Helen Mirren: Young Shakespearean Vixen And Screen Queen, Then And Now
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra being performed by the National Youth Theatre and the Old Vic in London, 6th September 1965. Starring actress Helen Mirren, 19, as Cleopatra (Photo by Barham/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
Helen Mirren, famous for playing Queens of England, has been a bold presence in entertainment since her early career as a stage actress. Mirren was one of many serious British actors who continued to do highbrow work -- as a star of the Royal Shakespeare Company -- from the late '60s through the early '80s, while making provocative choices in her film work, including Age Of Consent (1969), O Lucky Man! (1973), Caligula (1979), The Long Good Friday (1980), Hussy (1980) and Excalibur (1981). She's still burning her candle at both ends in the 21st century. In 2005-06, she played Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen (a movie) and Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth I (a TV miniseries) and won an Oscar, an Emmy, and two Golden Globes for her efforts; other recent work includes the nude-calendar comedy Calendar Girls (2004), National Treasure: Book Of Secrets (2007), Monsters University (2013) and Hobbs & Shaw (2019). It's fair to say you really don't know what she'll do next -- but you know she'll do it well, as she's unquestionably among the elite actresses of her generation. And here in her mid-'70s, she revels in her free-spiritedness and seems to be having the time of her life.
Beyond her prodigious acting career, Mirren continues to grab headlines for her candid and sometimes outrageous persona. She seems to relish sounding off on taboo subjects -- and her honesty, particularly as a woman of a certain age in an entertainment industry obsessed with youth, has made her a laudable role model in an age devoid of them. In a related story, she's considered the hottest septuagenarian in Hollywood -- proof, perhaps, that sexy doesn't have an expiration date. Here’s why Helen Mirren might be even more awe-inspiring than you thought.
It's Good To Be The Queen
Born in 1945, Helen Mirren emerged as a major acting talent in the mid '60s, playing Cleopatra in the National Youth Theater's production of Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra at age 19 or 20 (accounts differ). These legendary performances earned her a place in the Royal Shakespeare Company. With the RSC, she spent her 20s playing notable Shakespearean leading ladies in Troilus And Cressida, Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, Hamlet, Two Gentlemen Of Verona, Measure For Measure, and Macbeth.
Nevertheless, she’s working-class through and through. One of her earliest jobs was as a “blagger.” Blaggers essentially are the people at state fairs, earnestly encouraging children to try their carnival ride.
Can you imagine Helen Mirren cooing at a child to hop the carousel? That’s the same person who won an Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG Award for playing Queen Elizabeth II. The same Queen called the film (The Queen) her favorite of 2006.
The Red Bikini
As anyone with eyes can tell you, Helen Mirren is beautiful. But she’s also bold. She revealed that sex in her youth was “paranoid and empty.” Now she calls it “Great, just wonderful.” The actress -- who went viral in 2008 over a photo wearing a red bikini -- seems utterly comfortable with her body. “My dad's Russian," she famously said. "My mother's English. I would say my bottom half is Russian."
Mirren’s also not afraid to talk about the dark side of sex. In 2008, she admitted to being date raped more than once early in life but did not go to the police because “you couldn’t do that in those days.”
It seems Mirren has plenty of sage advice for women, and especially actresses, on the pros of getting older. “When you're young and beautiful," she once said, "you're paranoid and miserable.”
Helen Mirren Was Never Shy About Selling Flesh
Despite some painful experiences she never shied away from sex in her career. "Flesh sells," she once observed. "People don't want to see pictures of churches. They want to see naked bodies.” Mirren gave the people what they wanted in 1969's Age Of Consent with her performance as a free-spirited island girl who poses nude for an artist played by James Mason. She continued to build a reputation as the Shakespearean actress most likely to strip in Savage Messiah (1972) and Hussy -- and then there was Caligula. Many critics described the film -- a fiasco produced by Bob Guccione and co-starring Malcolm MacDowell, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud -- as little more than pornography in disguise.
It's not all royalty and nudity for Helen Mirren, as we mentioned before. She also did the 1999 film Teaching Mrs. Tingle “because they gave me a sh**load of money to do it.” Still, you won’t see Helen naked anytime soon, as she recently revealed, “My pleasure pillows are purely for my husband.”
Mirren Was Reluctant To Get Married
Given her free-spirited '70s ways, it's hardly surprising that Mirren wasn't in a hurry to tie the knot and settle down. After living with Liam Neeson for awhile, she shacked up with director Taylor Hackford in the late '80s, and the couple got married in 1997 when both were in their early 50s. Her explanation of her own marriage is frank, but ultimately endearing: “It was never my intention to marry anybody. Economics are basically the only reason to get married, but I'm very glad I did it.”
The iconoclast actor lives her life as many aspire to, on her own terms. In her adolescence, she revolted as only teens can. In drunken defiance, she got a tattoo because then it was the “most shocking thing I could think of doing.” Of course, now that tattoos are mainstream she’s not a big fan of it.
When asked if she regrets not becoming a mother, she responds “I never felt the need for a child and never felt the loss of it. . .I’d always put my work before anything.” Except, apparently, when she saw Steve Martin’s Parenthood and wept. Though, the ageless wonder, on extra busy days, sets her alarm early so she and her husband can do whatever “takes their fancy.” However, that isn’t always sex.
Tags: Helen Mirren | Ladies | Then And Now
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