Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironoff, better known as Dame Helen Mirren, is an English actor. She has won an Academy Award for Best Actress, four SAG Awards, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, four Emmy Awards, and two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Awards.
Mirren was born in Queen Charlotte's Hospital, Chiswick, West London. Her father, Vasiliy Petrovich Mironov (1913–1980), was of Russian origin, originally from Smolensk Oblast and her mother, Kitty (1909–1996), was English. Mirren's paternal grandfather, Colonel Pyotr Vasilievich Mironov, was in the Tsarist Army and fought in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War. He later became a diplomat, and was negotiating an arms deal in Britain, when he and his family were stranded during the Russian Revolution. The former diplomat became a London cab driver to support his family.
His son, Helen Mirren's father, changed the family name to the Scottish-sounding Mirren in the 1950s and became known as Basil Mirren. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II, and later drove a cab and was a driving-test examiner, before becoming a civil servant with the Ministry of Transport. Mirren's mother was from West Ham, East London, and was the 13th of 14 children born to a butcher whose father had been the butcher to Queen Victoria. Mirren considers her upbringing to have been "very anti-monarchist".
The first house Mirren remembers living in was in Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, when she was two or three years old, after the birth of her younger brother, who was named Peter Basil after his grandfather and great-great-grandfather. Mirren was the second of three children, born two years after her older sister Katherine ("Kate"; born 1942). She later lived in Leigh-on-Sea.
Mirren attended St Bernard's High School for Girls in Southend-on-Sea, where she acted in school productions, and subsequently a teaching college, the New College of Speech and Drama in London, "housed within Anna Pavlova's old home, Ivy House" on the North End Road – which leads from Golders Green to Hampstead, N. London. At age eighteen, she auditioned for the National Youth Theatre and was accepted. By the time she was 20, she was Cleopatra in the NYT production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Old Vic, which led to her signing with the agent Al Parker.
Mirren has also appeared in a large number of films throughout her career. Some of her earlier film roles include Age of Consent, O Lucky Man!, Caligula, Excalibur, 2010, The Long Good Friday, White Nights, When the Whales Came and The Mosquito Coast. She appeared in Some Mother's Son, Painted Lady, The Prince of Egypt and The Madness of King George. One of her other film roles was in Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, as the eponymous thief's wife, opposite Michael Gambon. Her favourite film is Teaching Mrs. Tingle, in which she plays sadistic History teacher, Mrs Eve Tingle.
Mirren continued her successful film career when she starred in Gosford Park with Maggie Smith and Calendar Girls where she starred with Julie Walters. Other more recent appearances include The Clearing, Pride, Raising Helen, and Shadowboxer. Mirren also provided the voice for the supercomputer "Deep Thought" in the film adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. During her career, she has portrayed three British queens in different films and television series: Elizabeth I in the television series Elizabeth I (2005), Elizabeth II in The Queen (2006), and Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, in The Madness of King George(1994). She is the only actress ever to have portrayed both Queens Elizabeth on the screen. Mirren's title role of The Queen earned her numerous acting awards including a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and an Academy Award, among many others. During her acceptance speech at the Academy Award ceremony, she praised and thanked Elizabeth II and stated that she had maintained her dignity and weathered many storms during her reign as Queen. Mirren later appeared in supporting roles in the films National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, Inkheart, State of Play, and The Last Station, for which she was nominated for an Oscar.
In preparation for her role as a retired Israeli Mossad agent in the film The Debt, Mirren reportedly immersed herself in studies of Hebrew language, Jewish history, and Holocaust writing, including the life of Simon Wiesenthal, while in Israel in 2009 for the filming of some of the movie's scenes. The film is a remake of a 2007 Israeli film of the same name (Hebrew: Ha-khov).
- Her grandfather Piotr Vasilievich Mironoff was a Tsarist (White Russian) aristocrat who was in London negotiating an arms deal during World War I when the 1917 Russian Revolution stranded him there. His wife and son (Helen's father) joined him in London.
- Before marrying director Taylor Hackford in 1997, she had lived with him in Los Angeles since 1986.
- Used to work in Southend on Sea; Essex; UK at an amusement park "The Kursaal" as a "blagger" to attract customers on to rides.
- She was awarded the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 2003 Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to drama.
- John Boorman said he cast her opposite Nicol Williamson in Excalibur (1981), against both of their protests, because he felt their dislike of each other made them perfect as rivals Morgana and Merlin.
- She allegedly refused the C.B.E. (Commander of Order of the British Empire) in 1996.
- Despite her Russian birth name and ancestry, she does not speak Russian, but is fluent in French.
- Her great-great-great-great-grandfather was field-marshal Kamensky, one of the Russian heroes of the Napoleonic wars.
- She is the only actress to play both Queen Elizabeth I (in "Elizabeth I" (2005)) and Queen Elizabeth II (The Queen (2006)).
- At the premiere of The Queen (2006) at the Venice Film Festival, her performance received a 5 minute standing ovation.
- Played a Queen a total of six times: The Queen (2006), "Elizabeth I" (2005), The Prince of Egypt (1998), The Snow Queen (1995), The Madness of King George (1994), and Caligula (1979).
- Became the third person, after Sigourney Weaver and Joan Plowright, to win two Golden Globes for acting in the same year. The characters she played were both Queens of England, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Elizabeth II.
- She dedicated her BAFTA win for The Queen (2006) (for Best Actress in a Leading Role) to Ian Richardson for playing a huge part in her success story. She said (in her acceptance speech) that Richardson was very supportive towards her when she started out acting, and without him she may not have been so successful. She dedicated this award two days after Richardson died.
- Has a tattoo of a star on her left hand, acquired at a Native American reservation in Minnesota.
- Met husband-to-be Taylor Hackford when he directed her in White Nights (1985). When the couple married in the Scottish Highlands, Hackford was dressed in a traditional Scottish tartan kilt.
- According to an article in People Weekly (November 3, 1980) her tattoo is an American Indian symbol meaning "equal but opposite".
- Placed her hand and footprint in cement in front of Graumann Chinese theatre on March 28, 2011.
- Dated Liam Neeson in 1980 whom she met on the set of Excalibur (1981).
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