Cheat Sheet: Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren DBE, née Helen Lydia Mironoff
Date of Birth:
26th July 1945
Place of birth:
Chiswick, London, UK
Acting, defying age, having breasts
Caligula, The Madness of King George, Gosford Park, Calendar Girls, The Queen
What you probably already know:
The recipient of an Oscar, four BAFTAs, four SAG Awards, three Golden Globes, four Emmys, two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Awards and the unquestioning love of the entire nation, Helen Mirren is the elder stateswoman of the British acting establishment. From her much-praised theatre work in the sixties and seventies to her towering, Academy Award-winning performance as Elizabeth II in 2006’s The Queen, via a TV career which saw her win three consecutive BAFTAs, there’s quite literally no acting-y type arena in which Mirren hasn’t proved her mettle. She’s also somehow become known as the sixty-something lady who everybody still would, which isn’t a particularly feminist accolade (still, that bikini…). For young cineastes, it must seem as if Helen Mirren has been around forever.
And, in fact, she almost has been. Way back in 1965 Mirren took on her first starring role at the Old Vic aged just 20, and in the intervening forty-seven years she’s had a total of just ten years without a single film or TV appearance – just two of those years have come in the last two decades. But a momentary disappearance from the silver screen doesn’t mean a year off – Mirren has effortlessly inhabited dozens of the great theatrical roles, playing everyone from Cleopatra, Ophelia and Lady Macbeth to Moll Cutpurse, Nina Zarechnaya and the Duchess of Malfi. It doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration to say that there’s no thespian endeavour to which she’s turned her attention without enormous success.
What you might not know:
Oh sure, you know Helen Mirren now, now she’s a Dame with more awards than you’ve got fingers (that’s SO MANY AWARDS) and a CV as long as Michael Fassbender‘s Michael Fassbender. But were you watching back in 1973, when Mirren appeared in fantasy anti-capitalist satire O Lucky Man!? Or how about when she got her tits out in Caligula, one of the most widely banned films of all time? Don’t even pretend you’re not going to Google ‘Helen Mirren Caligula tits’ immediately. I’ll wait for you to do it.
Hope you feel suitably dirty. One of Mirren’s oddest early roles was in Peter Sellers’ diabolical final film The Fiendish Plot of Dr Fu Manchu, in which her policewoman character Alice Rage plays the saxophone and sings ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’ for reasons which have never been fully explained. Here, have a look:
…yeah. Still, perhaps it’s no wonder that Mirren ended up in some kooky roles – her background was, after all, anything but normal. Born Helen Lydia Mironoff to a Tsarist diplomat turned cab driver and the granddaughter of Queen Victoria’s butcher, she was raised as a rabid anti-monarchist – that much exposure to haemophiliac royals must trickle down the generations like blood from the grazes of Tsarevich Alexei, one supposes. She acted at school, but went to teacher training college before auditioning for the National Youth Theatre at eighteen – two years later she was commanding spotlights on the London stage, and the year after that she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Rumour* has it she scratched the word ‘Royal’ off all the signs and once headbutted Princess Anne for living off the blood and sweat of the honest cab-driving/meat-chopping working classes. *a lie that we just made up
Helen Mirren quote:
“Actors are rogues and vagabonds. Or they ought to be.”
What to say at a dinner party:
“Forty-seven years after her first starring role, Dame Helen has won truly universal acclaim from both her audiences and her peers. Could we swap her for the real Queen without anyone noticing, do you think? It’d probably be for the best.”
What not to say at a dinner party:
“Anyone fancy some nice melons for dessert?”
If you didn’t see The Debt, Mirren’s latest film (in which she plays a Mossad agent, of all things), do. If you weren’t planning to see The Door, her next film and first collaboration with Hungarian auteur István Szabó, change your plans. Basically, keep watching everything Helen Mirren makes forever (apart from Love Ranch). Clear? Good.