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Oscars 2012: 15 Icons Recount the Night That Changed Their Lives Forever

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    Helen Mirren
    Helen Mirren
    Kurt Iswarienko
    The Crown Jewel
    Helen Mirren (4 Nominations, 1 Win)

    The Burger Queen. That was the moniker Mirren earned in the British tabloids when she was seen wolfing down a hamburger right after winning her 2007 best actress Academy Award for playing Elizabeth II in The Queen. The actress hadn’t learned the insider’s trick to surviving the Oscars: bring food.

    “It’s five hours long!” she said at the time. It’s also incredibly stressful. “I’ve been on the carpet with other actresses now that I see are just shaking with fear and nerves,” says Mirren. “It’s so frightening the first time; it’s so big. You’re afraid of having to go up there and say ‘Thank you’ and of the words that are going to come out of your mouth. In a weird way you’re like, ‘Please, God, don’t let it be me!’ ”

    Clearly, God overruled her. And ever since, Mirren, 66, an appealing mix of regal and real, has been extremely grateful, though she’s aware Oscar can be a “poisoned chalice” that consigns actresses to fusty, awards-worthy roles. Maybe that’s why she turned her image on its head with an action role in 2010’s RED (the cast of which is returning for a sequel) or as a madam in husband Taylor Hackford’s 2010 Love Ranch — or most notably in Funny or Die’s recent parody of When Harry Met Sally … where she plays a vampire who gives Billy Crystal eternal life under the tagline “Getting old sucks.”

    She stars next in Istvan Szabo’s drama The Door and as Phil Spector’s defense lawyer in the HBO biopic of the infamous music producer. Mirren, the daughter of a Russian diplomat-turned-London cabbie who, in her youth, was known for being anti-establishment and anti-monarchist, has softened a bit: She had tea and cucumber sandwiches with the queen and even received an honorary title from her in 2003. With four nominations in all (including for 1994’s The Madness of King George, 2002’s Gosford Park and 2010’s The Last Station), she might not quite be British royalty, but she’s a hell of a Dame. — Leslie Bruce

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