The acting great reflects on her career so far.
“Thank you for letting me burble on about my career,” Helen Mirren laughs self-deprecatingly, after looking back on her glittering body of work in the latest instalment of our video series, How I Got Here.
Of course, the pleasure is all ours. As one of the most lauded, critically acclaimed and celebrated British actresses of the last century, her fans and peers alike remain fascinated and in awe of her five-decade long career spanning film, theatre and television.
This was evident just recently at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild awards in February, at which Mirren was given the Life Achievement Award – voted for by her fellow actors – presented to her by Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet.
Mirren was inspired to become an actress after watching a local production of Hamlet as a teenager. “I’m sure the production was terrible, but Shakespeare, the story of Hamlet… it was a thriller to me,” she tells us. “I went back home and we had this huge book of Shakespeare. I went through it looking for characters I responded to. That was what led me into wanting to become an actress.”
The early years of Mirren’s career were devoted to the stage, but that all changed when she was cast as the lead role of DCI Jane Tennison in the 1991 television series Prime Suspect. She continued to star in the series for 15 years, winning numerous BAFTAs and Emmys in the process.
“I was very lucky that Prime Suspect was such an iconic moment in television,” Mirren recalls. “In general, in the presentation of women on screen. Culturally, it was quite an important moment. It was a role that transformed how people looked at me at that time.’“
A decade later and Mirren had added an Oscar, a Golden Globe and another BAFTA to her collection for playing Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, which dramatised the monarch’s response to the death of the late Princess Diana in 1997.
“The relationship the British people have with the monarchy is a very complex relationship emotionally; great love, great respect. So if you’re stepping into that role you’re putting your head above the parapet, so to speak,” says Mirren.
Her latest project is the thoroughly British film, The Duke, inspired by the true story of Kempton Bunton (played by Jim Broadbent, Mirren plays Bunton’s wife Dorothy) who stole Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961 to campaign for the government to invest more in care for the elderly, including making television services free for pensioners.
“I like to think that The Duke has a particular type of Britishness about it. I would love to see it move into a beloved British film in the way that the Ealing comedies have become,” says Mirren.