Helen Mirren Said It Was Difficult for Then-Boyfriend Liam Neeson "to Be Under My Shadow"
#TBT: Check in every Thursday as we throw it back to some of our favorite celebrity couples of all time.
Who: Oscar, Emmy, BAFTA, and SAG Award-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren, 74, and Oscar-nominated actor Liam Neeson, 67.
How They Met: The actors, both of whom are from the U.K., met on the set of 1981 adventure film Excalibur. It was Neeson’s first movie role. Of meeting Mirren, he’s gushed about how quickly he fell for the actress on multiple occasions. He first saw her on stage as Lady Macbeth. "She was so sexy. I thought, 'Gosh, that's Helen Mirren'! She was as beautiful up close as on stage. Just so human. I was in love with this extraordinary human being," he told The New York Times. Seeing her in her costume for the first time on set, he said he went, “Oh f—k,” adding, “I was smitten.” In a 60 Minutes segment he told Anderson Cooper, “I fell in love with Helen Mirren. Oh my God. Can you imagine riding horses in shiny suits of armor, having sword fights and stuff, and you're falling in love with Helen Mirren? It doesn't get any better than that.”
Why We Loved Them: Not only is there no bitterness between these two, there’s genuine camaraderie. The two appeared on the same episode of The Graham Norton Show in early 2018 and reminisced about their “serious” four-year relationship, the sex scene that was inexplicably cut (!) from their film, and how hot Mirren was/is.
Mirren, as recently as October, has tenderly shared anecdotes about a camping trip she took with Neeson in the ‘80s. “I like camping with Liam Neeson,” she said, though considering that the car they took and the tent they slept in weren't quite Liam-Neeson-sized, he may not recall the trip quite as fondly. (Neeson is 6'4".)
Another highly important (and hopefully true) note: according to Neeson, Muhammad Ali once tried to "pull my girl" (said "girl' being Mirren). Neeson, a big fan of Ali's, said that when they met, the boxer "proceeded to flirt with Helen in such an overt way that I guess I should have been annoyed. But all I could think was, 'Wow, Muhammad Ali is trying to pull my girl. How cool is that!'”
When They Peaked: Mirren truly took newcomer Neeson under her wing. She encouraged him to move to London (and live with her) and helped him get an agent. So Schindler’s List? Taken? We can basically credit Mirren for those contributions to the canon.
The Breakup: Despite Mirren’s help, Neeson struggled to book jobs. "It was difficult for him to be under my shadow,"Mirren told The New York Times. "I was well known; I had the money." Of course, that would soon change, but Mirren "had a sense from Liam that it was time for him to come out from under my wing.” After nealy half a decade together, the actor duo split. “He handled it with great elegance and grace. We loved each other. It was difficult to let go," Mirren continued.
VIDEO: Helen Mirren Debuts Pink Hair at Cannes Film Festival, and Looks Absolutely Ageless
Where They Are Now: Soon after splitting from Neeson, Mirren met her future husband, director Taylor Hackford, on the set of 1985’s White Nights. They wed in 1997 and have been together ever since.
Mirren’s latest film, The Good Liar, is currently in theaters. She also stars in HBO miniseries Catherine the Great, which aired last month.
Neeson went on to date Julia Roberts and Brooke Shields before meeting his eventual wife, actress Natasha Richardson. They wed in 1994 and welcomed two sons: Micheál Richardson, 24, and Daniel Neeson, 23. Sadly, Natasha passed away in 2009 after suffering a head injury while skiing in Canada.
Next up for Neeson is festival favorite Ordinary Love alongside Lesley Manville.