8 Milestones in the Evolution of Helen Mirren
In this weekend's release, Arthur, Helen Mirren reprises the role John Gielgud made famous (and won an Oscar for) by playing Arthur Bach's (Russell Brand) now female valet, Hobson, in the remake of the 1981 comedy classic. How did Helen Mirren transform herself from British film-and-TV stalwart to Oscar-winner to mainstream American comedy and action star?
You can always trace a direct line through a handful of important roles -- not necessarily her best, mind you -- to illustrate what led to an actor's current success. So, let's look at eight performances -- including her first-ever movie appearance -- that trace the evolution of one Dame Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironov.
Mirren's first film role, Herostratus is, in a word, odd. Produced on a shoestring budget and requiring five years to complete, the movie features Mirren in a bit part in the story of a young poet who wants to create a spectacle around jumping off a building to his death. Both the director, Don Levy, and the star, Michael Gothard (best known for playing Locque in For Your Eyes Only) would eventually commit suicide.
Age of Consent (1969)
After starring opposite fellow UK up-and-comers Ian Holm, Judi Dench and Diana Rigg in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Mirren scored her true breakthrough in director Michael Powell's penultimate film. Playing the young Australian woman Cora, she befriends an aging artist (James Mason) who takes her on as a model and eventually causes a stir with her underage nude portraiture. (Mirren was 23 at the time.) Age of Consent failed to make much of a rumble at the box-office, and the critics weren't terribly kind (even Powell was disappointed), but it did propel Mirren's career into the echelon of lead actresses.
White Nights (1985)
By the mid-1980s, Mirren found herself hustling through a string of middling American films. She followed up the disappointing 2010: The Year We Made Contact with this thriller co-starring Mikhail Baryshnikov, Gregory Hines and Isabella Rossellini; in it, Mirren plays a Russian ballerina working for the KGB. (Coincidentally, Mirren's father is Russian -- hence her original surname, Miranoff). Perhaps most significantly, the role introduced Mirren to director and future husband Taylor Hackford, to whom she remains married to this day. One can only hope that Lionel Richie's "Say You Say Me" was their wedding song.
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
At the time, Mirren's best known role to mainstream American audiences. Mirren played "Mother" Fox, wife to Harrison Ford's brilliant yet slightly insane Allie Fox, who forces his family to leave civilization in order to survive what he believes is the upcoming nuclear holocaust. A box-office bomb (but critically mixed, with very staunch defenders), the film gained momentum of sorts with repeated play on American cable channels. After The Mosquito Coast, Mirren would return to British films and acclaim with roles in films such as Peter Greenaway's infamous sex-and-cannibalism opus The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.
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