Mikhail Ulyanov was born on 20 November, 1927 in the village of Bergamak in Omsk oblast. Ulyanov’s father worked as the chairman of the village workers' cooperative, and was chairman of the Executive Committee of the City Soviet of People’s Deputies for the city of Tara. His mother, Elizaveta Mikhailovna, was a homemaker.
There wasn’t a theatre in the little Siberian town of Tara, where Mikhail Ulyanov grew up, but Mikhail went to the performances of the Tobolsk Theatre, which came to Tara on tour, and became interested in acting professionally. When the war began, and a company of evacuated Ukrainian actors from the Zankovetskiy Theatre of Lvov came to the city, the theatre’s director, Evgeniy Prosvetov organized a local theatre studio.Ulyanov became a student of the studio, and with time Prosvetov advised Ulyanov to apply to the theatre studio in Omsk. Ulyanov took the director’s advice.
Having studied for several years in Omsk, in August 1946 Mikhail Ulyanov arrived in Moscow. The only studio in Moscow that he had heard about was Aleksey Dikiy’s. Upon realizing that he had passed away long ago, Ulyanov tried to apply to the Shchepkin Theatre College, but after only two rounds of auditions he wasn’t taken. He tried to apply to a studio at MXAT, but there he was also not accepted. Ulyanov’s further fate was decided by chance. After his unsuccessful audition attempts, Ulyanov met one of his acquaintances on the Arbat, who told Mikhail about the Shchukin Theatre College within the Vakhtangov State Academic Theatre.
On graduated from the college, Ulyanov was taken into the theatre, and in his very first season in the theatre, the young actor played primarily in crowd scenes and serials. The first serious role with which he was entrusted in the theatre was Kirov, in the play “Fortress on the Volga.”