In 2003, she was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for Services to the Performing Arts. In 2013, Mirren was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2014, BAFTA announced that Mirren would be the recipient of the Academy Fellowship.
She was born Helen Lydia Mironoff at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in Hammersmith, west London, the daughter of Kathleen "Kitty" Alexandrina Eva Matilda (née Rogers; 1909–1996) and Vasily Petrovich Mironoff (1913–1980). Her mother was English and her father was Russian, originally from Kuryanovo, Smolensk Oblast. Mirren's paternal grandfather, Colonel Pyotr Vasilievich Mironov, was in the Imperial Russian 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 and settled down in England.
His son, Helen's father, anglicised the family name to Mirren in the 1950s and changed his name to Basil Mirren. He played the viola with the London Philharmonic before World War II, and later drove a taxi cab and was a driving-test examiner, before becoming a civil servant with the Ministry of Transport. Mirren's mother was a working-class Londoner from West Ham, East London, and was the 13th of 14 children born to a butcher whose own father had been the butcher to Queen Victoria. Mirren considers her upbringing to have been "very anti-monarchist". Mirren was the second of three children; she was born three years after her older sister, Katherine ("Kate"; born 1942), and also had a younger brother, Peter Basil (1948–2002). Mirren was brought up in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
Mirren attended Hamlet Court primary school Westcliff-on-Sea, where she had the lead role in a school production of Hansel and Gretel and St Bernard's High School for Girls in Southend-on-Sea, where she also acted in school productions. She then attended 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 runs from Golders Green to Hampstead. Aged eighteen, she auditioned for the National Youth Theatre (NYT) and was accepted. By the time she was 20, she was playing Cleopatra in the NYT production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Old Vic, which led to her signing with the agent Al Parker.
As a result of her work for the National Youth Theatre, Mirren was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). While with the RSC, she played Castiza in Trevor Nunn's 1966 staging of The Revenger's Tragedy, Diana in All's Well That Ends Well (1967), Cressida in Troilus and Cressida (1968), Rosalind in As You Like It (1968), Julia in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1970), Tatiana in Gorky's Enemies at the Aldwych (1971), and the title role in Miss Julie at The Other Place (1971). She also appeared in four productions, directed by Braham Murray for Century Theatre at the University Theatre in Manchester, between 1965 and 1967.
In 1970, the director/producer John Goldschmidt made a documentary film, Doing Her Own Thing, about Mirren during her time with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The film was made for ATV and shown on the ITV Network in the UK. In 1972 and 1973, Mirren worked with Peter Brook's International Centre for Theatre Research, and joined the group's tour in North Africa and the US, during which they created The Conference of the Birds. She then rejoined the RSC, playing Lady Macbeth at Stratford in 1974 and at the Aldwych Theatre in 1975.
It was reported by Sally Beauman, in her 1982 history of the RSC, that Mirren—while appearing in Nunn's Macbeth (1974), and in a highly publicised letter to The Guardian newspaper—had sharply criticised both the National Theatre and the RSC for their lavish production expenditure, declaring it "unnecessary and destructive to the art of the Theatre," and adding, "The realms of truth, emotion and imagination reached for in acting a great play have become more and more remote, often totally unreachable across an abyss of costume and technicalities..." According to Beauman, there were no discernible repercussions for this rebuke of the RSC.
At the Royal Court Theatre in September 1975, she played the role of a rock star named Maggie in Teeth 'n' Smiles, a musical play by David Hare; she reprised the role the following year in a revival of the play at Wyndham's Theatre in May 1976. Her performance earned her the London critics' Plays & Players Best Actress award.
Beginning in November 1975, Mirren played in West End repertory with the Lyric Theatre Company as Nina in The Seagull and Ella in Ben Travers' new farce The Bed Before Yesterday ("Mirren is stirringly voluptuous as the Harlowesque good-time girl": Michael Billington, The Guardian, 10 December 1975). At the RSC in Stratford in 1977, and at the Aldwych the following year, she played a steely Queen Margaret in Terry Hands' production of the three parts of Henry VI, while 1979 saw her 'bursting with grace', and winning acclaim for her performance as Isabella in Peter Gill's production of Measure for Measure at Riverside Studios.
In 1981, she returned to the Royal Court for the London premiere of Brian Friel's Faith Healer. That same year she also won acclaim for her performance in the title role of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, a production of Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre which was later transferred to The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, London. Reviewing her portrayal for The Sunday Telegraph, Francis King wrote: "Miss Mirren never leaves it in doubt that even in her absences, this ardent, beautiful woman is the most important character of the story."
In her performance as Moll Cutpurse in The Roaring Girl—at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in January 1983, and at the Barbican Theatre in April 1983—she was described as having "swaggered through the action with radiant singularity of purpose, filling in areas of light and shade that even Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker omitted." – Michael Coveney, Financial Times, April 1983.
After a relatively barren sojourn in the Hollywood Hills, she returned to England at the beginning of 1989 to co-star with Bob Peck at the Young Vic in the London premiere of the Arthur Miller double-bill, Two Way Mirror, performances which prompted Miller to remark: "What is so good about English actors is that they are not afraid of the open expression of large emotions" (interview by Sheridan Morley: The Times 11 January 1989). In Elegy for a Lady she played the svelte proprietress of a classy boutique, while as the blonde hooker in Some Kind of Love Story she was "clad in a Freudian slip and shifting easily from waif-like vulnerability to sexual aggression, giving the role a breathy Monroesque quality" (Michael Billington, The Guardian).
On 15 February 2013, at the West End's Gielgud Theatre she began a turn as Elizabeth II in the World Premiere of Peter Morgan's The Audience. The show was directed by Stephen Daldry. In April she was named best actress at the Olivier Awards for her role.
A further stage breakthrough came in 1994, in an Yvonne Arnaud Theatre production bound for the West End, when Bill Bryden cast her as Natalya Petrovna in Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. Her co-stars were John Hurt as her aimless lover Rakitin and Joseph Fiennes in only his second professional stage appearance as the cocksure young tutor Belyaev. "Instead of a bored Natalya fretting the summer away in dull frocks, Mirren, dazzlingly gowned, is a woman almost wilfully allowing her heart's desire for her son's young tutor to rule her head and wreak domestic havoc....Creamy shoulders bared, she feels free to launch into a gloriously enchanted, dreamily comic self-confession of love." (John Thaxter, Richmond & Twickenham Times, 4 March 1994)
Mirren was twice nominated for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Actress (Play): in 1995 for her Broadway debut in A Month in the Country, now directed by Scott Ellis ("Miss Mirren's performance is bigger and more animated than the one she gave last year in an entirely different London production", Vincent Canby in the NY Times, 26 April 1995). Then again in 2002 for August Strindberg's Dance of Death, co-starring with Sir Ian McKellen, their fraught rehearsal period coinciding with the terrorist attacks on New York on 11 September 2001 (as recorded in her In the Frame autobiography, September 2007). On 7 June 2015‚ Mirren won the Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play‚ for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Audience which also won her the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Actress and made her one of the few actors to achieve the “Triple Crown of Acting”, joining the ranks of legends including Ingrid Bergman‚ Dame Maggie Smith, and Al Pacino.
In 1998, Mirren played Cleopatra to Alan Rickman's Antony in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre. The production received poor reviews; The Guardian called it "plodding spectacle rarely informed by powerful passion", while The Daily Telegraph said "the crucial sexual chemistry on which any great production ultimately depends is fatally absent". In 2000 Nicholas Hytner, who had worked with Mirren on the film version of The Madness of King George, cast her as Lady Torrance in his revival of Tennessee Williams' Orpheus Descending at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Michael Billington, reviewing for The Guardian, described her performance as "an exemplary study of an immigrant woman who has acquired a patina of resilient toughness but who slowly acknowledges her sensuality."
At the National Theatre in November 2003 she again won praise playing Christine Mannon ("defiantly cool, camp and skittish", Evening Standard; "glows with mature sexual allure", Daily Telegraph) in a revival of Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra directed by Howard Davies. "This production was one of the best experiences of my professional life, The play was four and a half hours long, and I have never known that kind of response from an audience ... It was the serendipity of a beautifully cast play, with great design and direction, It will be hard to be in anything better." (In the Frame, September 2007). She played the title role in Jean Racine's Phèdre at the National in 2009, in a production directed by Nicholas Hytner. The production was also staged at the Epidaurus amphitheatre on 11 and 12 July 2009.
Mirren has also appeared in a large number of films throughout her career. Some of her earlier film appearances include roles in Midsummer Night's Dream, 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 thief's wife, opposite Michael Gambon. In Teaching Mrs. Tingle, she plays sadistic history teacher Mrs Eve Tingle. In 2007, she claimed director Michael Winner had treated her "like a piece of meat" at a casting call in 1964. Asked about the incident, Winner told The Guardian: "I don't remember asking her to turn around but if I did I wasn't being serious. I was only doing what the [casting] agent asked me – and for this I get reviled! Helen's a lovely person, she's a great actress and I'm a huge fan, but her memory of that moment is a little flawed."
Mirren continued her successful film career when she starred more recently in Gosford Park with Maggie Smith and Calendar Girls 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 Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, 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: Book of Secrets, Inkheart, State of Play, and The Last Station, for which she was nominated for an Oscar.
Mirren's first film of the 2000s was Joel Hershman's Greenfingers (2000), a comedy based on the true story about the award-winning prisoners of HMP Leyhill, a minimum-security prison. Mirren portrayed a devoted plantswoman in the film, who coaches a team of prison gardeners, led by Clive Owen, to victory at a prestigious flower show. The project garnered largely lukewarm reviews from critics, who felt that it added "nothing new to this already saturated genre" of British feel-good films. The same year, she began work on the mystery film The Pledge, actor Sean Penn's second directorial effort, in which she played a child psychologist. A critical success, the ensemble film tanked at the box office. Also the year, she filmed the American-Icelandic satirical drama No Such Thing opposite Sarah Polley. Directed by Hal Hartley, Mirren portrayed a soulless television producer in the film, who strives for sensationalistic stories. It was largely panned by critics.
Her biggest critical and commercial success, released in 2001, became Robert Altman's all-star ensemble mystery film Gosford Park. An homage to writer Agatha Christie's whodunit style, the story follows a party of wealthy Britons and an American, and their servants, who gather for a shooting weekend at an English country house, resulting in an unexpected murder. Widely acclaimed by critics, it received multiple awards and nominations, including a second Academy Award nomination and first Screen Actors Guild Award win for Mirren's portrayal of the sternly devoted head servant Mrs. Wilson. Mirren's last film that year was Fred Schepisi's dramedy film Last Orders opposite Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins.
In 2003, Mirren starred in Nigel Cole's comedy Calendar Girls, inspired by the true story of a group of Yorkshire women who produced a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research under the auspices of the Women's Institutes. Mirren was initially resistant to join the project, at first dismissing it as another middling British picture, but rethought her decision upon learning of the casting of co-star Julie Walters. The film garnered generally positive reactions by film critics, and grossed $96,000,000 worldwide. In addition, the picture earned Satellite, Golden Globe, and European Film Award nominations for Mirren. Her other film that year was the Showtime television film The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone opposite Olivier Martinez, and Anne Bancroft, based on the 1950 novel of the same title by Tennessee Williams.
In 2010, Mirren appeared in five films. In Love Ranch, directed by her husband Taylor Hackford, she portrayed Sally Conforte, one half of a married couple who opened the first legal brothel in the United States, the Mustang Ranch in Storey County, Nevada, leading to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the assassination of famous Argentinian boxer Ringo Bonavena. The drama film received mostly negative reviews from critics, who called it "disappointingly flaccid," and underperformed at the international box offices. Mirren starred in the principal role of Prospera, the duchess of Milan, in Julie Taymor's The Tempest. Based on the play of the same name by Shakespeare, Taymor changed the original character's gender to cast Mirren as her lead. While the actress garnered strong reviews for her portrayal, the film itself was largely panned by critics.
Mirren played a gutsy tea-shop owner who tries to save one of her young employees from marrying a teenage killer in Rowan Joffé's Brighton Rock, a crime film loosely based on Graham Greene's 1938 novel. The film noir premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010, where it received mixed reviews. Mirren's biggest critical and commercial success of the year was Robert Schwentke's ensemble action comedy Red, in which she portrayed a retired assassin. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Warren Ellis, she was initially hesitant to sign on due to film's graphic violence, but changed her mind upon learning of Willis' involvement. Released to positive reviews, it grossed $186.5 million worldwide. Also in 2010, the actress lent her voice to Zack Snyder's computer-animated fantasy film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, voicing antagonist Nyra, a leader of a group of owls. The film grossed $140.1 million on a $80 million budget.
Mirren's next film was the comedy film Arthur, a remake of the 1981 film of the same name, starring Russell Brand in the lead role. Arthur received generally negative reviews from critics, who declared it an "irritating, unnecessary remake." 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.
In 2012, Mirren played Alfred Hitchcock's wife Alma Reville in the 2012 biopic Hitchcock, directed by Sacha Gervasi and based on Stephen Rebello's non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The film centres on the pair's relationship during the making of Psycho, a controversial horror film that became one of the most acclaimed and influential works in the filmmaker's career. It became a moderate arthouse success and garnered a lukewarm critical response from critics, who felt that it suffered from "tonal inconsistency and a lack of truly insightful retrospection." Mirren was universally praised for her play however, with Roger Ebert noting that the film depended most on her portrayal, which he found to be "warm and effective." Her other film that year was The Door, a claustrophobic drama film directed by István Szabó, based on the Hungarian novel of the same name. Set at the height of communist rule in 1960s Hungary, the story of the adaptation centres on the abrasive influence that a mysterious housekeeper wields over her employer and successful novelist, played Martina Gedeck. Mirren found the role "difficult to play" and cited doing it as "one of the hardest things [she has] ever done."
The following year, Mirren replaced Bette Midler in David Mamet's biographical television film Phil Spector about the American musician. The HBO film focuses on the relationship between Spector and his defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden, played by Mirren, during the first of his two murder trials for the 2003 death of Lana Clarkson in his California mansion. Spector received largely mixed to positive reviews from critics, particularly for Mirren and co-star Al Pacino's performances, and was nominated for eleven Primetime Emmy Awards, also winning Mirren a Screen Actors Guild Award at the 20th awards ceremony. The film drew criticism both from Clarkson's family and friends, who charged that the suicide defense was given more merit than it deserved, and from Spector's wife, who argued that Spector was portrayed as a "foul-mouthed megalomaniac" and a "minotaur". Also in 2013, Mirren voiced the character of Dean Abigail Hardscrabble in Pixar's computer-animated comedy film Monsters University, which grossed $743 million against its estimated budget of $200 million, and reprised her role in the sequel film Red 2. The action comedy received a mixed reviews from film critics, who called it a "lackadaisical sequel", but became another commercial success, making over $140 million worldwide.
Mirren's only film of 2014 was the comedy-drama The Hundred-Foot Journey opposite Indian actor Om Puri. Directed by Lasse Hallström and produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, the film is based on Richard Morais' 2010 novel with the same name and tells the story of a feud between two adjacent restaurants in a French town. Mirren garnered largely positive reviews for her performance of a snobby restaurateur, a role which she accepted as she was keen to play a French character, reflecting her "pathetic attempt at being a French actress." The film earned her another Golden Globe nomination and became a modest commercial success, grossing $88.9 million worldwide.
In 2015, Mirren reunited with her former assistant Simon Curtis on Woman in Gold, co-starring Ryan Reynolds. The film was based on the true story of Jewish refugee Maria Altmann, who, together with her young lawyer Randy Schoenberg, fought the Austrian government to be reunited with Gustav Klimt's painting of her aunt, the famous Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The film received mixed reviews from critics, although Mirren and Reynold's performances were widely praised. A commercial success, Woman in Gold became one of the highest-grossing specialty films of the year. The same year, Mirren appeared in Gavin Hood's thriller Eye in the Sky (2015), in which she played as a military intelligence officer who leads a secret drone mission to capture a terrorist group living in Nairobi, Kenya. Mirren last film that year was Jay Roach's biographical drama Trumbo, co-starring Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane. The actress played Hedda Hopper, the famous actress and gossip columnist, in the film, which received generally positive reviews from critics and garnered her a 14th Golden Globe nomination. In 2016, Mirren was cast as Mother Ginger in Disney's adaptation of The Nutcracker titled The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Mirren is known for her role as detective Jane Tennison in the widely viewed Prime Suspect, a multiple award-winning television drama series that was noted for its high quality and popularity. Her portrayal of Tennison won her three consecutive BAFTA Awards for Best Actress between 1992 and 1994.
Some of Mirren's other television performances include Cousin Bette (1971); As You Like It (1979); Blue Remembered Hills (1979); The Twilight Zone episode "Dead Woman's Shoes" (1985); The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), where her performance won her both the Emmy and the Golden Globe; Door to Door (2002); and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (2003). In 1976, she appeared with Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates and Malcolm McDowell in a production of Harold Pinter's The Collection as part of the Laurence Olivier Presents series. She also played Elizabeth I in 2005, in the television serial Elizabeth I, for Channel 4 and HBO, for which she received an Emmy Award. Mirren won another Emmy Award on 16 September 2007 for her role in Prime Suspect: The Final Act on PBS in the same category as in 2006. Mirren hosted Saturday Night Live on 9 April 2011.
Mirren lived with actor Liam Neeson during the early 1980s. They met while working on Excalibur (1981). Interviewed by James Lipton for Inside the Actors Studio, Neeson said she was instrumental in his getting an agent.
Mirren married American director Taylor Hackford (her partner since 1986) on 31 December 1997, his 53rd birthday. The ceremony took place at the Ardersier Parish Church near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The couple had met on the set of White Nights. It is her first marriage, and his third (he has two children from his previous marriages). Mirren has no children and says she has "no maternal instinct whatsoever."
Mirren's autobiography, In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures, was published in the UK by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in September 2007. Reviewing for The Stage, John Thaxter wrote: "Sumptuously illustrated, at first sight it looks like another of those photo albums of the stars. But between the pictures there are almost 200 pages of densely printed text, an unusually frank story of her private and professional life, mainly in the theatre, the words clearly Mirren's own, delivered with forthright candour."
In 1990, Mirren stated in an interview that she is an atheist. In the August 2011 issue of Esquire magazine, Mirren said, "I am quite spiritual. I believed in fairies when I was a child. I still do sort of believe in the fairies. And the leprechauns. But I don't believe in God."
In a GQ interview in 2008, Mirren stated she had been date raped as a student and had often taken cocaine at parties in her 20s, and until the 1980s. She stopped using the drug after reading the (since debunked) tabloid tale that Klaus Barbie made a living from cocaine dealing.
On 11 May 2010, Mirren attended the unveiling of her waxwork at Madame Tussauds London. The figure reportedly cost £150,000 to make and took four months to complete. In 2012, Mirren was among the British cultural icons selected by artist Sir Peter Blake to appear in a new version of his most famous artwork – the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover – to celebrate the British cultural figures of his life that he most admires.
In 2013, Mirren was announced as one of several new models for Marks & Spencer's 'Womanism' campaign. Subtitled "Britain's leading ladies", the campaign saw Mirren appear alongside British women from various fields, including pop singer Ellie Goulding, double Olympic gold medal winning boxer Nicola Adams, and writer Monica Ali. Mirren was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by The Guardian in March 2013.
She is quoted as being a naturist, telling the Radio Times “I’m a naturist at heart. I love being on beaches where everyone is naked. Ugly people, beautiful people, old people, whatever. It’s so unisexual and so liberating.” In 2004, she was named "Naturist of the Year" by British Naturism. She said: “Many thanks to British Naturism for this great honour. I do believe in naturism and am my happiest on a nude beach with people of all ages and races!”