Female Forces: Helen Mirren
Dame Helen Mirren is a muse for the modern woman. In her candid autobiography In the Frame: My Life in Words and Pictures, she says that at age 23 a palm reader told her “you will be successful in life, but you will see your greatest success later, after the age of 45.” While she had an impressive résumé of work before that age, the prophecy would turn out to be true.
Helen was born in 1945 in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England. Growing up she describes herself as shy, fearful and non-competitive, hardly the formula for someone who would become a leading actress of stage, film, and television. Although she is still occasionally plagued by stage fright, she says her coping mechanism is to use the fear, work through it and take advantage of the adrenalin.
At 13 she saw an amateur production of “Hamlet” and became captivated by the strong female characters in the plays. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967 and would play many of Shakespeare’s most memorable heroines for the RSC.
There are three popular images of Helen Mirren in film: as a young actress her first film persona was as a sex symbol; the second as the older royal matriarch; and the third as a stunning mature woman, both on screen and off.
The turning point in her career came in 1991 when she played Detective Jane Tennison in the “Prime Suspect” television series at age 46 (prophecy fulfilled!) She is the only actress to have played Queen Elizabeth I and II, winning an Oscar for her 2006 portrayal in “The Queen.” At age 65 when most people are contemplating retirement, Helen became an action movie hero in the 2010 film “Red.”
In 2014, Helen was chosen by L’Oreal to be brand ambassador for their Age Perfect skincare line. She says the message is that women of a certain age aren’t invisible: “they’re fabulous!” Now 72, she is the oldest of L’Oreal’s spokeswomen. The campaign’s goal is to inspire both older and younger women to see that they can look good at any age.
Named Vanity Fair’s best dressed woman in 2016, Helen is the poster girl for creating a youthful look while maintaining the elegance of a mature woman. Her sensational red carpet appearances are a perfect blend of hair, makeup, design and color. Although she knows what works for her, she never lets it get predictable. And, yes, she does have two wardrobes: one for the plus 10 pounds and one for the minus 10.
She describes aging as “an adventure” which can be frightening at times because of concerns about health, but says that she’s loved every stage in life. She is happy in her ’70’s and looks forward to the woman she will, hopefully, become in her ’80’s.
Not a woman to let age slow her down, Helen’s latest movie “Winchester” released in February, 2018, and she will also be teaching a series of online master classes about the art and craft of acting.
Two personal triumphs occurred after the age of 45: her first-time marriage to director Taylor Hackford at age 52 in 1997, and her appointment by Queen Elizabeth II (the real one!) as “Dame Commander of the British Empire” in 2003. With a wink and a nod to Oscar Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” Helen Mirren is living proof “there is nothing like a dame!”