Born Ilynea Lydia Mironoff on July 26, 1945, in London, Mirren is a descendant of the White Russian nobility. Her father was a member of an aristocratic Russian military family who came to England during the Russian Revolution, but while Mirren was growing up, he worked in turn as a violinist with the London Philharmonic, a taxi driver, and a driving instructor. His daughter, on the other hand, knew her true calling by the age of six, when she realized she wanted to become an actress, in the "old-fashioned and traditional sense." After trying to please her parents with a stint at a teacher's college, Mirren joined the National Youth Theatre, where she first made her mark playing Cleopatra. The acclaim for her performance led the way to other work, and she was soon a member of the vaunted Royal Shakespeare Company, with whom she performed a wide range of classics.