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Helen Mirren is an Oscar-winning British actor known for The Queen, Gosford Park, and Hitchcock (not the one with Will Smith). She is also in major franchises such as Shazam and Bruce Willis’ Red. In many ways, her first major franchise was Fast and Furious. And she didn’t leave landing a role in that series up to chance.

Mirren is a lifelong automotive enthusiast. She is a fan of British cars such as Jaguars and McLarens, especially proper “gearshift cars” as she says. She admits she often has to keep herself from driving too fast. As the Fast franchise grew, she dreamed of getting onboard.

The Fast franchise has attracted superstars such as Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, John Cena, and Jason Momoa. It’s also enlisted Oscar winner Charlize Theron, Oscar nominee Vanessa Kriby, and Golden Globe winner Idris Elba. Thus the Fast and Furious cinematic universe has expanded to include dozens of villains and anti-heroes. But one family stands out as a sort of dark mirror to the Torettos of Los Angeles: the Shaw family of East London.

Vin Diesel and Helen Mirren filming the Fast X movie.
Vin Diesel and Helen Mirren | MEGA/GC Images

Audiences first met Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) as the heist-planning villain of Fast & Furious 6. Then Furious 7 revolved around his special-forces brother Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) declaring war on Dominic Toretto. The standalone Hobbs & Shaw film introduced their sister, Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby). The family is held together by matriarch Queenie Shaw (Helen Mirren), a character Mirren helped create by leaning on her own background.

But before Helen Mirren could create her own character, she had to get hired to star in the franchise. And that required convincing star and producer, Vin Diesel.

“I didn’t ask, I begged! I think I was at some function, and he was there, and I got introduced to him. And I was shameless: ‘Oh God, I’d just love to be in one of your movies! Please let me be in it.’ And then Vin, with that beautiful, deep voice of his, said: ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ And he did it for me. He found this great little role for me, which was perfect. I’d just never done anything like that before — one of those big, big movies. And, in my vanity, I just loved driving and really wanted to do my own driving in a fast car.”

Helen Mirren, Hollywood Reporter

Vin Diesel and the filmmakers recognized that Mirren would be a perfect fit for Deckar, Owen, and Hattie’s mother. But they didn’t have a clear vision for the character. Luckily, Mirren did. She borrowed the name from a favorite aunt: Queenie. She said she based the character’s speech and mannerisms on her extended family who hailed from London’s East End. After the fact, she admitted that, “Some of them were criminals.”

So far, Queenie Shaw has been introduced in The Fate of the Furious, was broken out of jail during Hobbs & Shaw, was in a car chase to help out Dominic Toretto during F9, and even appeared in the latest film, Fast X. With the second part of the franchise finale in production, we can only hope we get to see Queenie Shaw one more time.

You can see Helen Mirren take a lap on Top Gear in the video below: