Page last updated at 22:43 GMT, Sunday, 11 February 2007

Helen Mirren: Screen queen

Helen Mirren
Mirren won best actress at the Venice Film Festival last year

Dame Helen Mirren is clear favourite for this year's best actress Oscar following Bafta, Golden Globe and numerous other awards ceremony triumphs for her portrayal of the monarch in The Queen.

As industry insiders across the Atlantic might say, Dame Helen is a "shoo-in" for Oscar glory.

Surprisingly, Dame Helen has never won an Academy Award, and this year marked her first film Bafta win.

She has received a number of past nominations, most recently for her portrayal of the frosty housekeeper in Robert Altman's Gosford Park in 2002.

But monarchs are proving something of a talisman for Dame Helen.

On film, she won her first Oscar nomination as Queen Charlotte in The Madness of King George.

Helen Mirren as Elizabeth I
Mirren cut a stern figure as the so-called Virgin Queen

And last summer, the 61-year-old performer won an Emmy - the TV equivalent of an Oscar - for her role as the Virgin Queen in Channel 4 drama Elizabeth I.

She once famously quipped: "I don't mind if I don't have any lines as long as I get to wear a crown."

Nonetheless, it is the popularity of the Prime Suspect series, to which she recently returned for a seventh outing as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison, which has seen her dubbed "the reigning Queen of British drama".

Experimental theatre

The actress was born Ilyena Lydia Mironov in Chiswick, west London in 1945.

Her father, a violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, had to resort to driving a taxi to make ends meet.

Dame Helen's parents had wanted her to become a teacher, but the young Helen pursued her passion for acting and honed her craft through seven years with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s.

Mirren and Brian Stirner as Orlando and Rosalind in As You Like It (1978)
Mirren and Brian Stirner in TV's As You Like It in 1978

She left London in the early 1970s to play with Peter Brook's experimental theatre troupe in performances around the world, and made her film debut as Hermia in Sir Peter Hall's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1969.

Her detailed and profound characterisations have both provoked and delighted audiences around the world, as has her frequent stage nudity and seeming desire to shock.

The shambolic, sub-pornographic Caligula began the naked trend for which she remains known, continuing up to the recent hit Calendar Girls (2003).

As she once put it: "Actors are rogues and vagabonds. Or they ought to be. I can't stand it when they behave like solicitors from Penge."

Nevertheless, she says of herself that she was never pretty enough to become a sex symbol.

Helen Mirren as Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison
Mirren's Prime Suspect return was seen by more than seven million

After what she called her "wild years", Dame Helen settled down in 1986 with the US director Taylor Hackford, who had cast her in his 1984 film White Nights. They finally married in 1997 in Scotland.

Becoming a Dame in 2003, the actress appeared to go against her upbringing and principles.

"I had to think about it quite seriously for a couple of weeks. It does sort of squash you into the establishment thing," she said at the time.

"In the end, my baser feelings got the better of me. I succumbed to pride."

Her disregard for propriety made her a surprising choice to play Queen Elizabeth II.

Helen Mirren and James Cromwell in The Queen
Mirren studied footage of the Queen's mannerisms

But the actress was attracted to the part, she says, because of Peter Morgan's "magical" script. "I really got to love the Queen by playing her," Dame Helen told W magazine last year.

"I think she's a person who is genuine, she refuses to be fake."

The film depicts a monarch wrestling with conflicting ideas about national identity and accusations that the royal family has failed to keep up with modern values.

Dame Helen, typically, brings both strength and vulnerability to the role.

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Living principally with her husband in Los Angeles - but maintaining homes in New Orleans, France and London - she admits to basking in a royal glow: "Being me right now is sort of amazing."

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