Welcome to The Helen Mirren Archives, your premiere web resource on the British actress. Best known for her performances with the Royal Shakespeare Company, "Prime Suspect" and her Oscar-winning role in "The Queen", Helen Mirren is one of the world's most eminent actors today. This unofficial fansite provides you with all latest news, photos and videos on her past and present projects. Enjoy your stay.
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Helen Mirren is nothing if not cheeky. The 76-year-old actress stood on stage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in LA on February 28 looking radiant in her pastel pink frock, complete with matching headband, to accept a gong for her lifetime of achievement. “I suppose I’m still alive, so by that measure I’m eligible,” quipped the acting legend. “But honestly, any achievement that I’ve succeeded in is the result of my mantra, which is basically to be on time… and don’t be an ass.” The Fast & Furious star then sparkled with naughtiness as she exaggeratedly mouthed the word “hole”, making the audience break into fits of laughter. It’s no secret that Helen has the kind of chutzpah that makes fans fall in love with her every time she steps into a new role. Even in her private life, she doesn’t exactly fade into the background – like the time last year when an enormous black bear ambled up to the door of the ranch she shares with her husband Taylor Hackford at Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
While most mere mortals would have dived under the nearest couch and prayed that it left of its own accord, Helen chose a more direct option, banging on the window and yelling, “No, you can’t do that. Oi! You can’t come on here. Go on there, naughty bear!” The 200kg creature seemed to realise it was in the presence of greatness and lumbered back off into the wilderness. It’s a surprise, therefore, when the actress confides that even now, after a stellar career in theatre, film and TV spanning more than 50 years, that she suffers from imposter syndrome. “I think of myself as still being the way I was in my mind, in my body, through my 20s, 30s and 40s, struggling, ambitious, frustrated and self-critical,” shares Helen, who has an Oscar, five SAG awards, three Golden Globes and four Emmys to her name. “I wonder if that ever goes? There’s always that endless, niggling feeling, ‘Oh, God, I’m going to be found out any minute now. I got away with it that time… but the next time I’ll be found out!” Judging by her performance in her newest movie The Duke – due for release in New Zealand at the end of this month – Helen’s “secret” is safe for a while yet.
The Duke is a whimsical true story about Kempton Bunton, a 60-year-old bus driver who in 1961 stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery. Rather than committing the crime solely for personal gain, he sent ransom notes demanding the government invest more in care for the elderly. In the film, Helen plays Kempton’s wife Dorothy, a down-at-heel charlady. “The whole story took me by surprise,” reveals Helen. “You would want to take it with a pinch of salt if it wasn’t all true.” While Kempton is waging his battle for the rights of pensioners, Dorothy, in her workaday aprons and sensible shoes, is more concerned with keeping food on the table.
“Dorothy is lovely, very funny, very endearing, but at the same time she is quite a moving character,” smiles Helen. “We should ‘Dreaming is all very well, but you still need to pay the bills!’ not only take a leaf out of Kempton’s book, but also Dorothy’s. Dreaming is all very well, but you still need to pay the bills!” Since winning accolades for her role as Her Majesty in the 2006 movie The Queen, Helen’s image has been somewhat burnished by her association with royalty. The truth is, she was born in 1945 with a foot either side of the social divide. Her mother Kathleen was British working class. Her father Vasiliy was an exiled Russian aristocrat who drove a cab and played the viola.
Helen joined the National Youth Theatre as a teenager and by the age of 20 she’d starred in a theatre production of Antony and Cleopatra. From there, she was invited into the Royal Shakespeare Company. While her theatre career was an instant success, her early forays into film were dire. “I was utterly useless as I had no idea about getting in the frame of the camera or what to do when you are in the frame,” she laughs. “It was like deer-in-theheadlights acting.” Somewhere along the way, however, she learned a thing or two and in 1980, aged 35, Helen got her breakthrough in film, playing opposite Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday.
It could have been a shortlived career on the silver screen – actresses in those days were considered past it by the age of 40. But fate had other plans. A few years later she was cast in the British TV police drama Prime Suspect, playing Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. It sounds like run-of-the-mill fodder today, but in 1991 it was groundbreaking. “It was a show where a woman was in charge of men,” says Helen, adding that the TV bosses weren’t sure it was going to work. “The idea of one woman and her struggle with sexism – that had never been shown before and they were not sure that the audience would accept something with a female lead. How times have changed.” For Helen, the timing of the show, which lasted for seven critically-acclaimed seasons, couldn’t have been better. She was 46 when it premiered “and it was a brilliant role to take me into the next era of my acting life”.
Behind the scenes, her private life was galloping along rather nicely too. The actress met American director Taylor Hackford, a dad of two sons from two previous relationships, in 1985. They married 12 years later and while she has never had children of her own, Helen is close to her two stepsons Rio, 51, and Alexander, 43. She’s family-minded but draws the line at taking any credit for any old-fashioned parenting. ‘You want to be graceful. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun’ “I’m very unauthoritative, actually,” she laughs. Rio was a teenager and Alexander was “five or six” when she started living with Taylor. “I never told them to tidy their rooms. I never told them to eat what was on their plate. I never, ever told them what to do. I just can’t.” She did, however, once take them to a drag club. “I thought I would show these two young Californian boys something of the real London,” she recalls. “Those poor kids were in shock but they certainly remember it as being very cool!”
While Helen and Taylor, 77, have now been together for 37 years – and own homes in London and Los Angeles in addition to their Nevada ranch – the work has kept them apart for long periods of time. “My theory has always been that this is why we’re still together,” says Helen. “We’re always pleased to see each other.” At the age of 70, Helen became a model for French beauty house L’Oréal, pushing boundaries for women once again. “That makes a huge point – one that wasn’t made for far too long,” says the actress. “It used to really annoy me, looking at ads showing 16-year-old girls saying, ‘If you buy our product you can look like this.’ By the time you’re 40, you realise that is not true. So to use a face that looks its age is great. “Moisturisers work, undoubtedly. They make your skin better,” she adds. “But you’re not going to drop 30 years by using one. Come on!”
The star, who once stormed out of a theatre performance in London’s West End dressed in full costume to ask a group of street musicians to be quiet, admits her plans to age disgracefully aren’t going so well. “Because as you do get older,” she laughs, “you don’t really want to be disgraceful. You want to be graceful. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun…”