Imelda Staunton

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Although Imelda Staunton was named best actress six times over and received Golden Globe and Oscar nods for her riveting performance in Vera Drake, she made it clear that there was no way a move to Hollywood was on the cards.

"I'm sorry, but I've just had the best job of my life," says the diminutive actress of her work with director Mike Leigh. "And I don't particularly want to use it to turn up as the token mad Englishwoman in a very big American film." The feisty star remained true to her words when she turned down a role opposite Nicole Kidman in 2005's Bewitched.

Born on January 9, 1956, Imelda grew up in one of the many working-class Irish immigrant families which had settled in London's Archway district, close to where Vera Drake is set. She was the only child of mother Bridie who worked as a hairdresser and labourer father Joe.

Despite the fact that her mum sang and played both the fiddle and the accordion, the family had little history of the performing arts. However, Imelda's rich imagination, love of song and admiration for classic screen idols Bette Davis and Vivien Leigh inspired her to become actress. She was encouraged in her goal by the elocution teacher at her convent school who spotted her blooming talent and encouraged her to take a stab at drama college. At age 18 she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), plunging into six years of repertory theatre upon graduation.

In 1982 Imelda's hilarious show-stopping portrayal of Miss Adelaide in Frank Loesser's chorus-line classic Guys And Dolls brought her critical acclaim plus romance. She and fellow actor Jim Carter became an item and married three years later. Their daughter, Bessie, was born in 1993.

"We've been lucky because we've both always worked," says Imelda. "It can be difficult when one half of an acting couple is more successful than the other, and much more difficult when the successful one is the woman. But we've been alright. We've been married 20 years and only been apart for three weeks."

Determined not to be pigeon-holed, Imelda has chosen her roles carefully during her 30-year-career, and in the process garnered acclaim for portrayals as diverse as the late Queen Mother in Cambridge Spies and Mrs Micawber in David Copperfield. Her prolific stage career has also born fruit, netting her three Olivier Awards - England's most prestigious theatre gong.

She has also enjoyed considerable success on the big-screen in supporting roles ranging from Gwyneth Paltrow's bustling nurse in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love to Bunty the bossy hen the animated hit Chicken Run. But according to Imelda, her biggest career landmark to date is Vera Drake. It's director, Mike Leigh, has a reputation for being notoriously unorthodox in his approach to filmmaking and Vera Drake was filmed without a script. It took nine months to make - six to rehearse, three to film - but for Imelda it was a dream come true.

"Stretching me in this way, making the whole of my brain work, being able to invent a character and to inhabit it so completely - it's never happened before. I lapped it up. I absolutely adored it... it's extremely empowering for an actor," she says."
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