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If a woman with an opinion in Hollywood is considered hazardous then Australian Judy Davis could easily qualify as one dangerous female. The petite, pale redhead, whose slash of red or brown lipstick has almost become her trademark, is considered one of the finest actresses of contemporary cinema and has garnered a reputation for her passion, high artistic standards and frank speech. Not unlike Bette Davis in the 1930s and 40s, Judy Davis was not one to suffer fools and had no trouble expressing her feelings. To her, the work was paramount and she consistently delivered superb performances whether acting on stage, screen or television.Born on Apr. 23, 1955 the youngest of three, Davis has admitted to suffering a repressed childhood, in part due to her family's staunch Catholicism but also tempered by the remoteness of Perth, Australia, where she was raised. After dropping out of convent school, she joined a rock and blues band and toured Asia. Returning home, Davis eventually enrolled at Sydney's National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), where she appeared as Juliet to Mel Gibson's Romeo. With stage experience and a one-line role in 1977's "High Rolling," she auditioned for and won the star-making...
If a woman with an opinion in Hollywood is considered hazardous then Australian Judy Davis could easily qualify as one dangerous female. The petite, pale redhead, whose slash of red or brown lipstick has almost become her trademark, is considered one of the finest actresses of contemporary cinema and has garnered a reputation for her passion, high artistic standards and frank speech. Not unlike Bette Davis in the 1930s and 40s, Judy Davis was not one to suffer fools and had no trouble expressing her feelings. To her, the work was paramount and she consistently delivered superb performances whether acting on stage, screen or television.
Born on Apr. 23, 1955 the youngest of three, Davis has admitted to suffering a repressed childhood, in part due to her family's staunch Catholicism but also tempered by the remoteness of Perth, Australia, where she was raised. After dropping out of convent school, she joined a rock and blues band and toured Asia. Returning home, Davis eventually enrolled at Sydney's National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), where she appeared as Juliet to Mel Gibson's Romeo. With stage experience and a one-line role in 1977's "High Rolling," she auditioned for and won the star-making role of Sybylla Melvyn, the headstrong anti-heroine, of "My Brilliant Career" (1978). Davis later admitted she had difficulties with the neurotic character and occasionally clashed with director Gillian Armstrong, but her performance was undeniably forceful and earned her numerous accolades including Best Actress citations from the British Film Academy and the Australian Film Institute.
Sybylla Melvyn may not have been an appealing personage to portray but she represented what became a typical Judy Davis role - a strong, plain-speaking woman who shatters social mores. The actress was nothing short of astonishing as a desperate prostitute seeking a way out of her life in "The Winter of Our Dreams" and as an anarchist in "Heatwave" (both 1981) and proved stunning as the young incarnation of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in an Emmy-nominated turn in the syndicated 1982 miniseries "A Woman Called Golda." Davis resisted Hollywood but did accept the leading role of the genteel cultural adventuress Adela Quested in "A Passage to India" (1984). Again, there were reports of conflict with aged director David Lean, but the ultimate onscreen result was a rich performance of grace and skill that earned her a Best Actress Academy Award nomination.
Although her career was on the ascent and she undoubtedly could have taken on American parts, Davis returned to Australia to co-star with her husband, actor Colin Friels, in "Kangaroo" (1987), based on the semi-autobiographical novel by D.H. Lawrence. She then delivered what is arguably her best leading performance as a footloose singer who reconnects with the daughter she abandoned years earlier in "High Tide" (1987), directed by Gillian Armstrong.
Beginning in the 1990s, Davis did begin to work more in projects outside of her homeland. At the start of the decade, she inaugurated a relationship with Woody Allen with a small role in "Alice" (1990). Since that less than auspicious collaboration, Allen has provided her with rich characters to play. Davis received a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination playing a cynical, neurotic woman who sabotages her relationships in "Husbands and Wives" (1992) until she discovers true love. "Deconstructing Harry" (1997) posited her as the high-strung sister-in-law of Allen's title character while "Celebrity" (1998) cast her as the schoolteacher wife of a journalist who blossoms into a TV star after their divorce.
In 1991 alone, Davis lent her careworn but attractive presence and edgy performance style to a series of intriguingly uptight but sympathetic characters. The Coen brothers tapped her to play the lover of a William Faulkner-like author in their study of Hollywood "Barton Fink" while David Cronenberg cast her as the bug-spray addicted wife of William Burroughs in the film adaptation of "Naked Lunch." On the small screen, Davis reunited with "Brilliant Career" co-star Sam Neill for "One Against the Wind" (CBS), a based-on-fact drama about a British woman active in the French Resistance movement during WWII.
Davis demonstrated her formidable comic capabilities with a deft turn as Kevin Spacey's embittered, shrewish wife perpetually engaging in battles with her spouse in the black comedy "The Ref" (1994). That same year, she essayed a similar role, paired with Peter Weller as a feuding, jobless L.A. couple who open an upscale boutique to finance their divorce in "The New Age." Shifting gears, Davis won an Emmy as the patient, loyal and supportive lesbian lover of a US Army colonel who discloses her sexual orientation in the fact-based "Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story" (NBC, 1995).
The actress returned to Australia to star as a Stalinist with more than a passing acquaintance with the Russian leader in the farcical comedy "Children of the Revolution" (1996). Davis played a presidential chief of staff in the Clint Eastwood vehicle "Absolute Power" and portrayed Jack Nicholson's ex-wife in the uneven "Blood & Wine" (both 1997). She then offered a trio of Emmy nominated performances that continued to showcase her extraordinary range. In "The Echo of Thunder" (CBS, 1998), she was cast as a stoic palm tree farmer in the Australian Outback who objects to raising her husband's child by his first wife. 1999's "Dash & Lilly" (A&E) paired her with Sam Shepard in a portrait of the dysfunctional, co-dependant relationship between authors Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman. Davis also excelled as a self-centered wealthy woman whose marriage falls apart forcing her to interact more with her new housekeeper (Sally Field) in "A Cooler Climate" (Showtime, 1999). She then bravely tackled a portrayal of a cultural icon - singer-actress Judy Garland - in the 2001 ABC miniseries adapted from Lorna Luft's memoir "Me and My Shadows." Her portrayal was so dead-on and letter-perfect, Davis garnered critical praise and a much deserved Emmy Award. She was back on the big screen in the Australian feature "The Man Who Sued God" (2001).
Two years later, she co-starred alongside Marcia Gay Harden and Lili Taylor in the comedy feature "Gaudi Afternoon" (2003). After playing a quiet, long-suffering mother of an Olympic swimmer (Jesse Spencer) married to an overbearing, alcoholic husband (Geoffrey Rush) in the triumphant "Swimming Upstream" (2005), Davis gave a fine performance as a flask-sipping, high-society type who sticks by her best friend (Debra Messing) who divorces her Hollywood bigwig husband (Peter Jacobson) and must learn to live life on her own. After playing the first lady of honor to "Marie Antoinette" (2007), the oft-nominated Davis took home the gold once again at the 2007 Emmy awards, this time for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for her performance as an alcoholic socialite and best friend to a woman (Debra Messing) abandoned by her wealthy husband in the USA Network miniseries, "The Starter Wife" (2007).
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Davis was a co-star of "Dark Blood" (lensed 1993), a psychological thriller left unfinished by the death of co-star River Phoenix.
On her parents, Davis told Los Angeles Times Magazine (September 13, 1992): "[They were] people that didn't want any social trouble at all, who wanted to behave in the way that was expected. Their great misfortune as having me for a daughter because it's never been part of my nature, that. My tendency when I see a set of rules being made, my instinct is to break them--social rules, I mean. I'm not talking about robbing banks."
"I didn't know Mel intimately. We did 'Romeo and Juliet' together. He was very good, too. Very romantic. He's very sweet. He's always had an incredible effect on audiences--male and female. He did, of course, a lot of plays at drama school, and every time without fail that he walked onstage, a ripple would run through the audience. This is when he was a kid of 18. It was quite odd. I always wanted to know how he did it: How does he do that ripple thing?" --Davis on fellow drama student Mel Gibson, quoted in Los Angeles Times Magazine, September 12, 1992.
"Judy has been a hero to me. She's the patron saint of modern emotions. One of the great things about her is that unlike most American actors she's not interested in playing characters that are likable. I have very uncomplicated feelings about her. She's the real thing; she's an artist. She pops. Judy Davis is a genius." --screenwriter-director Michael Tolkin to Premiere, October 1994.
"How tough was she? There is not a single thing that she has ever fought for that wasn't about character and nine times out of ten wasn't right about. She is a formidable, extraordinarily talented and incredibly intelligent woman. Because she is very forceful about it, she gets this reputation that I think is an incredibly bum rap. She is probably one of the greatest actresses alive. I am so tired of this notion that she is perceived as some kind of problem. I just find it unfair." --Davis' "The Ref" co-star Kevin Spacey to The Sydney Morning Herald, August 22, 1997.
On working with Woody Allen, Davis told Carol Allen of the London Times (June 17, 1999): Every time I've worked with him, I've learnt something monumental about comedy and how to pitch it. For example, there's a scene where Joe Mantegna takes me to a film preview and I see my former husband, freak out and try to hide. Woody kept wanting me to pitch it higher; I kept thinking, 'I can't play it any higher, I'm reaching the edge'. But if I go with him and trust him, he pushes me into dangerous and challenging territory, which is very exciting."
On her natural pale coloring, Davis was quoted by You Magazine (May 25, 1997): "I wish I tanned. It would make everybody happy and get them off my back. But this is the look I was born with, and I'm stuck with it."
"I live in my community, mix with my friends, read scripts to find something worth doing. That takes a while. I've never worked for the sake of working. There's probably enough crap out there for me not to add to it." --Davis on what she does when she's not acting, to You Magazine, May 25, 1997.
"Of course, I'm not a celebrity. Never wanted to be one. Never promoted myself as one. I'm an actress. I think there's a difference. To be a celebrity, one really has to go after it, and want it.
"I don't think I have the personality to cope with that. My ambition when I started was to be in the sort of films I liked to watch, which sadly meant Bergman; so I was a self-defined failure right from the beginning. My ambition was never to be in huge Hollywood films and go to the openings and wear all the fancy dresses. Thank God." --Judy Davis quoted in The Observer, June 6, 1999.
"I think she has been frustrated by some directors, and i think she has been frustrated by other actors, too, who don't work with that amount of dedication. A lot of her reputation for being tough is simply because she has extremely high artistic standards and the dedication to her art form is a full commitment. I think that passion in everybody would make her happy." --former NIDA teacher Aubrey Mellor, quoted in The Sydney Morning Herald, July 17, 1999.
Director Baz Luhrmann on Davis (with whom he co-starred in "Winter of Our Dreams") quoted to Nick Nunziata of www.CHUD.com, June 1, 2001: "As a kid I actually lived with her for a while. It was my first job acting. She's such a funny creature and she's an amazing singer."
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