British Icon of the Week: Dame Helen Mirren, the Oscar-Winning Actress Who's 'Notoriously Frank and Uncensored'
Dame Helen Mirren isn't just a fabulous actress who's one of only 24 performers to have completed the "Triple Crown of Acting" by winning an Academy Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. She's also an all around fabulous person who manages to be down-to-earth and inspiring at the same time. To mark her 75th birthday, which she celebrated Sunday, here are 10 times Mirren has really proved the old adage that "there's nothing like a Dame."
1. She starred in one of the best Super Bowl adverts ever.
In her 2016 promo for Budweiser's #GiveADamn campaign, Mirren uses her reputation as a "notoriously frank and uncensored British lady" to warn football fans not to risk lives by driving home drunk. "Now, the chances are that you are a fun, solid, respectable human being," she says firmly. "So don't be a pillock."
2. When her stepsons first came to London, she took them to one of the city's most famous drag clubs, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
Mirren shared the story during her most recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show, and the LGBTQ venue was evidently thrilled with the endorsement. Soon after the episode, they tweeted a clip of Mirren's anecdote with the message: "[You're] welcome back anytime, Dame Helen."
3. She promoted (and attended) a London LGBTQ festival following a high-profile fracas with some of its organizers.
During a performance of Peter Morgan's The Audience at London's Gielgud Theatre in May 2013, Mirren was interrupted by a troupe of street drummers outside promoting the upcoming LGBTQ festival As One in the Park. As her co-star Rufus Wright noted at the time, "West End theaters have thin walls." So, dressed in pearls and a tiara as Queen Elizabeth II, whom she was portraying in the play, Mirren stormed out of the theater's back door to give the drummers a ticking off. "Not much shocks you on the gay scene. But seeing Helen Mirren dressed as the Queen cussing and swearing and making you stop your parade – that's a new one," an onlooker told the BBC.
Not one to hold a grudge, Mirren later made friends with the drummers and wore a T-shirt promoting the festival, which she duly attended with her husband Taylor Hackford a couple weeks later. What a classy lady.
4. She's not afraid to show us what she looks like first thing in the morning.
Mirren shared this makeup-free selfie to encourage donations to the NHS's Intensive Care Support services during the coronavirus crisis.
5. She shut down a shockingly sexist line of questioning during her first ever TV interview.
During her appearance on Sir Michael Parkinson's BBC chat show in 1975, the host asked Mirren whether her "equipment" and "physical attributes" got in the way of her being perceived as a "serious actress."
After Mirren replied, "Because serious actresses can’t have big bosoms – is that what you mean?" Parkinson said: "I think it might detract from the performance, if you know what I mean." Mirren then let out a very relatable "ugh" and countered impeccably: "What a crummy performance if people are obsessed with the size of your bosom or anything else. I would hope that the performance, and the play, and the living relationship between all the people on the stage and all the people in the audience overcome such boring questions."
Well said – and you can watch the full exchange below.
Recalling the experience in a 2011 interview with the Daily Telegraph, Mirren said: "I watched it and I actually thought, bloody hell! I did really well. I was so young and inexperienced. And he was such a f*cking sexist old fart. He was. He denies it to this day that it was sexist, but of course he was."
6. She reads poetry pretty exquisitely.
When Mirren appeared on The Late Show in 2018, host Stephen Colbert asked her to read excepts from "Ulysses," the famous mythological poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Mirren’s nuanced recital is so moving that it brings him to tears.
7. She rides the NYC subway just like everyone else
After photos of her riding the subway went viral in 2015, Mirren said matter-of-factly: "I am a commoner – I am a commoner anywhere that I am."
8. She doesn't mince her words when it comes to the aging process.
When Mirren signed a contract to promote L'Oréal Paris beauty products in 2014, she stipulated that her photographs couldn't be retouched. "I definitely don’t look better now than when I was young. Definitely not. Of course I looked better then," Mirren told The Guardian in 2015. "The great thing that happens as you age is that you don’t really give a flying f*ck. I don’t look so good, but I don’t care.”
9. She doesn't walk the runway – she storms it.
This clip from a L'Oréal Paris fashion show last fall is completely joyous.
10. And she delivers the best end-of-year messages.
As this vintage clip from The Graham Norton Show proves. If only she could deliver a message like this every year!
Have we missed out on one of your favorite Dame Helen Mirren moments?