Helen Mirren - British-American actress and philanthropist

Helen Mirren - British-American actress and philanthropist

Helen Mirren is a British-American actress and philanthropist, best known for her roles in the film "The Queen" and the series "Prime Suspect". With a career spanning more than 50 years, both on stage and on screen, and a host of prestigious awards (one Academy Award and Tony Award, four BAFTAs, Emmy Awards and SAG Awards), she is one of the most acclaimed actresses of our time.

Born in London in 1945, Mirren became interested in acting in her late teens, joining the National Youth Theatre at the age of 18. She later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company and was one of their representatives for several years.

She landed her very first film role in 1969 in "Age of Consent", but it was in 1980 that she made her mark, playing the title role in the mini-series "Elizabeth I", for which she won several BAFTA and Emmy Awards. This role catapulted her to the forefront of the stage. She went on to give iconic performances in films such as "Cal" (1984) and "The Madness of King George" (1995), for which she received the Best Actress Awards at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 1991, she landed the lead role in the crime drama series "Prime Suspsect". Her performance as Detective Jane Tennison won her three consecutive BAFTA Awards for Best Actress (1992-1994), making her one of only four actors to have won three consecutive BAFTA Awards for a role, along with Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters and Michael Gambon.

A popular and award-winning series, it tackles taboo subjects such as sexism, sexual abuse on minors, prostitution and institutional racism. A feminist series before its time, it made Mirren the very first woman cop on British television. The actress herself describes her character as "extremely directed, ambitious, talented and very uncompromising. Therefore she is deeply frustrated by her job; the way her sex is a barrier. Women are taught to smile, to be pleasant, to be charming, to be attractive. Tennison doesn’t do that. She is driven, obsessive, vulnerable, unpleasantly egotistical, and confused. But she is damn good at what she does and is totally dedicated."

Despite its short run, with just fifteen episodes broadcast between the series' start in 1991 and its end in 2006, "Prime Suspect" has made quite an impact with its powerful portrayal of a woman detective. Surrounded and forced to endure on a daily basis men who want to see her fail, relentlessly hunting criminals and equiped with an akward and quite abrasive temper when handling the people she works with, Jane Tennison can easily be considered one of the major iconic figures of television action heroines of the past decades.

Her nuanced and complex portrayals of strong women have become her trademark, winning her numerous awards. In 2006, her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the film "The Queen" won her the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. The following year, in 2007, she became the first woman to win three Golden Globe nominations for three different roles at the same ceremony. She won two Golden Globes out of the three, as Best Actress for her performance in "The Queen" and in the mini-series "Elizabeth I". She also won Best Actress at the Oscars that same year for "The Queen".

One of the few actresses to have won the "triple crown" (an Oscar, an Emmy Award and a Tony Award), she received in 2013 her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as well as the BAFTA Fellowship for her exceptional contribution to cinema.

In addition to her work as an actress, Mirren is known for her philanthropic efforts. A strong advocate of children's rights, she is a UNICEF ambassador and a long-standing supporter of Save the Children. She was ambassador for their "No Child Born to Die" campaign, launched in 2009.

She has travelled to countries such as Mozambique and India to raise awareness of issues such as HIV/AIDS and polio. She is also actively involved in campaigns against domestic violence as patron of the charities Women's Aid and Refuge. She also supports associations focusing on the homeless, girls' education and the elderly.

Her philanthropic efforts span the globe, demonstrating her willingness to give back and use her platform to bring about positive change. As such, Mirren was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2003 for her services to the performing arts and humanitarian causes.

Now 77, Mirren continues to play captivating roles. She notably starred as Mother Ginger in the Disney film "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" in 2018, and as Magdalene Shaw in the "Fast and Furious" saga (2019-2023). In 2021, she presented "Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses", and since 2022 has held one of the lead roles in the Paramount+ series "1923". More recently, she lent her voice to the narration of Greta Gerwig's feminist and humanist blockbuster "Barbie", and is currently playing the title role in the HBO historical series "Catherine the Great".

Despite her age, she's not giving up. In an industry that values youth and still takes a dim view of ageing beauty, particularly with women, Helen Mirren shows off her white hair and her skin marked by the passage of time without taboos. She offers the younger generation a lesson in elegance and proves that glamour is ageless.

She confided on the subject in an interview for Vogue UK (May 2023). "Your life as you get older gets fuller. You get wiser, too, inevitably, because you know more stuff. [...] I don’t think there should be any rules and luckily there are less and less. I grew up in a world where there were all kinds of rules as far as women were concerned, and then saw people like Madonna come along and break them all. She was totally a woman after my own heart. All rules are made to be broken. [...] Accepting who you are, finding confidence in it and not resisting it is the best beauty advice. You know, the minute you have confidence and you’re not trying to be something that you’re not, everything about you relaxes – your face relaxes, your muscles relax – you’re happy."

A grande dame of exceptional achievement and unwavering commitment to social causes, Helen Mirren is one of the most respected actresses of our time. Her career will undoubtedly continue to inspire future generations of actors and women around the world.




© Article BY Julie Henry Poutrel for Adama Toulon.

© Photo: Harald Krichel - CC BY-SA 3.0