AFTER a stately progression from award show to award show, in which she demonstrated how to be gracious, witty and still sexy at 61, Helen Mirren finally ascended to the gold circle Sunday, picking up the Oscar for best actress for her performance as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen."
It's been a long time coming for Mirren, who has won almost every other acting award on the planet, including the Golden Globe, the Emmy and Britain's BAFTA award. She had been nominated twice before for the Oscar.
From the beginning of her career, the commanding Mirren has played royalty, starting with Shakespeare's Cleopatra at the age of 20, for the National Youth Theater, and moving on to Lady Macbeth, Gertrude and the Roman Empress Caesonia, as well as two other queens of England, Elizabeth I in the recent HBO miniseries and Queen Charlotte in "The Madness of King George." She also launched a renaissance of tough lady detectives with her portrayal of the brilliant, stoic policewoman Jane Tennison in the public television series "Prime Suspect."
Mirren met Queen Elizabeth II when she was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2003. She initially demurred when asked to play the career-making part in Stephen Frears' movie, "just because it's such a hot potato," she told The Times in 2006. "You know you're going to be under such scrutiny. In England, the media has such an obsession with the monarchy, so it is dangerous."