Helen Mirren On How 9/11 Pushed Her To Become a U.S. Citizen

Helen Mirren is beyond proud to be an American citizen.

The 76-year-old British Oscar winner officially became an American citizen in 2017.

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“My husband [Taylor Hackford] is American. My stepchildren are obviously American. My nephew lived in America, worked in America,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

“So I had certainly been an American resident for a very long time.”

The actress adds, “When I understood, which I hadn’t quite grasped before, that I could be a British citizen and an American citizen — because I would not like to give up my British citizenship — then I thought, ‘Well, that’s great. That’s the perfect world.’ “

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Mirren shares how it was “so moving” when she finally received her American citizenship. “I didn’t realize how profound a feeling it would be,” she recalls. “It brought up feelings of patriotism that I didn’t think I had. I think it was to do with the intrinsic generosity of America.”

Mirren was living in New York City, performing in a play, during the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

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“I saw the second tower come down,” she says, looking back. “I had an epiphany. I realized where my allegiance and my heart and my intellect lay in that confrontation between extremism, religiosity — all those things and everything that America represents.”

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“And I thought, ‘I’m an American,’ ” Mirren adds. “I got an American flag, and I put it outside my window.”

On Feb. 27, Mirren will be honored with the Life Achievement Award by the Screen Actors Guild.

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“It’s a pinnacle,” Mirren shares with the outlet. “From a pinnacle, you’ve only got two choices and that’s down or up to the clouds. Having said that, it’s a great pinnacle to find yourself standing on.”

Mirren is the most decorated SAG Life Achievement recipient to date, with an impressive total of 13 SAG Awards nominations and five SAG Awards acting wins.

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