Dame Helen Mirren greets me enthusiastically on the phone from New York City after a day of promotion for her latest thriller, The Good Liar, in anticipation of digitally featuring as Flaunt’s first Annual Icon. I’m over 3000 miles away in Manchester, England. The first thing Mirren wants to talk about is not her current film, nor her other high-profile role in HBO’s Catherine the Great which is currently airing, but Manchester—the city where she arrived as a young actress in 1965. Mirren eventually returned to the city 26-years-later for her life-changing, BAFTA and Emmy winning performance as Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. “I owe Manchester a great deal,” Mirren says fondly. “I had my very first professional job in Manchester and of course Prime Suspect came out of Manchester and it was filmed there too. I hold it very close to my heart.”
For a time in the late 1960s, Manchester was a home-away-from-home for Mirren as she appeared in several Braham Murray-directed plays at the city’s Century Theatre. Her initial route in came via the UK’s Youth Theatre scheme where those without the means to afford astronomical drama school fees were supported into a career in the arts via a vocational route. “I was dying to go to RADA but I couldn’t,” Mirren says, sadly. Yet her talents were quickly spotted: months later she was hired by the Royal Shakespeare Company where she soon became one of the company’s most acclaimed actors. Eventually, Mirren appeared on prime-time British television where her gritty portrayal of the ambitious Tennison—one of the first female detective chief inspectors of the metropolitan police—changed her career forever: it changed the face of women on screen forever too.