Mirren, Helen

▪ 1995

      Despite the fact that Helen Mirren had been an established and highly respected stage, screen, and television actress for more than two decades, it was not until she starred in "Prime Suspect," the highest-rated PBS "Mystery" series show ever, that she gained her widest recognition in the United States. As Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the Emmy award-winning miniseries, she became—as Newsweek magazine put it—"the PBS pinup woman of the decade." Though considered sexy, she was not a stereotypical pinup, however. In "Prime Suspect" she was ruthless in her ambition, often looked exhausted, and could face the most gruesome of murder scenes without flinching. Hollywood was said to be interested in filming an American version of the miniseries but, ironically—and typically—Mirren's role would be played by someone thought to have more box-office appeal.

      Mirren was born in London in 1946 of a Russian-born father (until she was 10 her last name was Mironoff) and a Scottish mother. When she was 18, she played Cleopatra in a National Youth Theatre production and attracted favourable attention, but she did not immediately pursue an acting career. Instead, at her parents' urging, she attended teacher-training college and qualified as a teacher. She then began to get acting jobs and before long joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. She spent a large part of the next 15 years there, appearing in such roles as Cressida in Troilus and Cressida and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra. She also spent a year touring Africa and North America with Peter Brook's experimental theatre troupe.

      Mirren's motion-picture career began with A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1968. She followed that with appearances in over 20 more films, among them The Long Good Friday (1980), Excalibur (1981), Cal (1984), for which she won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, White Nights (1985), The Mosquito Coast (1986), the controversial The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), and The Hawk (1994). In addition to the three "Prime Suspect" miniseries, her television credits include "The Country Wife," "Blue Remembered Hills," and "Cause Célèbre."

      In 1994 Mirren returned to the London stage with a brilliant portrayal of the mercurial, love-struck Natalya Petrovna in Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. Her film The Madness of King George was released late in the year, and a fourth "Prime Suspect" miniseries was being planned. (BARBARA WHITNEY)

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Universalium. 2010.

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