Early life and familyMirren was born Helen Lydia Mironoff in Queen Charlotte's Hospital, Chiswick, West London. Her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov (1913–1980), was of Russian origin, and her mother, Kitty (née Kathleen Alexandrina Eva Matilda Rogers; 1909–1996), was English. Mirren's paternal grandfather, Colonel Pyotr Vasilievich Mironov, was in the Tsarist Army and fought in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War. He later became a diplomat, and was negotiating an arms deal in Britain, where he and his family were stranded during the Russian Revolution. The former diplomat became a London cab driver to support his family.
His son, Helen Mirren's father, changed the family name to the Scottish-sounding Mirren in the 1950s and became known as Basil Mirren. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II, and later drove a cab and was a driving-test examiner, before becoming a civil servant with the Ministry of Transport. Mirren's mother was from West Ham, East London, and was the 13th of 14 children born to a butcher whose father had been the butcher to Queen Victoria. Mirren considers her upbringing to have been "very anti-monarchist".
The first house she remembers living in was in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, when she was two or three years old, after the birth of her younger brother, who was named Peter Basil after his grandfather and great-great-grandfather. Mirren was the second of three children, born two years after her older sister Katherine ("Kate"; born 1942). She later lived in Leigh-on-Sea.
Early yearsHer work for the NYT led to Mirren joining the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), playing Castiza in Trevor Nunn's 1966 staging of The Revenger's Tragedy, Diana in All's Well That Ends Well in 1967, Cressida in Troilus and Cressida and Phebe in As You Like It in 1968, Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1970, and Tatiana in Gorky's Enemies at the Aldwych and the title role in Miss Julie at The Other Place in 1971. She also appeared in four productions, directed by Braham Murray for Century Theatre at the University Theatre in Manchester between 1965 and 1967.
In 1970, Director/producer John Goldschmidt made the documentary film Doing Her Own Thing about Mirren at the Royal Shakespeare Company. The film was made for ATV and shown on the ITV Network in the UK.
In 1972–73, Mirren worked with Peter Brook's International Centre for Theatre Research, and joined the group's tour in North Africa and the US which created The Conference of the Birds. Returning to the RSC she played Lady Macbeth at Stratford in 1974 and at the Aldwych Theatre in 1975.
As reported by Sally Beauman in her 1982 history of the RSC, Mirren, while appearing in Nunn's Macbeth (1974) and in a highly publicised letter to The Guardian newspaper, attacked both the National Theatre and the RSC for their lavish production expenditure, declaring it "unnecessary and destructive to the art of the Theatre," and adding, "The realms of truth, emotion and imagination reached for in acting a great play have become more and more remote, often totally unreachable across an abyss of costume and technicalities..." There were no discernible repercussions for this rebuke of the RSC.
West End and RSCAt the Royal Court in September 1975 she notably played rock star Maggie in Teeth 'n' Smiles, a musical play by David Hare, which was revived at Wyndham's Theatre in May 1976 winning her the Plays & Players Best Actress award, voted by the London critics.
From November 1975 Mirren played in West End repertory with the Lyric Theatre Company as Nina in The Seagull and Ella in Ben Travers' new farce The Bed Before Yesterday ("Mirren is stirringly voluptuous as the Harlowesque good-time girl": Michael Billington, The Guardian, 10 December 1975). At the RSC in Stratford in 1977, and at the Aldwych the following year, she played a steely Queen Margaret in Terry Hands' production of the three parts of Henry VI, while 1979 saw her 'bursting with grace' with an acclaimed performance as Isabella in Peter Gill's otherwise unexceptional production of Measure for Measure at Riverside Studios.
In 1981 she returned to the Royal Court for the London premiere of Brian Friel's Faith Healer. In the same year she also received acclaim for her performance in the title role of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, a production of Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre which transferred to The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London. Reviewing her portrayal for The Sunday Telegraph, Francis King wrote: "Miss Mirren never leaves it in doubt that even in her absences, this ardent, beautiful woman is the most important character of the story."
Her performance as Moll Cutpurse in The Roaring Girl at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in January 1983, and at the Barbican Theatre April 1983), "swaggered through the action with radiant singularity of purpose, filling in areas of light and shade that even Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker omitted." – Michael Coveney, Financial Times, April 1983.
After a relatively barren sojourn in the Hollywood Hills, she returned to England at the beginning of 1989 to co-star with Bob Peck at the Young Vic in the London premiere of the Arthur Miller double-bill, Two Way Mirror, performances which prompted Miller to remark: "What is so good about English actors is that they are not afraid of the open expression of large emotions" (interview by Sheridan Morley: The Times 11 January 1989). In Elegy for a Lady she played the svelte proprietress of a classy boutique, while as the blonde hooker in Some Kind of Love Story she was "clad in a Freudian slip and shifting easily from waif-like vulnerability to sexual aggression, giving the role a breathy Monroesque quality" (Michael Billington, The Guardian).
Stage career breakthroughA stage career breakthrough came in 1994, in an Yvonne Arnaud Theatre production bound for the West End, when Bill Bryden cast her as Natalya Petrovna in Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. Her co-stars were John Hurt as her aimless lover Rakitin and Joseph Fiennes in only his second professional stage appearance as the cocksure young tutor Belyaev. "Instead of a bored Natalya fretting the summer away in dull frocks, Mirren, dazzlingly gowned, is a woman almost wilfully allowing her heart's desire for her son's young tutor to rule her head and wreak domestic havoc....Creamy shoulders bared, she feels free to launch into a gloriously enchanted, dreamily comic self-confession of love." (John Thaxter, Richmond & Twickenham Times, 4 March 1994).
Mirren was twice nominated for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Actress (Play): in 1995 for A Month in the Country, now directed by Scott Ellis ("Miss Mirren's performance is bigger and more animated than the one she gave last year in an entirely different London production", Vincent Canby in the NY Times, 26 April 1995). Then again in 2002 for August Strindberg's Dance of Death, co-starring with Sir Ian McKellen, their fraught rehearsal period coinciding with the terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001 (as recorded in her In the Frame autobiography, September 2007).
National TheatreMirren had an unhappy experience at the National Theatre in 1998 when she played Cleopatra to Alan Rickman's Antony. In 2000 Nicholas Hytner, who had worked with Mirren on the film version of The Madness of King George, cast her as Lady Torrance in his revival of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Michael Billington, reviewing for The Guardian, described her performance as "an exemplary study of an immigrant woman who has acquired a patina of resilient toughness but who slowly acknowledges her sensuality."
At the National Theatre in November 2003 she again won praise playing Christine Mannon ("defiantly cool, camp and skittish", Evening Standard; "glows with mature sexual allure", Daily Telegraph) in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra directed by Howard Davies.
“This production was one of the best experiences of my professional life, The play was four and a half hours long, and I have never known that kind of response from an audience ... It was the serendipity of a beautifully cast play, with great design and direction, It will be hard to be in anything better.” (In the Frame, September 2007).
She played the tragic title role in Jean Racine's Phèdre at the National in 2009, in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner. The production was also staged at the amphitheater of Epidaurus on 11 and 12 July 2009.
Selected stage credits
- Cleopatra, Anthony and Cleopatra, Old Vic Theatre, London, 1965
- Cathleen, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Century Theatre, Manchester,England 1965
- Kitty, Charley's Aunt, Century Theatre, Manchester, 1967
- Nerissa, The Merchant of Venice, Century Theatre,Manchester, 1967
- Castiza, The Revenger's Tragedy, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, 1967
- Diana, All's Well That Ends Well, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1967
- Cressida, Troilus and Cressida, Royal Shakespeare Company, Aldwych Theatre, London, 1968
- Hero, Much Ado about Nothing, Aldwych Theatre, 1968–1969
- Win-the-Fight Littlewit, Bartholomew Fair, Aldwych Theatre, 1969
- Lady Anne, Richard III, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1970
- Ophelia, Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1970
- Julia, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1970
- Tatyana, Enemies, Royal Shakespeare Company, Aldwych Theatre, 1971
- Harriet, The Man of Mode, Royal Shakespeare Company, Aldwych Theatre, 1971
- Title role, Miss Julie, Royal Shakespeare Company, Aldwych Theatre, 1971
- Elayne, The Balcony, Royal Shakespeare Company, Aldwych Theatre, 1971
- Isabella, Measure for Measure, Riverside Studios Theatre, London,1974
- Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1974, then Aldwych Theatre, 1975
- Maggie, Teeth 'n' Smiles, Royal Court Theatre, London, 1975, thenWyndham's Theatre, London, 1976
- Nina, The Seagull, Lyric Theatre, London, 1975
- Ella, The Bed before Yesterday, Lyric Theatre, 1975
- Queen Margaret, Henry VI, Parts I, II and III, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1977, then Aldwych Theatre, 1978
- Title role, The Duchess of Malfi, Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, England, 1980, then Mound House Theatre, London, 1981
- Grace, Faith Healer, Royal Court Theatre, 1981
- Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra, Pit Theatre, London, 1983
- Moll Cutpurse, The Roaring Girl, Barbican Theatre, London, 1983
- Marjorie, Extremities, Duchess Theatre, London, 1984
- Madame Bovary, 1987
- Angela, "Some Kind of Love Story," and dying woman, "Elegy for a Lady," in Two-Way Mirror (double-bill), Young Vic Theatre, *London, 1989
- Sex Please We're Italian, 1991
- Natalya Petrovna, A Month in the Country, London, 1994, then Criterion Theatre, New York City, 1995
- Antony and Cleopatra, Royal National Theatre, London, 1998
- Collected Stories, London, 1999
- Lady Torrance, Orpheus Descending, Donmar Warehouse, London, 2000
- Alice, Dance of Death, Broadhurst Theatre, New York City, 2001–2002
- Mourning Becomes Electra, Lyttelton Stage, Royal National Theatre,2003
- Phedre, National Theatre, 2009
- Also appeared as Susie Monmican, The Silver Lassie; in Woman in Mind, Los Angeles.
FilmMirren has also appeared in a large number of films throughout her career. Some of her earlier film roles include Age of Consent, O Lucky Man!, Caligula, Excalibur, 2010, The Long Good Friday, White Nights and The Mosquito Coast. After those appearances she received roles in Belfast-born director Terry George's film Some Mother's Son, which was about the 1981 Hunger Strikes in Northern Ireland, opposite Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan, Painted Lady, The Prince of Egypt and The Madness of King George. One of her other film roles was in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, as the eponymous thief's wife, opposite Michael Gambon. Her favourite film is Teaching Mrs. Tingle, in which she plays sadistic History teacher, Mrs Eve Tingle.
Mirren continued her successful film career when she starred more recently in Gosford Park with Maggie Smith and Calendar Girls where she starred with Julie Walters. Other more recent appearances include The Clearing, Pride, Raising Helen, and Shadowboxer. Mirren also provided the voice for the supercomputer "Deep Thought" in the film adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. During her career, she has portrayed three British queens in different films and television series: Elizabeth I in the television series Elizabeth I (2005), Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006), and Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, in The Madness of King George (1994). She is the only actress ever to have portrayed both Queens Elizabeth on the screen.
Mirren's title role of The Queen earned her numerous acting awards including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award, among many others. During her acceptance speech at the Academy Award ceremony, she praised and thanked Elizabeth II and stated that she had maintained her dignity and weathered many storms during her reign as Queen. Mirren later appeared in supporting roles in the films National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, Inkheart, State of Play, and The Last Station, for which Mirren was nominated for an Oscar.
In preparation for her role as a retired Israeli Mossad agent in the film The Debt, Mirren reportedly immersed herself in studies of Hebrew language, Jewish history, and Holocaust writing, including the life of Simon Wiesenthal, while in Israel in 2009 for the filming of some of the movie's scenes. The film is a remake of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name (Hebrew: Ha-khov).
TelevisionMirren is well-known for her role as detective Jane Tennison in the widely viewed Prime Suspect, a multiple award-winning television drama that was noted for its high quality, higher popularity and its unique format, in that it ran for seven seasons in seven extended multi-act episodes rather than in a traditional seasonal schedule. Her portrayal of Tennison won her three consecutive BAFTA awards for Best Actress between 1992 and 1994.
Some of Mirren's other television performances include Cousin Bette (1971); As You Like It (1979); Blue Remembered Hills (1979); The Twilight Zone episode "Dead Woman's Shoes" (1985); Losing Chase (1996); The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), where her performance won her both the Emmy and the Golden Globe; Door to Door (2002); and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003). In 1976, she appeared with Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates and Malcolm McDowell in a production of Harold Pinter's The Collection as part of the Laurence Olivier Presents series. She also played Elizabeth I in 2005, in the television serial Elizabeth I, for Channel 4 and HBO, for which she received an Emmy Award. Mirren won another Emmy Award on 16 September 2007 for her role in Prime Suspect: The Final Act on PBS in the same category as in 2006.
Mirren hosted Saturday Night Live on 9 April 2011.
Awards and recognition
In 1984, Mirren won Best Actress for her role in the film Cal at the Cannes Film Festival and the 1985 Evening Standard British Film Awards. In 1994 and 2001, she was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her roles in The Madness of King George and Gosford Park, respectively. In 1995, she had also been awarded for Best Actress once again in Cannes for playing Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George. In 2002, she received the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for Gosford Park. Mirren is the first female actress to be nominated for three acting performances at the Golden Globe Awards in the same year. She won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role in the movie drama category for Stephen Frears' The Queen in 2006 (along with two nominations in the Actress in a Mini-series or TV Movie category for Elizabeth I, and Prime Suspect: Final Act). She won both Golden Globes for The Queen and Elizabeth I and also won two SAG awards the same year for the same roles. Mirren is the third actor to win two Golden Globes in the same year, and the first ever to win for both leading roles in TV and film in the same year. She is one of only three actresses (the first was Liza Minnelli in 1973 and then decades later Helen Hunt) to win a Golden Globe, an Oscar and an Emmy for performances given in the same year.
Along with the Golden Globe, Mirren's acclaimed performance in The Queen won her the 2007 Academy Award for Best Actress. She also received Best Actress awards from the Venice Film Festival, Broadcast Film Critics, National Board of Review, Satellite Awards, Screen Actors Guild and a BAFTA, as well as critics awards from all over the world. Entertainment Weekly recently ranked her Number 2 for Entertainer of the Year for 2006 and also won the award for best actress in film at the new Greatest Britons Awards for her role in The Queen. In 2007 Mirren became an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society at Trinity College Dublin.
She won the Best Actress award at the 2009 Rome International Film Festival for her performance as Tolstoy's wife in The Last Station.
Academy Award Nominations
Television awardsMirren won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Mini-series or TV Movie in 1997 for her role in Losing Chase. She received two nominations in the Actress in a Mini-series or TV Movie category for Elizabeth I, and Prime Suspect: The Final Act, where she only won the Golden Globe for her title role performance in Elizabeth I. In that same year she won an SAG award for that same role. Mirren also won an Emmy for her role in Elizabeth I in category Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or a Movie in 2006. She had previously won an Emmy twice before, in that same category, in 1996 for her role in Prime Suspect: Scent of Darkness and in 1999 for The Passion of Ayn Rand.
At the end of a triumphant year of awards for her acclaimed movie performance as Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, Dame Helen also collected a 2007 Emmy Television award as Best Actress in a Mini-Series for her performance as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect: The Final Act. She now has four Emmy awards. This seventh and apparently concluding instalment of the Prime Suspect saga portrayed Tennison as an alcoholic destined for retirement, and was screened in the US on the public service network PBS.
Emmy AwardsAwards won are indicated by bold lettering.
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
- 1993 – Prime Suspect 2
- 1994 – Prime Suspect 3
- 1996 – Prime Suspect 4: "Scent of Darkness"
- 1997 – Prime Suspect 5: Errors of Judgment
- 1999 – The Passion of Ayn Rand
- 2003 – The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone
- 2004 – Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness
- 2006 – Elizabeth I
- 2007 – Prime Suspect: The Final Act
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
- 2003 – Door to Door
Critics' Circle Award for Distinguished Service to the ArtsThe Critics' Circle has presented an award for Distinguished Service to the Arts, voted for by all members of the Circle, embracing Dance, Drama, Film, Music, Visual Arts and Architecture. At a celebratory luncheon on 10 April 2007 in the National Theatre's Terrace Restaurant, the award for 2006 was presented to Dame Helen Mirren. As David Gritten, chairman of the Film section made clear, the decision to make the award was voted on in November 2006, well in advance of the awards hubbub that surrounded her performance in The Queen. Accepting the award, an engraved crystal rose bowl, Mirren described it as the most useful she has ever received, while reflecting poignantly that this now "might be the last award I will win in my life. It has been a most incredible year. You do the work and then....." Previous recipients include Peter Hall (1988), Judi Dench (1997) and Ian McKellen (2003).
Dame Commander of the Order of the British EmpireOn 5 December 2003, she was invested as a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). When she received the honour, Mirren commented that Prince Charles was "very graceful" but forgot to give her half of the award; another person had to remind him to give Mirren the star. She also said that she felt wary about accepting the award and had to be persuaded by fellow comrades to accept the DBE. In 1996 she had declined appointment as a Commander of the order (CBE).
Personal lifeMirren married American director Taylor Hackford (her partner since 1986) on 31 December 1997, his 53rd birthday. The ceremony took place at the Ardersier Parish Church near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The couple had met on the set of White Nights. It is her first marriage, and his third (he has two children from his previous marriages). Mirren has no children and says she has "no maternal instinct whatsoever."
Mirren's autobiography, In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures, was published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in September 2007. Reviewing for The Stage, John Thaxter wrote: "Sumptuously illustrated, at first sight it looks like another of those photo albums of the stars. But between the pictures there are almost 200 pages of densely printed text, an unusually frank story of her private and professional life, mainly in the theatre, the words clearly Mirren's own, delivered with forthright candour."
In 1990, Mirren stated in an interview that she is an atheist.
In a GQ interview in 2008, Mirren stated she had been date raped as a student and had often taken cocaine at parties during the 1980s. She stopped using the drug after reading that Klaus Barbie made a living from cocaine dealing.
On 11 May 2010, Mirren attended the unveiling of her waxwork at Madame Tussauds London. The figure reportedly cost £150,000 to make and took four months to complete.
References in pop culture
- The Mars Volta on their 2008 album The Bedlam in Goliath have a song called "Ilyena" that is named after Mirren. Mars Volta lyricist/singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala has stated an affinity for Mirren.
|1968||A Midsummer Night's Dream||Hermia|
|1969||Red Hot Shot|
|1969||Age of Consent||Cora Ryan|
|1972||Miss Julie||Miss Julie|
|1972||Savage Messiah||Gosh Boyle|
|1973||O Lucky Man!||Patricia|
|1975||Caesar and Claretta||Claretta Petacci|
|1979||The Quiz Kid||Joanne|
|1980||The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu||Alice Rage|
|1980||The Long Good Friday||Victoria|
|1984||2010: The Year We Make Contact||Tanya Kirbuk|
|1984||Faerie Tale Theatre: "The Little Mermaid"||Princess Amelia||TV series: 1 episode|
|1985||Heavenly Pursuits||Ruth Chancellor|
|1985||Coming Through||Frieda von Richtofen Weekley|
|1985||White Nights||Galina Ivanova|
|1986||The Mosquito Coast||Mother Fox|
|1988||Pascali's Island||Lydia Neuman|
|1989||When the Whales Came||Clemmie Jenkins|
|1989||The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover||Georgina Spica|
|1990||Bethune: The Making of a Hero||Frances Penny Bethune|
|1990||The Comfort of Strangers||Caroline|
|1991||Where Angels Fear to Tread||Lilia Herriton|
|1993||The Hawk||Annie Marsh|
|1994||The Madness of King George||Queen Charlotte|
|1995||The Snow Queen||Snow Queen||(voice)|
|1996||Some Mother's Son||Kathleen Quigley||Also Associate Producer|
|1992||Losing Chase||Chase Phillips||TV|
|1998||The Prince of Egypt||The Queen||(voice)|
|1999||The Passion of Ayn Rand||Ayn Rand|
|1999||Teaching Mrs. Tingle||Mrs. Eve Tingle|
|2001||No Such Thing||The Boss|
|2001||Happy Birthday||Distinguished Woman||Also Director|
|2001||Gosford Park||Mrs. Wilson|
|2003||The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone||Karen Stone||TV|
|2003||Calendar Girls||Chris Harper|
|2004||The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy||Deep Thought||(voice)|
|2004||The Clearing||Eileen Hayes|
|2005||Elizabeth I||Queen Elizabeth I|
|2006||The Queen||Queen Elizabeth II|
|2007||National Treasure: Book of Secrets||Emily Appleton|
|2009||State of Play||Cameron Lynne|
|2009||The Last Station||Sofya Tolstoy|
|2010||Love Ranch||Grace Bontempo|
|2010||The Debt||Rachel Singer|
|2010||Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole||Nyra||(voice)|
- Command Performance, a profile of Helen Mirren written by John Lahr in The New Yorker magazine, 2 October 2006
- In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures (autobiography) by Helen Mirren, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2007 ISBN 978-0-297-85197-4.
- Rather than writing an autobiography Helen Mirren was commissioned by Alan Samson at Orion Books to write about her life in a series of chapters based on pictures from her extensive personal collection of photography and memorabilia. Edited by Chris Worwood, with whom she worked on the Award-winning HBO series Elizabeth, the book covers every aspect of her life from her aristocratic Russian heritage to her days with Peter Hall's RSC company to her Academy Award for The Queen.
- The Company: A Biographical Dictionary of the Royal Shakespeare Company by Simon Trowbridge, (Oxford: Editions Albert Creed, 2010 ISBN 978-0-9559830-2-3)
- The Royal Shakespeare Company: A History of Ten Decades by Sally Beauman, (Oxford University Press, 1982 ISBN 0-19-212209-6)
- Theatre Record (originally London Theatre Record) and its Indexes for the quoted theatre reviews, credit listings and playbills
- The Best of Plays and Players 1969–1983, selected and edited by Peter Roberts, (Methuen Drama, 1989 ISBN 0-413-53730-7)