Helen Mirren was born in London to a Russian-born father and a Scottish mother. The family’s last name was Mironoff until Helen’s father decided to Anglicize it when she was 10 years old.
She joined Britain’s National Youth Theatre at age 18 and the Royal Shakespeare Company a year later. She spent a large part of the next 15 years working with the latter, appearing in such roles as Cressida in Troilus and Cressida and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra.
While still starring in theatre productions, Mirren began her film career in her early 20s. Her first film to be released was A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1968), which was followed by dozens of others, including the English gangster movie The Long Good Friday (1980); the King Arthur spoof Excalibur (1981); and a love story set in Northern Ireland, Cal (1984), for which she won the best actress award at the Cannes film festival.
Mirren later played the unfaithful wife of a grotesque English thief in the controversial The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989) and Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George (1994), a role for which she was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar.
Mirren extended her successful film career into the 21st century. She was nominated a second time for a best supporting actress Oscar, for her role as an English housekeeper in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001). In Calendar Girls (2003) she played a middle-aged Yorkshire woman who convinces her friends to pose nude for a calendar benefiting leukemia research.
In the Queen’s 2003 Birthday Honours, Mirren was appointed a Dame (DBE) for services to drama, with investiture taking place at Buckingham Palace.
In 2013 she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2014 she received the BAFTA Fellowship for lifetime achievement from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. In 2021, she was announced as the recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award.
Mirren began dating American director Taylor Hackford in 1986. They were married on 31 December 1997 at the Ardersier Parish Church near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.
The couple met on the set of White Nights (1985). It is her first marriage and his third (he has two children from his previous marriages). Mirren has no children, stating she has “no maternal instinct whatsoever”.
In 1990, Mirren stated in an interview that she is an atheist. In the August 2011 issue of Esquire, 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.”