Family & Companions
After years of toiling in supporting roles, often taking whatever came her way, actress Imelda Staunton finally received the chance to display her considerable talents when she starred as the titular character in director Mike Leigh's period drama, "Vera Drake" (2004), a role that earned the British thespian a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Prior to her critical success on both sides of the pond, Staunton worked hard to gain prominence in her native England, spending almost three decades in small supporting roles on stage, television and in film. Though she considered herself a serious actress, Staunton relied on song and dance in the early days of her career, establishing a small degree of success for her leading role in "Guys and Dolls." Over the course of the theatre portion of her career, she managed to win several Olivier Awards, though she found her transition to the screen slow and arduous. But with "Vera Drake," Staunton blew the Hollywood doors wide open, leading to bigger and better roles in films like "Nanny McPhee" (2006), "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007) and "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), proving that talent always wins out in the end no matter how long the struggle.
Born Jan. 9, 1956 in London, England, Staunton was the only child of Joseph, a road contractor and laborer, and Bridie, a hairdresser. The family migrated to London from Ireland when Bridie was still pregnant with her daughter, where they joined a large contingent of other Irish immigrants. While attending La Sainto Union Convent, Staunton took to acting and was encouraged by her elocution teacher to further her study of the craft. When she was 18, Staunton enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), graduating two years later in 1976. After plodding along for a few years in repertory theatre, Staunton joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 1982, she moved on to the National Theatre, where she later won an Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actress in Alan Ayckbourn's "A Chorus of Disapproval" (1985). She then retreated into supporting parts - usually as the comic foil - before landing her most notable role up until that point at the National, playing Miss Adelaide in Richard Eyre's production of "Guys and Dolls" when bumped up from the chorus to fill the shoes left vacant by Julia McKenzie.
With her stage career in full stride, Staunton became determined to not be relegated to comic supporting roles. She reinforced her prestige after winning a second Olivier for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Emlyn Williams' semi-autobiographical play, "The Corn is Green," at the Old Vic Theatre. Upping her profile yet again, she won an Olivier for Best Actress for her performance as the Baker's Wife in Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" (1991). After enjoying an extensive stage career for the better part of a decade, Staunton made the jump into film and television. A couple of small roles in forgettable films like "Comrades" (1986) and "They Never Slept" (1990) led to Staunton appearing in Beeban Kidron's "Antonia and Jane" (1990), a comedy about two old friends - one a cool beauty (Saskia Reeves), the other pudgy and lost (Staunton) - who both secretly wish to be like the other. Meanwhile, she began appearing on television as Nurse White on "The Singing Detective" (BBC-1, 1986), a musical detective series that lasted only a month on the small screen before getting canceled.
Despite making the switch from stage to screen, Staunton still found herself in confining roles. But along came Shakespearean actor-director Kenneth Branagh, who later cast the actress as Mary in his ensemble drama "Peter's Friends" (1992), about a group of college friends and former members of a theater group who reunite after a decade apart. The role elevated her career, as Staunton earned kudos for her comedic performance. Branagh then cast her in his next film - albeit in a much smaller part - in his adaptation of The Bard's comedy about mistaken identity, "Much Ado About Nothing" (1993). As the fussy Charlotte Palmer in Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility" (1995), she managed to make a big impact in a small role, and in Trevor Nunn's adaptation of "Twelfth Night" (1996), Staunton played the mischievous housekeeper Maria to Helena Bonham Carter's Olivia. She emerged later in more Shakespeare-related material, playing the tart-tongued nurse to Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) in the Oscar-winning picture "Shakespeare in Love" (1998).
Staunton continued to work in theatre, playing Sonya in Michael Blakemore's production of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" for the Vaudeville Theatre, as well as appearing in Sam Mendes' production of "Habeas Corpus," co-starring Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn. After a few more small roles - as Mrs. Micawber in "David Copperfield" (BBC-1, 2000) and the voice of Bunty in the animated "Chicken Run" (2000) - Staunton landed the role of a lifetime with "Vera Drake" (2004). Set in England in the 1950s, the film was centered on the title character, a cheerful and loving woman who likes to dispense tea and provide illegal abortions gratis for desperate woman. Initially apprehensive of playing the part because of Leigh's penchant for working without a script, Staunton spent six months rehearsing, improvising and discussing the character in preparation for the challenging shoot. The hard work paid off - Staunton's transformation from a happy wife and mother to a woman traumatized by society and its harsh legal system, earned the actress critical praise, a Golden Lion for Best Actress at the 2004 Venice International Film Festival and a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.
Her sudden rise to international prestige earned the actress the opportunity to take on larger projects, although she remained hard-pressed to land another meaty leading role. Immediately following "Vera Drake," she was seen in "Bright Young Things" (2004), a portrait of 1930s London centered on the decadent exploits of a group of young aristocrats. Following a turn in Emma Thompson's "Nanny McPhee" (2005), Staunton co-starred in "Fingersmith" (BBC, 2005), a three-part miniseries focused on a young woman (Sally Hawkins) pulled back into a life of crime after being taken in by a woman (Staunton) trying to help her go straight. She next starred in "My Family and Other Animals" (PBS, 2006), playing the widowed matriarch of an eccentric family who moves all and sundry from dreary England to the sun-baked Greek island of Corfu to find adventure and excitement. After a co-starring role in the Masterpiece Theatre presentation of "The Wind in the Willows" (PBS, 2007), she played dark arts professor Dolores Umbridge in "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" (2007). Staunton then co-starred opposite Hilary Swank in "Freedom Writers" (2007), the true story of a Long Beach, CA high school teacher who inspired her students to transform their lives through journal writing. After appearing in the British comedy, "A Bunch of Amateurs" (2008), she reunited with director Ang Lee for his slice-of-life dramedy, "Taking Woodstock" (2009). Following a reprisal of the easily offended Dolores Umbridge in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" (2010), Staunton reunited with Mike Leigh for his drama about the emotional lives of ordinary people, "Another Year" (2010). A supporting role in comedy horror series "Psychoville" (BBC 2009-2011) was followed by a key part in the period thriller "The Awakening" (2011). Voice roles in "Arthur Christmas" (2011) and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" (2012) were followed by a supporting role in the fractured fairy tale "Maleficent" (2014) and the 1980s period drama "Pride."
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Starred in "A Chorus of Disapproval" at the National Theatre and "The Corn is Green" at the Old Vic
Played Nurse White in Dennis Potter's "The Singing Detective"; the award-winning series was originally broadcast on BBC and starred Michael Gambon
Played Dorothy in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "The Wizard of Oz"; earned an Olivier Award nomination
Performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company as Sonya in Michael Blakemore's production of "Uncle Vanya"
Cast as the Baker's Wife in the original London production of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods"
Starred in Kenneth Branagh's "Peter's Friends"
Co-starred in Kenneth Branagh's film production of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing"
Played Charlotte Palmer in Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensibility"
Starred opposite Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn in Sam Mendes' production of "Habeas Corpus" at the Donmar Warehouse
Portrayed Maria in a film adaptation of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"
Starred as Miss Adelaide in Richard Eyre's production of "Guys and Dolls" at the National Theatre
Portrayed the nurse in the Oscar-winning film "Shakespeare in Love"
Teamed with Bob Hoskins to play Mr. and Mrs. Wilkins Micawber in the BBC/Masterpiece Theatre miniseries "David Copperfield"
Took on a daring role in "Rat," playing the wife of a pub-crawling Irishman who turns into a rodent; although the film was a critical success, it never made it to theaters, going instead straight to video
Cast as the tough female detective in the BBC's hit drama "Murder"
Starred in "Vera Drake" as a woman who illegally helps women induce miscarriages in 1950s England; received Golden Globe, SAG and Oscar nominations for Best Actress
Co-starred with Emma Thompson and Colin Firth in "Nanny McPhee"; also scripted by Emma Thompson
Cast as Dolores Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, in the fifth Harry Potter picture "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"
Co-starred with Hilary Swank in "Freedom Writers," a drama directed by Richard LaGravenese
Featured in the acclaimed miniseries "Cranford" (PBS)
Co-starred in the British comedy "A Bunch of Amateurs"
Re-teamed with director Ang Lee to star in "Taking Woodstock"
Reprised role of Dolores Umbridge in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1"
Voiced the character of Mrs. Santa in the animated feature "Arthur Christmas"
Voiced Queen Victoria in the animated adventure "Pirates! Band of Misfits"