Helen Mirren

British Actors Excel at Playing Real People: They’ve Got the Oscars to Prove It

British actors aren’t strangers to Academy Award acclaim. Last weekend Eddie Redmayne, star of The Theory of Everything in which he gave a radiant performance as world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, joined the company of almost thirty of his fellow countrymen and women in winning a Best Leading Actor or Actress statuette since the honors were first bestowed 87 years ago.

Vivien Leigh won twice for her portrayal of some very famous fictional characters; in 1940 for Gone with the Wind and in 1952 for A Streetcar Named Desire. Laurence Olivier was recognized in 1949 for his interpretation of one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s characters, Hamlet.

Today, however, I want to focus on those actors, like Mr. Redmayne who have taken on the daunting challenge of playing a person who actually existed and were rewarded with a little bald golden man for their trouble. The biopic trend has been on the increase since the 1980’s but that’s not to say that people weren’t bringing history to life long before that time.

Helen Mirren Will Bring the Queen to Broadway in 2015 with ‘The Audience’

Theater lovers of America, it’s okay if you’re sometimes secretly sad that we so infrequently get the chance to see the many great British productions that go up in the West End. Sure, sometimes you get lucky and are on a UK vacation right when something grand is on, but given the sheer volume of long-running shows and ever-changing limited engagement options in London, well, we all know we’re missing out on something incredible pretty much nearly all the time.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of outfits such as the National Theatre Live program or various Fathom Event promotions, we do occasionally get the opportunity to see simulcasts of particularly popular British theatrical productions on a significant scale in America – both Helen McCrory’s Medea and Gillian Anderson’s A Streetcar Named Desire were recently screened nationwide, and Danny Boyle’s brilliant production of Frankenstein is about to get another round of encore runs in honor of Halloween (and the fact that the Benedict Cumberbatch-led production consistently sells out houses all over the country). But, as much as we love it, it’s just not the same.

However, sometimes, a particularly popular or acclaimed British production will be picked up and recreated on Broadway, giving American fans with the ability and desire to go to New York the chance to see the show in person for themselves. Most recently, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe reprised his leading role in The Cripple of Inishmaan last winter, but come 2015, the Great White Way is going to get a little bit more regal.

More Amazing British Actors Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Creative Ways

The online furor surrounding the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – an awareness-raising charity event in which you are nominated to dump water over your head and donate to support research and treatment of the neurodegenerative disease ALS – may have settled down to a dull roar over the past week, but the viral event is by no means finished.

A slew of notable British actors have already partaken in the challenge, cheerfully dousing themselves and writing checks for a good cause, and now an even greater number have signed on, including several of the most iconic performers you could possibly think of. (Though, sadly, no Maggie Smith as yet. At least we still have something to hope for. )

Anyway, here’s a second complication of British ice bucket efforts, including such luminaries as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart, Dame Helen Mirren, Doctor Who star Karen Gillan and Helena Bonham Carter, among many other familiar faces.

Click through, watch and rank your faves.

Celebrate 50 Years of the National Theatre with Every British Actor Ever

Well, not quite. But that’s what it feels like.

Britain’s National Theatre celebrates its 50th anniversary this year – much like several other British greats, including the Rolling Stones and, of course, Doctor Who. For those that don’t know, the NT is one of the UK’s two most prominent publicly funded theatre companies, alongside the Royal Shakespeare Company. It presents a varied program, staging everything from Shakespeare and international classic dramas to new and modern works by contemporary playwrights.

Saturday night the BBC ran an all-star gala event in celebration of the British theatrical institution – which has featured many of the UK’s acting greats treading its boards over the years – crossing the half-century mark and it was basically a dream program for anyone who has ever been any sort of fan of British film, television or drama. The celebration featured snippets from some of the NT’s most celebrated plays and musicals from the past fifty years, performed by a wide array of British acting greats. Dame Judi Dench sang Send in the Clowns from Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Dame Maggie Smith (one of the six members of the original NT company in 1963) performed a scene from The Beaux Strategem. Dame Helen Mirren did a scene from Mourning Becomes Electra. James Corden reprised his role from One Man, Two Guvnors, Alan Bennett performed Richard Griffith’s famous role from The History Boys. Michael Gambon and Sir Derek Jacobi did a scene from Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land together. Joey, the amazing puppet from War Horse, put in an appearance. And that’s not even close to everyone who participated. All in all, you couldn’t ask for a more magical evening.

Watch a video montage of scenes from the gala’s rehearsals and play spot the famous face as you go.

Watch Helen Mirren Play the Queen Again in The Audience, Broadcast to Cinemas Worldwide

Dame Helen Mirren is famous for many things, but most people (especially in America) probably know her best from her Academy Award-winning turn as Queen Elizabeth II in the 2006 film The Queen. So it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that when Mirren took up the crown again. reprising her role as the British monarch for a new West End production called The Audience, tickets sold out pretty quickly.

Written by British playwright Peter Morgan – who also wrote the script for The QueenThe Audience centers on the weekly meetings (audiences) given by Queen Elizabeth to her prime ministers, from her accession in 1952 to the present day. These audiences are private and strictly confidential, and the play imagines what those conversations might have been like. Since the Queen has had twelve Prime Ministers thus far during her reign – there are certainly plenty of stories to go around. From Winston Churchill to David Cameron, each Prime Minister has used these meetings differently, and while politicians come and go through the revolving door of electoral politics, the Queen remains constant. Mirren won Best Actress at the 2013 Olivier Awards for her performance in this role, which requires her to play Queen Elizabeth both as a fresh-faced twenty-something monarch new come to the throne, an octogenarian with six decades of experience under her belt, and everything in between.

National Theatre Live will be broadcasting the June 13 performance of The Audience live to various cinemas around the world. Many American theaters – who tend not to show the live broadcasts the day they air – are offering encore presentations at various dates in June and July.

Watch a trailer for the production below.