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A member of one of the world's most acclaimed acting dynasties, Joely Richardson was a late bloomer in her family's chosen profession, but by the early 1990s and into the next century she established herself as a skilled performer, capable of tackling both period roles and modern day characters in features and on television. Her first major role was as a murderess in the art house favorite "Drowning By Numbers" (1988), and despite Hollywood's tendency to cast her in lighthearted roles like "101 Dalmatians" (1996), she did her best work in darker, more nuanced material like "Sister My Sister" (Channel 4, 1994) and "The Echo" (BBC, 1998). Her best known role - as the conflicted Julie McNamara on "Nip/Tuck" (FX, 2003-2010) - earned her both critical acclaim and widespread exposure, though Richardson appeared to favor substantive work over fame. As a result, she remained among the more widely respected actresses and earned more prestigious roles as a result. But as her career was moving along, Richardson suffered a tragic loss when her sister, actress Natasha Richardson, died from an epidural hematoma as the result of a skiing accident. With the eyes of the world on the famous family, Richardson returned...
A member of one of the world's most acclaimed acting dynasties, Joely Richardson was a late bloomer in her family's chosen profession, but by the early 1990s and into the next century she established herself as a skilled performer, capable of tackling both period roles and modern day characters in features and on television. Her first major role was as a murderess in the art house favorite "Drowning By Numbers" (1988), and despite Hollywood's tendency to cast her in lighthearted roles like "101 Dalmatians" (1996), she did her best work in darker, more nuanced material like "Sister My Sister" (Channel 4, 1994) and "The Echo" (BBC, 1998). Her best known role - as the conflicted Julie McNamara on "Nip/Tuck" (FX, 2003-2010) - earned her both critical acclaim and widespread exposure, though Richardson appeared to favor substantive work over fame. As a result, she remained among the more widely respected actresses and earned more prestigious roles as a result. But as her career was moving along, Richardson suffered a tragic loss when her sister, actress Natasha Richardson, died from an epidural hematoma as the result of a skiing accident. With the eyes of the world on the famous family, Richardson returned to work, playing Queen Katherine Parr on "The Tudors" (Showtime, 2007-2010) and co-starring in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011), which helped underscore the enormity of her talent.
Born Jan. 9, 1965 in London, England, Richardson and older sister Natasha Richardson were the daughters of actress Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson, best known for helming "Tom Jones" (1963). Her extended family included such theater and film luminaries as grandparents Sir Michael Redgrave and Rachel Kempson, Aunt Lynn Redgrave, and cousin Jemma Redgrave. Richardson made her film debut at the age of three as an extra in her father's production of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1968), but did not pursue it as a career until much later in life. Education at the exclusive Thacher School in California came first, followed by an interest in sports - specifically gymnastics and professional tennis. But by 1985, she was developing a desire to explore the family business, and made her credited feature debut as a waitress in her father's adaptation of the John Irving novel, "The Hotel New Hampshire" (1984). The following year, she was featured in flashbacks as the younger version of her mother's role in David Hare's "Weatherby" (1985).
More roles soon followed in smaller independent features and on television, where Richardson starred in the sitcom "Kin of the Castle" (BBC, 1987) and the miniseries "Behaving Badly" (Channel 4, 1989) with Judi Dench. After joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1986, Richardson landed her first lead in cult favorite Peter Greeaway's offbeat "Drowning By Numbers" (1988), in which she starred as one of three women, all named Cissie Colpitts, who each murder their husbands by drowning them. The exposure brought her to the attention of Hollywood, though most of her early efforts there - including "King Ralph" (1991), "Shining Through" (1992) and the bowdlerized, non-musical version of James L. Brooks' "I'll Do Anything" (1994) - offered little interest to both the actress and the audience. Richardson also attracted negative press for a 1990 affair with Scottish landowner Archie Stirling, which resulted in the dissolution of his marriage to actress Diana Rigg. Two years later, she was married to Working Title co-founder Tim Bevan, with whom she had a daughter named Daisy. The union lasted until 1997.
She found more engaging work on television in her native country. Performances as "Lady Chatterley" (BBC, 1993) and as one of two sisters who murder their employers in the chilling "Sister My Sister" earned her critical raves. Within a year's time, she was back in America to play the adoptive mother of "101 Dalmatians" (1996) in Disney's live-action remake of their animated classic. However, the baffling science fiction thriller "Event Horizon" (1997) did little to sustain her stay in Hollywood, and she was soon back on television and in independent features like "Wrestling with Alligators" (1998) and "The Echo," playing a femme fatale opposite Clive Owen's gritty investigative reporter. Richardson was featured in the minor but significant role of David Duchovny's ill-fated wife in the well-liked romance "Return to Me" (2000) before gaining her widest exposure then to date as the sister-in-law who shelters the children of Mel Gibson's Revolutionary War hero in "The Patriot" (2000). A turn as Marie Antoinette opposite Hilary Swank in Charles Shyer's little-seen "The Affair of the Necklace" (2001) preceded an appearance on stage in England opposite her mother in a production of Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan" in 2002.
In 2003, Richardson joined the cast of Ryan Murphy's medical drama, "Nip/Tuck." As Julie McNamara, Richardson was put through some impressively sudsy paces - in addition to struggling with her faltering marriage to husband Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh), she dealt with a growing affection for his partner, the caddish Christian Troy (Julian McMahon); her monstrous mother Erica (Vanessa Redgrave); disfigurement due to a drunken fall through a glass door; a congenitally deformed child with Sean; and a lesbian relationship with Olivia Lord (Portia de Rossi) that nearly results in her death from poisoning by Olivia's daughter (AnnaLynne McCord). Her ability to weather such a perfect storm of horrific character arcs earned her Golden Globe nominations in 2004 and 2005, as well as three nods from the Satellite Awards in 2004 and 2005. Richardson shocked fans of the drama in 2006 when she revealed that she was departing the show to care for her teenaged daughter, who had been diagnosed with a rare medical condition that affected her circulation. However, the fourth season finale was quickly followed by news that the actress would return to the program in a limited capacity for Season five. In 2007, the network announced that Richardson would appear in over half of the 22 episodes slated for the fifth season.
Though "Nip/Tuck" demanded most of Richardson's attention, she remained active in other film and television projects on both sides of the Atlantic. She played Wallis Simpson, for whom Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England in "Wallis and Edward" (ITV, 2005), and starred opposite Timothy Hutton as the parents of children with newly found and remarkable powers in the underrated "The Last Mimzy" (2007). In 2009, she was announced as part of an all-star cast that included Brian Cox, Vanessa Redgrave and Jason Priestley for a BBC adaptation of "The Day of the Triffids." That year, however, was marred by a skiing accident in Canada involving her sister Natasha in mid-March. Richardson rushed to join her mother and brother-in-law, Liam Neeson, in Manhattan after her sister was hospitalized following the accident. Reports varied in regard to her condition, which was listed by various sources as either brain swelling or brain death. Unfortunately, the latter proved to be true. On March 18, 2009, Natasha was taken off life support with Richardson, her mother, Neeson, Aunt Lynn and others by her side. A year later, Richardson lost her Uncle Corin Redgrave and Aunt Lynn Redgrave within less than a month of one another - the former of undisclosed causes after dying in London at age 70 on April 6, and the latter of breast cancer at age 67 on May 2. Despite the many personal loses over those two years, Richardson kept working through her grief. She was cast as Queen Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of King Henry VIII (John Rhys Meyers) on the fourth and final season of "The Tudors" (Showtime, 2007-2010). After portraying a young Queen Elizabeth I in the revisionist drama, "Anonymous" (2011), she joined the cast of David Fincher's acclaimed remake of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011), based on the best-selling novel by Stieg Larsson.
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"Mum loves working with the family, and has proposed it many times in the past, but I've always held off because it didn't seem right. When you come to the table, you want to be sitting there in your own right. I also worried that we might argue! But now I've got to that stage where I can forget about all that - and it's paid off enormously.
"People have this weird idea that you might not want to work with good people because they might show up the fact that you're actually not that good. But in any job, you want to work with fab people because they teach you so much. Doing 'Lady Windermere', I've learnt how mum is still so dedicated. She is fascinated by detail and still has the hunger of someone who's just out of drama school." --Joely Richardson on working on stage with her mother Vanessa Redgrave in a production of Oscar Wilde's play "Lady Windermere's Fan", quoted in The Independent, February 21, 2002.
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