“You write your life story by the choices you make. You never know if they have been a mistake. Those moments of decision are so difficult” —Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren is a British actress who has received high acclaim for her performances both on stage and on screen. Born in 1945, she got her professional career rolling when she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Since then, she has worked consistently in movies and plays, and she remains an in-demand actress today. Below are 39 regal facts about this grand dame.
Helen Mirren’s father had Russian aristocratic roots, and she was actually born Illiana Lydia Petrovna Mironova. When she was 9 years old, her father changed his last name to the more English sounding “Mirren.”
38. Queenly Connections
Mirren’s maternal grandfather was a butcher, and he used to supply meat to Queen Victoria.
37. Catching the Bug
When Mirren was 13 years old, she saw a production of Hamlet and became smitten with acting. She has said in interviews that she was “blown away by all this over-the-top drama” and firmly believes that Shakespeare should not be taught to children, but experienced.
36. Working Hard for the Money
Mirren’s father worked at a number of jobs to support his family. He was once a viola player with the London Philharmonic, and then after WWII he drove a cab, was a driving-test examiner, and finally secured a position with the Ministry of Transport.
A Movie !
35. Middle Child
Mirren has two siblings, a sister and a brother. She is three years younger than her sister Katherine, and has a younger brother, Peter Basil.
34. Career First
Mirren has frequently spoken about her choice not to have children, saying that “I never felt the need for a child and never felt the loss of it. . .I’d always put my work before anything.” She has also stated that she never regretted that decision, except for once when she saw the movie Parenthood and cried for close to a half hour.
33. Leaving a Legacy
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Mirren admitted what she especially hoped for was to leave a legacy that extended beyond whether or not she had children. She said that she wants to be thought of in the same vein as Katharine Hepburn or Ingrid Bergman, and for people to look back on her movies and think, “She was brilliant!”
32. 6 Times a Queen
Mirren has played a queen six different times over her career. Most notable was her turn as Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 in The Queen, for which she won an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and a SAG Award. Queen Elizabeth II herself has stated that The Queen was one of her favorite films of that year.
31. Don’t Act. Teach!
Despite falling in love with the theater at an early age, Mirren’s parents did not want her to choose it as a profession, and instead sent her to a Catholic Convent school in Southend-on-Sea. At 18, at the recommendation of a teacher, she auditioned for the National Youth Theatre, but her mother pushed her to enter teacher’s college instead to learn a more “stable profession.”
She can teach young actors
30. An Egyptian Queen
At 20, Mirren portrayed Cleopatra in a production of Antony and Cleopatra. With that performance, she was able to get an agent, and found a place within the Royal Shakespeare Company.
29. Before She Was Famous
One of Mirren’s early jobs was as a “blagger” at an amusement park. A blagger is someone who encourages people to ride the rides.
28. A Different Kind of Queen
Many of Mirren’s early roles were highly sexual. She played played Castiza in The Revenger’s Tragedy in 1966, Cressida in Troilus and Cressida in 1968, and Lady Macbeth in a 1974 production of Macbeth. Playing these kinds of roles earned her the nickname the “Sex Queen of Stratford.”
Mirren’s first screen role was in the movie Caligula alongside Malcom McDowell and Peter O’Toole. The movie got an X-rating for its strong violence and sex scenes, and was highly controversial. Many critics felt that the film was pornography in disguise, and it was re-cut and rereleased the next year in a slightly toned-down, R-rated version.
26. Breaking Through
Throughout the 80s, Mirren appeared in several well-received films, such as Excalibur, White Nights, and Mosquito Coast, and even earned a Cannes Film Festival Award for her role in the 1984 movie Cal. However, her big break came in 1992 when she played the role of Detective Inspector Jane Tennison in the British mystery series Prime Suspect.
25. Personal Trauma
In 2008, Mirren admitted that she had been date raped a couple of times when she was younger, and that she never went to the police because “you couldn’t do that in those days.”
24. Just a Little
Mirren has also confessed to having used cocaine at parties until the early 80s. She has stated that she used to love using the drug, but gave it up when she discovered that using it was helping to fund crime. She also admitted to using, and disliking, LSD, as well as marijuana, which she also doesn’t enjoy.
23. A Brief Love Affair
Mirren and Liam Neeson met when they both starred in the 1980 film Excalibur, and ended up dating for four years. Neeson confessed to being “smitten” with Mirren the first time he saw her in her Morgan le Fay costume. The relationship eventually ended when Mirren, seven years his senior, encouraged him to leave the proverbial nest and find his own path in Hollywood. One year after her split with Neeson, she met her future husband, director Taylor Hackford. Neeson and Mirren are still on good terms.
22. Immortalized in Wax
In honor of her 70th birthday in 2015, Mirren was granted the honor of being immortalized in wax at Madame Tussauds in London. The museum has three figures of Mirren: one as Queen Elizabeth II, one as her Prime Suspect character Jane Tennison, and the third is one of her famous red carpet looks. Mirren absolutely loved the figures, and told Reuters that, “It’s like having three sisters.”
21. Minimalist Packing
Mirren has an unusual way of packing for a trip. When she travels to a cold place, she often packs nothing except for underwear. Instead of taking clothes with her, she has a cab take her to a thrift shop to purchase what she needs, and when she’s done, she donates them back to another charity shop.
20. Breaking Her Own Rule
Mirren had long-sworn that she would never get married, but she broke her own rule when she married Taylor Hackford in 1997. The pair were together for more than 10 years before tying the knot.
19. A New Royal Portrayal
In January 2018, HBO and Sky TV announced that they were working on a four-part mini-series on Catherine the Great, in which Mirren will star. In a statement about the project, Mirren said that she is “very excited by the possibility of embodying a woman from history who grabbed and then wielded great power.”
18. How Old Am I?
Mirren has never been one for keeping her age a secret, but on a January 2018 episode of Ellen, she was shocked to learn that she was actually a year younger than she believed. Mirren said that at first she thought she was 74, but then she and her husband concluded that she was 73. Learning that she was 72 from Ellen was a happy surprise for her, as she now feels like she’s been given a “whole extra year.”
17. Sorry, No Time!
In 2007, Mirren had to turn down a personal dinner invitation from Queen Elizabeth due to a conflict with her filming schedule in South Dakota. Mirren has nothing but praise for the long-time British Monarch, and maintains that the rejection was not a snub.
16. Standing in for the Queen
Mirren donned her Queen Elizabeth II gear in 2013 to fulfill the wish of Oliver Burton, a 10-year-old boy with leukemia. After the real Queen couldn’t make it, Mirren, who was playing Queen Elizabeth in the play The Audience in London, invited Burton and his family to see the show and have tea with her while she was still in full costume. According to his parents, Burton, who also has Down’s Syndrome, genuinely believes he met the real queen, and the experience made him extremely happy.
15. Retiring a Role
Recently, Mirren shot down the idea that she would play Queen Elizabeth again in Netflix’s The Crown, saying that she’s not interested in reprising that particular role.
14. Refusing an Honor
In 1996, Mirren refused the Commander of the Order of the British Empire, but she did accept a Dame Commander of the Order in 2003 for her services to the performing arts. While her specific reasons for refusing the initial honor are unknown, it may have been a political protestation against the government at the time.
13. Early Riser
Mirren once explained that when she has a busy day, she likes to set her alarm an hour or two earlier than she needs to in order to have the extra time in the morning just to be able be with her husband and do whatever “takes their fancy.” Sometimes, as she confesses, that “fancy” is sex, but not always.
12. In It for the Money
When asked why she took on the title role of the villain in Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Mirren replied quite succinctly, “Because they gave me a sh**load of money to do it.”
11. Her Second Language
Despite being of Russian ancestry, Mirren does not speak Russian. She is, however, fluent in French.
10. Posthumous Dedication
When Mirren won her BAFTA for Best Actress in The Queen, she dedicated the award to Ian Richardson, whom she credited with helping her career when she first started acting. The award came two days after his death.
For her performance in The Queen, Mirren won no less than 40 Best Actress awards. This is the second highest total of any awards sweep, with only Cate Blanchett’s performance in Blue Jasmine winning more, at 41. (41)
8. Triple Crown
Mirren is part of an elite group of women who have won the Triple Crown of Acting: an Oscar (Film), an Emmy (Television), and a Tony (Theater). She achieved this feat in 2015 when she won a Tony Award for her performance in The Audience. She is one of only 14 actresses and nine actors to do so.
7. Totally Into Tinkerbell
Mirren is a self-proclaimed atheist. As she told Esquire in a 2011 interview, she believed in fairies and leprechauns when she was a child (and still does to an extent), but she doesn’t believe in God.
6. Guest Caller
The TV series Frasier was known for having famous voices call into Dr. Crane’s radio show, and Mirren was no exception. She was a caller on a 2004 episode called “Coots and Ladders,” and played a character named Babette.
5. The Two Elizabeths
To date, Mirren is the only actress to have portrayed both Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II on screen. She played Elizabeth I in a 2005 mini series of the same name, and Elizabeth II in, of course, The Queen.
4. Resisting Labels
Mirren is considered a feminist icon, but as she explained in her 2017 commencement speech at Tulane University in New Orleans, she resisted calling herself a feminist until recently. She also went on to say that she now recognizes that feminism is “a necessity,” and encouraged all of the students to do the same.
3. Hidden Talent
In 2014, Mirren astounded and delighted the audience at Live! with Kelly and Michael by showing off her twerking skills. She explained that the student members of Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club previously forced her to twerk when she accepted her award with them. As she said, “Thank God I knew what it was.”
2. “Pleasure Pillows”
In 2015, Helen Mirren stated that she would no longer do onscreen nudity, saying that “My pleasure pillows are purely for my husband.”
1. Drunken Tattoo
When she was young, Mirren did something she now says she’s “utterly disgusted” by. In a drunken act of rebellion, she got a tattoo, a tiny symbol near her thumb. She told People magazine that at the time, the tattoo was the “most shocking thing I could think of doing,” but now that it’s mainstream, she doesn’t like it.
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