Beloved for her sassy spark, incredible talent and unshakable confidence, Dame Helen Mirren has starred in some of the most beloved plays, movies and television series of the last 60 years. Her incredible performances have earned her an Oscar, three Emmys, five SAG Awards, a Tony and more, making her one award away from earning the title of EGOT.
But Helen says her latest role, playing the title character in the film Golda (which hits theaters August 25th), the prime minister of Israel who faced with the potential of her country’s complete destruction in 1973, has been one of her most memorable to date.
“I felt closely entwined with Meir during filming, I would think about that acting thing: am I becoming her or is she becoming me? I’ve never done anything like that before. It was an adventure,” Helen told DuJour Magazine. “I got so used to being that person in the daytime that when the makeup all came off and I saw myself as I am, I’d forgotten that was what I looked like.”
Here, we take a joyful walk down memory lane with a look back at young Helen Mirren’s early career and how the 78-year-old became the powerhouse she is today.
Young Helen Mirren’s first love: acting
Although she was not born a “Dame”, Helen Lydia Mironoff still has royalty in her blood — her father was a member of an exiled family of the Russian nobility and her great-grandmother was a Countess. Her father Anglicized the family name to “Mirren” when Helen was around 9 years old.
Growing up in London, England, Helen was attracted to acting at a young age, landing her first role during primary school in Westcliff-on-Sea. But it wasn’t until a school production of Hansel and Gretel at St. Bernard’s High School for Girls that marked a turning point for her career on the stage.
From that point on, a multitude of roles in school productions came her way. When she was only 18, Mirren passed the audition for the National Youth Theatre and at a mere 20 years of age, she played Cleopatra in their 1965 production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Old Vic, a role she even says in her memoir, “launched my career.”
Young Helen Mirren taking the stage
Most of Helen’s early work was in the theater. Playing Cleopatra provided her an opportunity to join the Royal Shakespeare Company.
While at RSC, she played Castiza in the 1966 staging of The Revenger’s Tragedy. One of her coveted roles at the Royal Shakespeare was playing Cressida in Troilus and Cressida (1968), then Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona in 1970.
She also appeared in four productions between 1965 and 1967 at the Century Theatre at the University Theatre in Manchester.
In 1970, a documentary film, Doing Her Own Thing, focused on Mirren’s time with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
She then made her way to West End stage in 1975 playing the role of a rock star named Maggie in Teeth ‘n’ Smiles, a musical play. She reprised the role the following year in a revival of the play at Wyndham’s Theatre. With stellar performances on the stage, it didn’t take much time for her film career to take off as well.
Helen Mirren movies and TV shows
After she took the stage by storm, Helen graced the silver and small screens. Here are a few of her biggest hits.
Age of Consent (1969)
Mirren’s first major movie was Age of Consent (1969). The then-22-year-old actress played Cora, a beautiful muse of Australian painter Bradley Morahan (James Mason).
Helen also starred in the sci-fi classic Excalibur (1981), as Morgana, King Arthur’s evil half-sister.
“That one didn’t leap off the page. It was quite difficult to follow and I think it was very much to John Boorman’s credit that he crafted this very magical world out of what could have been a real mess,” Mirren said during a 2006 interview with Venice Magazine. “Some of those scenes when we read them during rehearsal sounded absolutely embarrassing! We were all like ‘My God, how can we say these lines?’ But with all the other elements, it all started falling into place, especially the lighting and the beauty of the film.”
Prime Suspect (1991 – 2006)
Television audiences delighted in Mirren’s role as detective Jane Tennison in the global hit, Prime Suspect. The drama series was noted for its high quality and popularity. Mirren’s portrayal of Tennison won her three consecutive British Academy Television Awards between 1992 and 1994.
Gosford Park (2001)
Helen garnered her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of house keeper Mrs. Wilson in Gosford Park.
The Queen (2006)
In 2003, at the Queen’s Birthday Honors, Mirren was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to drama, with ceremonies taking place at Buckingham Palace.
Awarded a Damehood by the Prince of Wales for her services to the performing arts, a few short years later, she took on the role of reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen earning Mirren her first Oscar.
Catherine the Great (2019)
Mirren took on another royal project as Catherine the Great in a four-part limited series in 2019.
In 2022, she saddled up alongside Harrison Ford and Timothy Dalton in the Yellowstone spinoff, 1923, portraying Cara Dutton. One thing Dame Helen made clear about taking on this Western role was that she had lost her riding ability. “I’ve been on the back of a horse many times in my life,” she told AARP. “But when I signed on to 1923, I told them, ‘I don’t ride now, but I am a pretty good buggy driver.’” (Click through to R=read more about the 1923 cast!)
Who is Helen Mirren’s husband?
Mirren had a long live-in relationship with Irish actor Liam Neeson, who met while working on 1981’s Excalibur. The duo dated between 1980 and 1985 and lived together for four years. Neeson has said that Mirren was instrumental in his getting an agent and future acting career.
They eventually went their separate ways and on New Year’s Eve in 1997, Mirren married American director Taylor Hackford at the Ardersier Parish Church near the Scottish Highlands. “My husband thinks I’m a dame. He absolutely thinks I’m an American type of dame,” she told AARP.
Always young at heart
Helen has always been outspoken for women’s confidence and embracing your age. “When you’re 16, 30 seems ancient. When you’re 30, 45 seems ancient. When you’re 45, 60 seems ancient. When you’re 60, nothing seems ancient,” she told Houma Today. Mirren is blunt about aging, and even embraces it with gusto. “You either die young or you get older,” she told Today. “That’s the reality. I never did want to die young. I’m too curious about life.”
Helen continues to dazzle after almost six decades and she shows no signs of slowing down.
Read on for more about our favorite actresses!