One of the most prolific actresses of our time, Helen Mirren has a resume that shows this honor is well-deserved. She has been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and won over a dozen awards from BAFTAs to Oscars. With such a long and distinguished career, you can imagine we found quite a lot of interesting facts about her. Unfortunately, we’ve had to keep the list to ten, but if you know any interesting tidbits that we’ve left out, you can let us know in the comments.
During the 1980s, Helen lived with another actor who hadn’t quite made a name for himself yet—Liam Neeson. The two had met on the set of Excalibur in 1981, and Neeson credits her with helping him get his agent. The relationship ended in 1986 when Neeson moved to California to make it as an actor after his career in the UK failed to materialize.
###Experiencing the Bard
Helen knew she wanted to become an actress after attending a performance of Hamlet when she was thirteen. As a result of this introduction to Shakespeare, she believes “kids shouldn’t be taught, Shakespeare. They should experience it first by seeing a grand production.” She joined the RSC in 1966, and her career took off from there.
Helen Mirren was actually born Helen “Ilyena” Lydia Mironoff in 1945, and her grandfather was a Russian aristocrat who found himself stranded in London when the Russian Revolution took place in 1917. Her father, Vasily, changed the family name to Mirren to sound more English.
While 2006’s The Queen might be her best0known royal role, she has played a queen a total of six times. Besides playing Queen Elizabeth II, she has also played Queen Elizabeth I in a mini-series of the same name, Queen Tuya in the animated film The Prince of Egypt, The Snow Queen, Roman Empress Milonia Caesonia in Caligula, and Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George.
While younger filmgoers may find it hard to believe, early in her career, Mirren had quite a reputation for being sexy. This reputation was helped by films such as Caligula, which gave itself an X rating for the amount of nudity, sex, and graphic violence it portrayed, as well as The Revenger’s Tragedy, Troilus and Cressida, and Macbeth. All her sexy roles earned her the nickname “The Sex Queen of Stratford.” She hasn’t slowed down in her willingness to appear naked on screen, having done so as recently as 2003’s Calendar Girls.
Of all the movies she’s done, and characters she’s played, Helen Mirren admits her favorite role was as the evil history teacher in 1999’s Teaching Mrs. Tingle.
###Second Time Around
While Mirren is now a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, an honor she received in 2003, it was not the first time the accolade was offered to her. She had been offered the CBE in 1996 for her services to drama in 1996 but turned it down.
Before she got into acting, Helen Mirren had been a “blagger” at an amusement park in her teens. A “blagger” is someone who entices park visitors to go on the rides.
Madame Tussaud’s has represented Dame Helen in its gallery three different times. Besides one of her red-carpet outfits, she’s also appeared in the wax museum as Queen Elizabeth II and Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, arguably her second-most famous role.
###Before It Was Fashionable
In her twenties, Helen Mirren visited a Native American reservation in Minnesota where, in an act of rebellion, she got a star tattoo on her left hand. She now regrets it, but only because tattoos are no longer taboo.