Diane J. Cho was the Features Editor of PEOPLE Digital from 2019 to 2022. She worked at the brand for nearly four years covering news, features, human interest, evergreen, holiday gift guides and more. She launched the How I Parent and What It's Really Like to Be …. digital series and has interviewed several celebrities and influential leaders within the entertainment industry. Prior to joining PEOPLE, Diane worked at Bustle, VH1 and Complex. She received her bachelor's degree in Journalism from Rutgers University and her master's degree from Columbia Journalism School.
Helen Mirren was born Helen Lydia Mironoff in 1945. Her father Anglicized the family name to “Mirren” when Helen was around 9 years old. The actress was raised in Southend-on-Sea outside of London by an English mother and Russian father, alongside two siblings, Katherine and Peter.
Over five decades, Mirren has conquered film, television and theater. Her masterful 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. She was also made a Dame of the British Empire in 2003.
Mirren has been a lifelong champion for women’s rights; named the face of L’Oréal Paris at 69 years old; and has been married to director Taylor Hackford since 1997. Here, her incredible life and career in photos.
Mirren got her big break in theater playing Cleopatra with the National Youth Theater in Antony and Cleopatra in 1965.
“I loved the power and the passion of that role, and of course, it’s always good to be Queen,” she wrote in her 2008 memoir In the Frame.
"This was the role that launched my career," she added.
The success of the show and her performance landed the actress, who was 19 at the time, an agent and a future with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
As she grew in popularity, she starred in Troilus and Cressida as Cressida in 1968 and in Macbeth as Lady Macbeth in 1974. Then after four years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Mirren joined renowned director Peter Brook and his theater company and toured the United States and Africa.
Mirren's first major movie was director Michael Powell's Age of Consent (1969). The then-22-year-old actress played Cora, a beautiful Queenslander and muse of Australian painter Bradley Morahan (James Mason).
In director John Boorman's extravagant sci-fi classic Excalibur (1981), the star played Morgana, King Arthur's estranged and 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.”
While shooting the film, Mirren met an unknown actor named Liam Neeson on set and the two began a years-long romance.
Neeson revealed on The Graham Norton Show that the first time he saw Mirren in her full Morgana costume, he “was smitten.” The two dated between 1980 and 1985 and lived together for four years.
Neeson went on to marry actress Natasha Richardson in 1994 until her unexpected death in 2009 after a skiing accident. Mirren has been married to Taylor Hackford since 1997.
Starring opposite John Lynch in 1984's Cal, Mirren captivated audiences with her first serious role as Marcella Morton. She dyed her hair brown to play Marcella, who has a complicated love affair with Lynch's character Cal. Her performance won her best actress at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.
The Mosquito Coast (1986) was one of the first times Mirren felt like she had broken through as a Hollywood actress.
“It’s funny when I got that role, and I never expected to get it, with Harrison Ford, you know, in a film by Peter Weir. Hollywood movie!” Mirren recalled during an interview with 2007’s Hollywood Greats. “I remember I heard about it in New York and I left the meeting and I was walking on air. I thought, ‘I’ve cracked it. I’ve cracked it. I’m a Hollywood film actress.’ ”
"And the exact opposite happened, the film got sunk without a trace and I was back to square one," she laughed.
Mirren played Harrison Ford's wife in the film that earned $14,302,779 at the box office, seen as a commercial flop.
In The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989), Mirren played Georgia, the wife of crime boss Albert Spica (Michael Gambon), who comes to La Hollandaise to be entertained every night. Georgia grows tired of her husband and their nightly trips to the fancy French restaurant and decides to have an affair with another man at another table (Alan Howard).
Mirren’s character transformation in the Peter Greenaway-directed crime drama was described as “almost frightening” by celebrated film critic Roger Ebert.
"She changes from submissive wife to daring lover to vicious seeker of vengeance. And watch the way she and Howard handle their sex scenes together, using sex not as joy, not as an avenue to love, but as sheer escapism; lust is their avenue to oblivion."
Playing Prime Suspect's DCI Jane Tennison made Mirren a household name in television. What started as a single TV drama grew into several series, ending in 2006 with Prime Suspect: The Final Act, which earned her an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a miniseries or movie.
The massive success of The Madness of King George (1994) earned Mirren an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, a BAFTA nomination for best performance by an actress and a Cannes Film Festival win for best actress. Playing Queen Charlotte brought her presence back to film following the height of her television fame with Prime Suspect.
After meeting Taylor Hackford at 38 and then dating for a decade, the two tied the knot in 1997 in Scotland. Mirren described her director husband as the “greatest love of her life” during an interview with AARP in 2016. She also shared why she ultimately got married, although initially, the idea of marriage “just wasn’t to my taste.”
"We got married in the end because we realized that we were going to be together forever," she told the outlet. "We got married, ultimately, for legal reasons more than anything else. Estate planning and other complicated things like that. And our families, we sensed, wanted us to be married. I always said I have nothing against marriage; it just wasn't to my taste, like turnips. It took me a very long time to come round to acquiring the taste. I just had to meet the right turnip."
Hackford won a Best Short Film Oscar in 1979 for Teenage Father and was nominated in 2005 for Best Achievement in Directing and Best Motion Picture of the Year for the award-winning Ray Charles biopic, Ray, starring Jamie Foxx.
Mirren and Hackford have been married for more than 20 years and share Hackford’s two children from previous marriages: sons Alexander and Rio, who died in April 2022.
Playing house keeper Mrs. Wilson in the Robert Altman-directed film Gosford Park (2001) earned Mirren her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The star-studded cast of the dramedy mystery included, Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Gambon, Bob Balaban and more.
For Gosford Park, she also won a SAG Award for outstanding performance by a female actor in a supporting role and won with her costars for outstanding performance by the cast of a theatrical motion picture in 2002.
Mirren was appointed Dame of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 2003, three years before she would star in The Queen and win her first Oscar for Best Actress.
Playing Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frear’s The Queen in 2006 has become arguably her most famous and celebrated role. Her recognition for the part, in addition to her first Oscar, included a Golden Globe and SAG Award for best performance by an actress.
The same year she won a SAG Award for The Queen, she also won outstanding performance by a female actor for the TV miniseries Elizabeth I.
In 2014, Mirren was made the newest face of L’Oréal Paris. The then 69-year-old joined Karlie Kloss and Naomi Watts as a spokeswoman for the iconic beauty brand.
“I am not gorgeous and I never was, but I was always OK looking and I’m keen to stay that way,” Mirren told the Daily Mail of her new job at the time. “I have always loved the L’Oréal Paris brand, and I hope I can inspire other women toward greater confidence by making the most of their natural good looks. We are all worth it!”
In 2019, Mirren lit up the catwalk at the L’Oréal Paris show alongside celebrities Eva Longoria and Andie MacDowell. She then made a return to the L’Oréal Paris runway in 2021, sporting an edgy look during the “Le Defile L’Oreal Paris 2021” Womenswear Spring/Summer 2022 show as part of Paris Fashion Week.
In 2014, the actress won another SAG Award for outstanding performance by a female actor for playing attorney Linda Kenney Baden opposite Al Pacino in David Mamet's 2013 TV movie Phil Spector.
Outside of film and television, the Dame was honored in 2017 by the University of Southern California, alongside fellow actor-comedian Will Ferrell. During his commencement speech, Ferrell teased Mirren by acting surprised to see her receive her degree as well.
“Even now I still lose out on parts that I want so desperately,” he joked during his speech. “The most painful one was losing the role of Queen Elizabeth in The Queen. Apparently, it came down to myself and Helen Mirren. The rest is history.”
"Dame Helen Mirren, you stole my Oscar!" he exclaimed as the audience and Mirren laughed.
The star joined the Fast & Furious franchise as Magdalene Shaw, the mother of Deckard (Jason Statham) and Owen Shaw (Luke Evans). She appeared in The Fate of the Furious in 2017, F&F Presents: Hobbs & Shaw in 2019 and F9 in 2020.
In one of her more recent projects, Mirren took on another royal project: the role of Catherine the Great in a four-part limited series of the same name for HBO, which debuted in October 2019.
These days, fans can test their Harry Potter knowledge as host Mirren fires off Hogwarts trivia on the competition series Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses.
And for the record, if Mirren could choose a house, she would choose Slytherin “because there’s a punkishness about Slytherin that appeals to me,” she told PEOPLE in 2021.
"You know, the bad boys on the motorbikes kind of thing," she added.
On Feb. 27, 2022, Mirren was presented with the SAG Life Achievement Award at the 28th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.
In her acceptance speech, Mirren said, “Lifetime achievement, sounds so grand, I suppose I’m still alive so by that measure, I’m eligible.” She went on to share her “mantra” that is behind all of her achievements so far: “Be on time and don’t be an ass.”
Mirren then continued "Thank you S-A-G so much for this, I hate to say SAG at my age, it's always S-A-G for me," she said as the crowd laughed.
"I am simultaneously enormously proud and yet with the understanding that I do not deserve this and there is the conflict I believe you all understand: insecurity versus ego. That cocktail I believe most actors sip in the evening as they contemplate on the gift they received the moment they decided to become an actor," she said.
She's one cool cover girl! Mirren graced the cover of PEOPLE's 2022 Beautiful Issue, opening up about standards and the industry.
“There are incredibly beautiful people in the world, and it’s an absolute delight to look at them, male or female. Beautiful people are a wonder to behold,” shared the actress and L’Oréal Paris spokeswoman. “But most of us are not beautiful. We have other stuff, which is just as powerful as beauty. And I would like to see us celebrate those things … I love the word swagger because I think swagger means I’m confident in myself, I’m presenting myself to the world, I’m enjoying the world around me. I think what is called the beauty industry should be called the swagger industry. We’re giving people swagger.”
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