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Culture & Religion

Helen Mirren on Sex and Perception

Though Helen Mirren has a reputation for being something of a libertine, she sees herself as a straight-laced, hard working actress from an immigrant family—a bit Jew and Gypsy, too.

What’s the Latest Development?

In her newest film, Helen Mirren stars as an agent at Israel’s national intelligence agency, the Mossad. As her true life grandfather was a czarist colonel in Russia, her background already includes some international intrigue. And while she isn’t aware of any direct Jewish ancestry, she wouldn’t be surprised to find it—on her English side. “My mum came from the working-class East End of London, where the Jewish immigrants began their journey in English society. I’ve always thought I might have either some Jewish or some Gypsy, one or the other.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Mirren has a reputation as something of a libertine but it is an image she eschews. When she brought her mother to the set of Caligula, which Mirren was staring in at the time, she found the atmosphere very relaxed. She was given the nickname ‘the Sex Queen of Stratford’ while performing Shakespeare in the Bard’s hometown. She replies: “I think that was created independently of what I was doing. It wasn’t something that I created or that came from my behavior. I was just a really hard-working, dedicated young Shakespearean actress.”


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