2004, received Laurence Oliver Theater nomination).
Helen Mirren was honored with the title of Dame by Queen Elizabeth II on December 5, 2003, and pleaded with the British government to save the children of Uganda, who are caught up in the country’s ongoing civil war, on December 2, 2005. She is currently married to producer Taylor Hackford, with whom she has shared her time outside the limelight since 1986 (married since 1997). Before the marriage, Mirren was romantically involved with actor Liam Neeson (born on June 7, 1952, together from 1981-83).
Childhood and Family:
Daughter of a Russian aristocrat father and a mother of English descent, Ilyena Lydia Mironoff, who would later be famous as Helen Mirren, was born on July 26, 1945, in Chiswick, London, England. Her father escaped from Russia after the 1917 revolution and battled Oswald Mosley’s fascists in the streets of London. She was raised in Ilford and Southend-on-Sea, in England, along with her older brother Peter and her younger sister Catherine.
Helen Mirren, whose nickname is Popper, attended St Bernard’s School for Girls in Essex, England, where she frequently appeared on stage in school plays. At age 13, after playing Caliban in a school production of “The Tempest,” Helen recognized acting was her true calling. She next worked with the National Youth Theatre and later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1972, she worked with Peter Brook at the International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris, France.
Helen began her relationship with producer Taylor Hackford (born on December 31, 1944) in 1986 and the couple finally exchanged wedding vows on December 31, 1997, in Inverness, Scotland. Helen has two stepsons, Alexander Hackford (born in 1979) and Rio Hackford (1970), from Taylor’s previous marriage.
13-year-old Helen Mirren knew she wanted to become an actress after playing Caliban in a school production of “The Tempest.” She made her professional acting debut at age 18 as the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra” (1965) at London’s Old Vic Theatre, a role that led to her becoming a company member of the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where she played numerous roles, including Cressida in “Troilus and Cressida” and “Lady Macbeth” in a production by Trevor Nunn. The same year she joined RSC, Mirren made her television acting debut in a BBC production of Herostradus (1967), and soon moved to big-screen films with the part of Hernia in Peter Hall’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968). The following years, she gave a memorable turn as the undressed muse for James Mason in Age of Consent (1969) and went on to undertake roles in films like Miss Julie (1972), Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah (1972), Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man (1973), Hamlet (1976) and the controversial Caligula (1979). She also had a number of impressive TV works, which included “Cousin Bette” (1971), Kiss, Kiss, Kill, Kill (1974), The Collection (1976) and As You Like It (1978).
In between her busy schedule on film and TV, Mirren maintained her presence on stage. She joined Peter Brook’s International Centre for Theatre Research in 1972 and toured with the group across North Africa. By the mid 1970s, Mirren had enjoyed success with her award-winning performance as Nina in a West End revival of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” (1975), a role that let her to merge her intelligence with her sensuality, something which has come to be her trademark. For her brilliant effort, she was garnered a London Theatre Critics award for Best Actress.
Millen came into her own as a film actor with her convincing portrayal of the love interest of Bob Hoskins’s gangster in the acclaimed The Long Good Friday (1980). She then provided an aptly seductive atmosphere with the malevolence Morgana in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), but it was Mirren’s starring turn as Marcella, the widow of a British soldier who unconsciously falls for an Irishman (John Lynch) responsible for his death, in the drama/thriller Cal (1984), which won the actress a Best Actress award at Cannes. Unfortunately, she did not garner the same attention when the film was released in America. She also offered notable turns as the stern Soviet spaceship commander in the science fiction film 2010: Odyssey Two (1984), Mikhail Baryshnikov’s lover in White Nights (1985), a wife who follows her husband to Central America in The Mosquito Coast (1986, opposite Harrison Ford), an artist who catches the eye of spy Ben Kingsley in Pascali’s Island (1988) and the long-suffering wife of an insulting criminal (Michael Gambon) in Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989).
After the thriller The Comfort of Strangers (1990, opposite Rupert Everett) and Bethune: The Making of a Hero (1990), Mirren made a name for herself as a television star by creating her signature role of female detective Jane Tennison in the occasional television police drama Prime Suspect (from 1991), which won BAFTA television awards in 1991 and 1993 for Best Drama Serial. Mirren’s performances were critically applauded and she took home three consecutive BAFTAs for Best Television Actress from 1991-1993, a 1995 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special and a 1996 Golden Satellite for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV-Movie.
The actress found herself in demand during the run of Prime Suspect (1991-1996). In 1994, following a costarring role in Prince of Jutland, Mirren again attracted attention when director Nicholas Hytne cast her as the faithful queen Charlotte in the history film The Madness of King George (1994), opposite Nigel Hawthorne and Rupert Everett. Mirren was so outstanding that she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and was handed a second Best Actress award at Cannes. Mirren had another victory in her hands when she made her Broadway debut in “A Month in the Country” in 1995. For her brilliant performance, she won an Outer Critics Circle for Outstanding Debut of an Actress and a Theatre World, as well as earned a Tony nomination. She continued to make an impact with a Golden Globe winning portrayal of Chase Philips in the television drama Losing Chase (1996).
Shifting into production, Mirren made her debut as an associate producer on the Terry George-helmed drama Some Mother’s Son (1996), where she also starred as an Irishwoman whose son is jailed for alleged IRA activities. She took the same double duty (star and associate producer) on the made-for-cable film Painted Lady (1997), portraying a faded rock singer turned amateur sleuth. She rounded out the century with a bright turn as the title character of the Showtime movie The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999) and received nominations at the Emmys, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild. The same year, she also played the titular educator in the black comedy Teaching Mrs. Tingle, as well as returned to the London stage in “Collected Stories.”
Entering the new millennium, Mirren continued to split her time between screen and stage by costarring opposite Stuart Townsend in “Orpheus Descending” at the London Theater and returning to Broadway, alongside Ian McKellen, in “Dance of Death” (2001), where she earned a Tony for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. 2003-2004 saw the stage actress play the lethal Christine Mannon in “Mourning Becomes Electra,” where she was nominated for a Laurence Oliver Theater award for Best Actress. On the silver screen, Mirren opened the new century as a gardening expert, opposite Clive Owen, in the Cannes-screened comedy film Greenfingers (2000), which was followed by small roles in Sean Penn’s The Pledge (2001) and Hal Hartley’ No Such Thing (2001). Mirren made her debut as a director in 2001 with Happy Birthday, a segment of Showtime’s Directed By series called On the Edge (2001).
2001 delivered two of her best screen performances. Mirren played a widow who fails to escort her late husband’s friends as they go to spread his ashes in Last Orders, where she won a London Critics Circle Film for British Supporting Actress of the Year and a National Board of Review for Best Ensemble Performance, and Mrs. Wilson, the bureaucratic housekeeper of an English estate in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park. Mirren’s impressive performance in the latter film handed her such awards as a Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Theatrical Motion Picture, as well as a New York Film Critics Circle and a National Society of Film Critics for Best Supporting Actress. The role also garnered Mirren a second Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination, in addition to Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.
Following a well-regarded pilot for the CBS television movie Georgetown (2002), in which she was cast as a shrewd Washington hostess and newspaper mogul, opposite Katharine Graham and Pamela Harriman, Mirren won a Golden Satellite for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television as Mrs. Porter, the mother of the psychologically challenged salesman played by star/screenwriter William H. Macy, in the high-profile television film Door to Door (2002). Mirren also received Emmy, Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations for her outstanding performance in the film. The next year, the accomplished actress drew accolades because of her bravura starring turn as the falling star Karen Stone in another glittering television movie, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, for which she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild, an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Outstanding Lead Actress.
Back on the wide-screen, Millen once again charmed many as the star of the 2003 film Calendar Girls, playing one of the women of the Rylstone Women’s Institute, in North Yorkshire, who posed naked in 1999 to raise money for Leukemia. The performance won Mirren a European Film for Best Actress, as well as earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a musical or comedy. In 2004, she found herself acting opposite Robert Redford and Willem Dafoe in the thriller The Clearing and had a small, but memorable, turn as Dominique, the queenly head of a Manhattan modeling agency, in Raising Helen (starring Kate Hudson). In between her film work, Mirren returned as Inspector Jane Tennison for the PBS Masterpiece Theatre miniseries Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness (2003), in which she was nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Miniseries or Movie at the Emmy awards in 2004. She also provided her voice for character Macheeba in the animated TV film Pride (2004).
In 2005, Mirren starred as Rose in the drama/thriller Shadowboxer, voiced the supercomputer Deep Thought in the film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and was perfectly cast as Queen Elizabeth I in the television movie of the same name. She will soon star as HM Queen Elizabeth II in the The Queen (2006) and is set to play a role in the upcoming drama America (2006), for director Jerzy Skolimowski.
- Golden Satellite: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Miniseries or a Motion Picture Made for Television, Door to Door, 2003
- European Film: Best Actress, Calendar Girls, 2003
- National Society of Film Critics: Best Supporting Actress, Gosford Park, 2002
- Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Theatrical Motion Picture, Gosford Park, 2002
- London Critics Circle Film: British Supporting Actress of the Year, Last Orders, 2002
- New York Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actress, Gosford Park, 2001
- National Board of Review: Best Ensemble Performance, Last Orders, 2001
- Golden Satellite: Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV-Movie, Prime Suspect, 1996
- Golden Globe: Best Actress in a Television Movie or Miniseries, Losing Chase, 1996
- Cannes Film Festival: Best Actress, The Madness of King George, 1995
- Outer Critics Circle: Outstanding Debut of an Actress, A Month in the Country, 1995
- Theatre World: A Month in the Country, 1995
- Emmy: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special, Prime Suspect: Scent of Darkness, 1995
- BAFTA: Best Television Actress, Prime Suspect 3, 1993
- BAFTA: Best Television Actress, Prime Suspect 2, 1992
- BAFTA: Best Television Actress, Prime Suspect, 1991
- Cannes Film Festival: Best Actress, Cal, 1984
- Plays and Players London Theatre Critics: Best Actress, Teeth ‘n’ Smiles and The Seagull, 1975