Helen Mirren [Ilyena Lydia Mironoff] (1945-) b. Chiswick, London, England.
Born Ilynea Lydia Mironoff in 1945, Chiswick, London, Helen Mirren is the daughter of an English mother; her father was a Russian aristocrat stranded in London after the 1917 Russian Revolution. Mirren realised she wanted to become an actress from a very early age. She joined the National Youth Theatre, where she first made her mark at the age of eighteen playing Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra (1965) at the Old Vic. This led to her joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967.
Mirren made her screen debut in the forgettable Herostratus (1968). That same year, she made a more favourable appearance as Hermia in Peter Hall’s adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968). She next starred opposite James Mason as a teenage seductress in Michael Powell‘s Age of Consent (1969). In 1972 she joined Peter Brook’s experimental International Centre of Theatre Research, touring in Africa and America. She appeared on screen in an early raunchy role in Ken Russell’s Savage Messiah (1972), and the Lindsay Anderson musical drama O Lucky Man! (1974). After a short spell in television appearing in the likes of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills (1979), she returned to the big screen in the controversial Penthouse film Caligula (1979). The 1980s saw Mirren come of age as an actress and earn her first acclaimed role when cast opposite Bob Hoskins in the British gangster film The Long Good Friday (1979).
During the subsequent decade, Mirren continued to work on stage and screen, broadening her appeal with such roles as the seductively evil Morgana in John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981), and playing the widow of a British officer who unwittingly falls in love with the man responsible for her husband’s death in Pat O’Connor’s Cal (1984). Her accurate portrayal of strong feminine characters continued in Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast (1986), as Harrison Ford’s loyal wife, and as the adulterous wife of a gangster in Peter Greenaway‘s controversial The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989).
The 1990s saw Mirren tackling varying roles, ranging from a fragile wife in the thriller The Comfort of Strangers (1991), to a headstrong widow in Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991). Mirren also began appearing on television as the hard-bitten DCI Jane Tennison in Lynda La Plante’s Prime Suspect, the ITV series proving immensely popular with viewers. She achieved her biggest international success to date and earned an Oscar nomination for her part in Nicholas Hytner’s The Madness of King George (1994), playing the devoted queen whose husband, George III (Nigel Hawthorne), is suffering from declining mental health. The following year she earned further acclaim for her work in Some Mother’s Son (1996), in which she played the mother of a Belfast hunger striker. She has more recently played a titular teacher in Kevin Williamson’s disappointing Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999) and Georgina Woodhouse in the comedy Greenfingers (2000). She earned her second Oscar nomination for Robert Altman’s acclaimed ensemble comedy Gosford Park (2001). Mirren followed with another choice part as the widow of deceased butcher Michael Caine in the sentimental drama Last Orders (2002).
Mirren led the ensemble cast of the sprightly British comedy Calendar Girls (2003), inspired by the true story of the Rylstone Women’s Institute in North Yorkshire, a group of everyday women who decided to pose nude for an alternative calendar to raise funds for charity. Mirren’s compelling performance in The Queen (2006) displayed extraordinary poise and talent in a moving portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II. Set in the weeks following the death of Princess Diana, the film pits Elizabeth against the newly elected Prime Minister Tony Blair, and charts her struggle between the royal custom of mourning in private, and a responsibility to remain in touch with the outpouring of public grief. Mirren earned critical adulation for her performance and a first Academy Award for Best Actress.