Helen Mirren's 'terrible’ play experience that sparked her acting career

Helen Mirren’s acting career was first inspired by watching a local production of this legendary writer’s work…

Dame Helen Mirren's acting career has seen her attend the red carpet of the movie "Madres Paralelas"
(Image credit: Photo by Elisabetta A. Villa/Getty Images)

Dame Helen Mirren’s acting career has seen her embrace everything from action films to period dramas, but it seems it was a “terrible” production that first sparked her desire to perform. 

Just weeks ago British acting legend Helen Mirren proved headbands are still cool as she received a highly-prestigious Screen Actors Guild Awards' Life Achievement Award wearing a pink Prada outfit. Helen was presented with her award by Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet and despite previously claiming she "didn't deserve” the Life Achievement Award, the star looked incredibly proud to accept it after five decades spent captivating audiences.

Now Dame Helen has got candid about the "terrible" production that first inspired her to pursue her acting career as she took part in Harper’s Bazaar’s How I Got Here video series.

Cate Blanchett listens to honoree Helen Mirren accept the Life Achievement Award

(Image credit: Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

Helen explained that the world has none other than Elizabethan playwright, William Shakespeare, to thank for her remarkable performances in everything from Prime Suspect to The Queen. Whilst school children all over the globe will be familiar with studying his plays and poetry, Helen revealed that she once watched a very enlightening local production of Hamlet as a teenager. 

“I’m sure the production was terrible,” the Oscar-winner admitted. “But Shakespeare, the story of Hamlet…it was a thriller to me.” 

Despite the production itself perhaps not being as stand-out as those Helen would later go on to be a part of, this first impression of one of Shakespeare's greatest plays certainly proved eye-opening for her. She soon sought out the Shakespeare characters that resonated the most with her as she considered her future career. 

Helen Mirren attends a screening of "The Duke" at the Telluride Film Festival

(Image credit: Photo by Paul Best/Getty Images)

“I went back home and we had this huge book of Shakespeare. I went through it looking for characters I responded to. That was what led me into wanting to become an actress,” Dame Helen said.

After Shakespeare’s writing planted the seed for her idea of becoming an actor, it must’ve seemed like a dream come true for Helen when she got to play so many of his most famous characters in her early career. Back in 1976 the future Dame even starred as Ophelia in Hamlet—the very play that started it all.

But despite gracing the stage in the early years, Helen’s career then rose stratospherically and branched into small and big screen after she was cast as DCI Jane Tennison in the Lynda La Plante thriller, Prime Suspect. Still one of Helen’s most beloved roles, she was the lead character in the show for 15 years.

“I was very lucky that Prime Suspect was such an iconic moment in television,” the star explained. “In general, in the presentation of women on screen. Culturally, it was quite an important moment. It was a role that transformed how people looked at me at that time.”

Now all these years (not to mention multiple awards) later, Helen Mirren’s acting career is no doubt inspiring budding actors to enter the film industry. Looking back at her own career, however, the award-winner told Live From E! at the SAGs some pretty useful advice about maintaining your own unique voice and performance.

“Be true to yourself because in the end, that's all you have, is who you are, in the most truthful way,” she powerfully declared.

Emma Shacklock

Emma is a Royal Editor with eight years experience working in publishing. Her specialist areas include the British Royal Family, ranging from protocol to outfits. Alongside putting her royal knowledge to good use, Emma knows all there is to know about the latest TV shows on the BBC, ITV and more. When she’s not writing about the next unmissable show to add to your to-watch list or delving into royal protocol, Emma enjoys cooking, long walks and watching yet more crime dramas!