Dame Helen Mirren

  1. Susannah York, Sebastian, 1967.        Her outstanding  Cleopatra at the Old Vic in 1965, pushed Mirren towards movies, She was among many testing and  director David Greene wanted her. Instead, his producer, Michael Powell, decided to launch Helen  in his next film, Age of Consent, 1969.
  2. Patty Duke, Valley of the Dolls, 1967.
  3. Pamela Stephenson, Virgin Soldiers, 1969.     Things were slowing down, internationally, and all London offers wanted her to strip, please. And not always please…
  4. Anna Calder-Marshall, Wuthering Heights 1970.     Helen refused Catherine Earnshaw and was delighted  that her friend got it.  “I have been mainly in second-class films, but what can you do?”
  5. Anna Massey, Frenzy, 1971.  Mirren rejected Babs Milligan in at the damp squib of a chiller.   And 44 years later she was his wife, Alma Reville, in Hitchcock, 2012.   Poor Alfred Hitchcock, making his 52nd, most nude  and penultimate film  – and the first in Britain for 16 year – must have been staggered to be rejected by so many UK stars… Mirren, Michael Caine, David Hemmings, Laurence Olivier,..  Mirren, alone, regretted her decision. 
  6. Susan George, Straw Dogs, 1971.  
    Sweet Sue was too strong –  heroic enough to save the day for Dustin Hoffman as her milque-toast husband… but wary, like others, of  how far director Sam Peckinpah wanted to push the rape scene. Hoffman confessed to making it just for the money but still objected to his Mr Milque-toast having such a nymphettish wife. Sweet little Sue, however, was made of sterner stuff. She fought Hollywood heavyweight Peckinpah and bravely said she’d quit rather than agree to his overly explicit portrayal of her rape.  Peckinpah gave in and kept his camera on her face, not her body.  Cuts by the UK censor then made the (three minute) sequence worse by actually implying sodomy.  (Irish censors cut the entire scene and a global video release was banned until… 2002). Jacqueline Bisset, Judy Geeson Linda Hayden, Judy Huxtable, Jennie Linden, Hayley Mills, Helen Mirren, Charlotte Rampling and Carol White were, inevitably,   also in the mix for Amy – the name of Sue’s future production  company.

  7. Jane Seymour, Live and Let Die, 1973.
  8. Beth Morris, I, Claudius, TV, 1976.      Ironically, when BBC directorHerbert Wise asked her to play Caligula’s sister, Drusilla, Helen was shooting The Collection with (her future lover) Malcolm McDowell…When he was Caligula, 1979, she played his wife, Caesonia.
  9. Linda Bellingham, Confessions of A Taxi Driver, 1976.    Helen’s fame for acting in the nude had the main two UK softcore sex-comedy teams chasing her for a quick flash. “The box-office calls for nudity and the public like to see people taking their clothes off. There is no British film industry. So you take what you can get. “ Not always.
  10. Hilary Pritchard, Adventures of a Private Eye, 1977.    Now it was Stanley  Long, producer of the Adventures series – rival to the Confessions – trying to go up market with Helen as a housewife-cum-dominatrix called Sally.  “It’s rather boring really, being a housewife. How about a bit of Last Tango In Paris? I’ve got loads of butter in the fridge!”  Not to mention a whip.

  11. Sally Field, Heroes, 1977. The subject was important – the plight of Vietnam veterans. The take was awful. New York Times critic Vincent Canby called it “a frighteningly bad film because it could well be the definitive theatrical motion picture of the future” – full of the TV “acting” of Field and Henry Winkler. Canby was kinder to Harrison Ford: “effective in a supporting role too small to make the picture worth seeing.”
  12. Meryl Streep, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1981. It took a dozen years (and directors, from Lindsay Anderson to Fred Zinnemann) to adapt John Fowles’ unfilmable novel. UK helmer Karel Reisz and playwright Harold Pinter spent all of 1979 solving it, dropping versions by Dennis Potter, etc, and turning the lovers into dual roles – matching the affair of two actors filming the affair of the titular, Victorian heroine. First thoughs for Sarah/Anna were Mirren, Francesca Annis, Gemma Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. Fowles liked Mirren, but saw Sarah’s independence and freedom from convention as American and fell for Streep Shakespearing in Central Park. “So audacious, so free… a range of temperament that is very rare, and a very special sort of daring.” Despite gaining her first Best Actress nod, Streep felt this among her weakest portrayals. By 2017, she had won 20 nominations and three Oscars.
  13. Veronica Cartwright, Alien, 1978.    In the mix for Lambert alongside Cartwright, who had previously be in the Ripley mix for Ridley Scott’s perfect sf movie.
  14. Sheila Ruskin, Doctor Who #114: The Keeper of the Traken, TV, 1981.    She declined The Keeper’s wife Kassia in good company: Glenda Jackson, Helen Mirren, Fiona Walker and two Avengers, Joanna Lumley and Diana Rigg! They all decided against opening Season 18 with Doc4 Tom Baker.
  15. Lauren Hutton, Tout feu, tout flamme (All Fired Up), France, 1981.     “I liked her,” said casting director Dominque Besnehard. “She spoke French very well, she had an air of [his great friend] Nathalie Baye about her. But [director] Jean-Paul Rappeneau didn’t find her sexy.” She later won two Cannes Best Actress awards and, of course, the 2007 Oscar for The Queen.
  16. Patricia Hodge, Betrayal, 1982.     With Julie Christie and Meryl Streep gone (with potential directors Mike Nichols, Louis Malle), Mirren and Hodge entered the list for producer Sam Spiegel’s ill-chosen film… from  Harold Pinter’s  semi-autobiographical play examining a  love affair – in  reverse. This being Sam Spiegel’s final production did not  improve his manners. Ever the gent, he  rejected Helen because “her butt was too big for the part.” Spiegel’s own posterior well nigh covered the waterfront… 
  17. Maggie Smith, The Missionary, 1982.    Frequent Terry Gilliam composer, Ray Cooper, suggested Helen or Faye Dunaway as Lady Ames.   Writer-star Michael Palin preferred Maggie for what he almost called The Missionary Position. “She knows nothing about me, yet is expected to help create with me the complex relationship… at the heart of the story.” They get on so well, they make Alan Bennett’s A Private Function, 1984.  Maggie reminded Palin of his late sister Angela: “Bright, but brittle.”
  18. Nerys Hughes, Doctor Who #118: Kinda, TV, 1982.   Asked to be Todd opposite Doc5 Peter Davison… on Deva Loka, a sylvan paradise planet with no predators, diseases… or good motorways.
  19. Tara Ward, Doctor Who #130: Warriors of The Deep, 1984. Yes, difficult to imagine, but there was a time when Dame Helen was like any other young actress, grubbing for work to put food on the table. And so, for Doc5 Peter Davison’s finale, she found herself among 18 stunners being shuffled for Preston… Ward, Lynda Bellingham, Sarah Berger, Isla Blair, Suzanne Danielle, Patricia Finnegan, Georgina Hale, Jenny Hanley, Diane Keen, Rula Lenska (Dr Styles in #133: Resurrection of the Daleks, TV, 1984), Susan Penhaligon (Lakis in #64: The Time Monster, 1972), Pamlea Salem, Susan Skipper, Catherine Schell (Countess Scarlioni in #105: City of Death, 1979), Primi Townsend (Mula in #99: The Pirate Planet, 1978), Wanda Ventham (mother of Benedict Cumberbatch), Fiona Walker.
  20. Polly James, Doctor Who #131: The Awakening, TV, 1983. Imagine Glenda Jackson and Helen Mirren up for the same Whoverse role. Plus Bond ladies, Honor Blackman, Judi Dench, Diana Rigg and Pamela Salem. Well, producer John Nathan-Taylor had a female casting/dart) board, as well as one for guys.   As proved by his 18 choices for Jane Humpden in Doc5 Peter Davison’s four-parter in half (by simply axing the Daleks)… The others were Lynda Bellingham, James, Eleanor Bron, Pauline Collins, Diane Keen, Jean Marsh, Sheila Ruskin, Barbara Shelley, Sylvia Syms, Wanda Ventham (the mother of Benedict Cumberbatch), Fiona Walker, Penelope Wilton.

  21. Susan Woolridge, The Jewel in the Crown, TV, 1984.    Too busy this time, butshe joined Charles Dance two years later on Pascali’s Island.
  22. Isabella Rossellini, Blue Velvet, 1985.   The legend varies…  1.  Auteur David Lynch’s first choice for Dorothy Valens was the German star Hanna Schyguylla.  2. Lynch wrote Dorothy for Harry but she‘d had enough of weirdoes. 3. He moved on to Karen Allen, Rebecca De Mornay, Jodie Foster, Debbie Harry, Helen Hunt, Angelica Huston, Diane Keaton, Helen Mirren, Cybill Shepherd, Sissy Spacek, Sigourney Weaver, Debra Winger – most found Dorothy’s script way too erotic.  4.Lynch then met Isa in a NYC restaurant and fell head over clapperboard in love.  Literally.
  23. Anjelica Huston, The Witches, 1988.  Olivja  Hussey topped  author Ronald Dahl’s wish list for Miss Ernst, aka The Grand High Witch. However, Anjelica was on Nic Roeg’s list. And he was the director!  He took his time combing through the 13 other candidates:  From Linda Blair (little Regan grew up to be a witch?), Genevieve Bujold, Cher, Frances Conroy, Faye Dunaway, Jodie Foster, Liza Minnelli, Susan Sarandpn, Sigourney Weaver to true Brits Fiona Fullerton, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave… and the sole Black star considered, Eartha Kitt.  Together with Bancroft, they all escaped eight  hours of make-up each  day!  Appalled by the vulgar bad taste and :actual terror” in the film, Dahl threatened to take his name off it.  Jim Henson talked him out  of it for the Muppeteer’s final production.
  24. Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise, 1990.
  25. Joan Collins, Decadence, 1993.       Passed on Steven Berkoff’s play-into-film allowing Joanie to emerge, said Variety, with the greatest credit in a role tailor-made to her talents.   “Truth is, she’d be a much bigger star if she’d been attached to an industry which believed in the power of women,” said TV pundit Barry Norman. “The first sin in Hollywood is to be old. The second is to look old. And she still looks terrific!”
  26. Madge Sinclair, The Lion King, 1993. Also in the mix to voice Queen Sarabi in the 32nd Disney toon were Virginia McKenna and Vanessa Redgrave. Sinclair was also queen to James Earl Jones’ king in Coming To America, 1988. In TV history books as the first woman starship captain in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 1986, the Jamaican actress died of leukemia in 1995. As a measure of respect, Disney refused to cast another actress and deleted Sarabi from The Lion King sequel.
  27. Suzanne Pleshette, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, 1997. The first triumphed as Bambi meets Hamlet in Africa, the sequel turned Kovu and Kiara into Romeo and Juliet. Mirren and Bette Midler were seen (heard?) about voicing Kovu’s vengeful mother, Zira.
  28. Charlotte Rampling, The Cherry Orchard, 1999.     Part of the project from the get go, she was in rehearsals when the Greek director, Mivhaerl Cacoyannis, declared no one could leave Bulgaria during the three month shoot. Helen left. Immediately! Ranyevskaya went to Charlotte after Glenn Close passed.
  29. Isabelle Huppert, La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher), Austria-France-Germany, 2000.    Before Michael Haneke won the rights, another Austrian – actor-director Paulus Manker – tried to mount  his version of Elfriede Jelinek novel.  With Mirren or Kathleen Turner as the titular masochist.  Mirren passd. She’d had enough of  perversity with The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, 1988.  Haneke thought they were both too old. Mirren was 55, Huppert was 47 – a year older than Turner, who, admittedly, has always  looked older. 
  30. Penelope Wilton, Shaun of the Dead, 2003.   HM (well, she is majestical) replied to director Edgart Wright’s invitation to play Barbara…. No thank you. She didn’t want to be Nick Frost’s mother. She wanted to be Nick. ”Because he has funnier lines.” “The reaction to the film was extraordinary,” the star ans co-writer Simon Pegg told The Guardian in 2020.  “George Romero loved it and I saw a picture of Stephen King wearing a Shaun of the T-shirt. I’d made it on to the chest of a horror master!”  Wilton went on to be Isobel Crawley in Downton Abbey. (I’m a Crawley and used to live in an English town called Wilton).

  31. Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada, 2005.      Helen and Kim Basinger (no less!)were on the list to be Miranda Priestly, editor of Runway magazine – a thinly disguised of Vogue’s editor Anna Wintour… aka Nuclear Wintour.
  32. Lena Olin, Awake, 2006.     Score one for Sweden…!   Lena beat off two other great dames – one a real Dame,Helen, and Sigourney Weaver – up for Hayden Christensen’s mother.
  33. Mariah Carey, Precious, 2008.     A singing diva to replace a British Dame.. .No one would have suggested that – except director Lee Daniels. When Helen had to withdraw as social worker Mrs Weiss from his emotional heart-breaker, Lee sent for Mariah due to her equally powerful work inhis Tennessee production in 2007.
  34. Felicity Kendal, Doctor Who #194: The Unicorn and the Wasp, TV, 2008.      Lady Eddison was first offered to Helen in the country manor whodunnit.   Among the guests… Agatha Christie, herself.  When she goes missing, Doc10 David Tennant goes a-hunting.  
  35. Lindsay Duncan, Doctor Who #201: The Waters of Mars, TV, 2009.      Scenarist Russell T Davies created the Russian Valentina Kerenski for Mirren (her paternal grandparents were Russian) in Doc10 David Tennant’s visit to Bowie Base One on Mars. Valentina was a tad too close to Mirren’s 2010 rôle of Tanya Kirbuk. So Davies re-named her Grace, then Adelaide and… well, in all her 125 screen roles (up tp 2017), Dame Helen never set foot in the Whoverse. She did, though, get the 2,488th star on Hollywood Boulevard!








 Birth year: Death year: Other name: Casting Calls:  35