Nationality: British. Born: London, 14 January 1967. Family: Married Jack Waters (an actor), 1995. Education: Studied literature at Bristol University; studied acting at Drama Studio London. Career: Member, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1992–93. Awards: New York Film Critics Circle Award, National Society of Film Critics Award, President Award, Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Felix Award, European Film Awards, all best actress, and New Generation Award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, all for Breaking Waves , all 1996; Evening Standard British Film Award, Bodil Award, for Best Actress, Bodil Festival, Robert Award, Robert Festival, all for Breaking Waves , all 1997; British Independent Film Award, best actress in a motion picture-drama, for Hilary and Jackie , 1999; ALFS Award, for British Actress of the Year, London Critics Circle Awards, 2000. Agent: International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90211, U.S.A.
Breaking the Waves (von Trier) (as Bess McNeill)
The Mill on the Floss (Theakston) (as Maggie Tulliver); The Boxer (Sheridan) (as Maggie); Metroland (Saville) (as Marion)
Hilary and Jackie (Tucker) (as Jackie)
Angela's Ashes (Parker) (as Angela); Cradle Will Rock (Robbins) (as Olive Stanton)
Trixie (Rudolph) (as Trixie Zurbo); The Luzhin Defence (Gorris) (as Natalia)
"Stranger on the Shore," interview with Elaine Paterson, in Time Out (London), no. 1364, 9 October 1996.
Interview , December 1996.
Ansen, David, "God, Sex and Sacrifice," in Newsweek , 9 December 1996.
People Weekly , 9 December 1996.
People Weekly , 31 March 1997.
Lim, D., "Main Event," in Village Voice (New York), 6 January 1998.
Frielman, V. V., "Bare Naked Lady," in Esquire , December 1998.
Fuller, G., "The Throbability Factor," in Interview , February 1998.
Kuczynski, Alex, "An Actress Who Seems Fragile Only if She's Acting," in New York Times , 14 November 1999.
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Emily Watson has distinguished herself in a series of low-key, critically-acclaimed performances, displaying an emotional vulnerability rare among today's leading actresses. As Alex Kuczynski wrote, Watson is "someone small whose intellectual and spiritual presence eventually dominates the room. On screen, her face seems as fragile as a blossom; her eyes serene, confused little puddles of clear blue; her cheeks as cartoonishly full as those of a kewpie doll."
She splashed into the consciousness of English and American audiences in the arthouse hit Breaking the Waves as Bess, a religious Scottish housewife whose husband Jan is paralyzed in an oil-rig accident. Her faith in God already strained, she is astonished when the impotent Jan encourages her to have sex with other men and tell him about her lovemaking.
The film could have gone the route of Indecent Proposal and exploited its plot of illicit sex, but the film was held together by thoughtful direction and Watson's sensitive onscreen religious devotion, another subject most Hollywood movies handle ham-handedly; her halting prayers to God were heartfelt without coming across as cloying or sentimental. Richard Corliss compared her Oscar-nominated performance here to "Lillian Gish and the other white roses of the silents. . . . She acts volcanically, as any heart does when it pumps with love. She is pure emotion, naked, shameless, unmediated by discretion."
Watson won her second Academy Award nomination for her role as Jacqueline de Pre, a classical violinist stricken by mutliple sclerosis, in the docudrama Hilary and Jackie. Watson and co-star Rachel Griffith turned what could have been a schmaltzy, highbrow version of Brian's Song into a meditation on how feelings are expressed through art. Internet critic James Bernardelli wrote that Watson, "gives a stunning performance . . . capturing every nuance of a character trapped between genius and madness, whose playing defines her existence. . . . When she plays the cello, her fingers are in the right place, and she effectively mimics her character's unconventional body movements. Even more remarkable, however, is her ability to produce this depth of emotion without ever straying over the top."
Her breakthrough role in an American movie was as out-of-work actress Olive Thomas in Cradle Will Rock , whose stage performance in Mark Blitzstein's radical 1938 musical leads to personal and romantic growth. Robbins' film was frequently obvious as an agitprop tract, loose in its historical detail and occasionally cheap in its characterizations of the rich and artistic. But the most resonant part of the movie was Watson's performance. A scene on an unemployment line, as she desperately asks WPA bureaucrat Joan Cusack for a job, sums up the hardship of Depression New York.
Watson is also at the center of the movie's climax; the opening night of "The Cradle Will Rock" abruptly moved to another theater, she rises from a seat in the SRO house and sings her introduction ("Moll's Song"), defying the government censors as well as her actor's union. Her costars join her one by one to perform the musical without sets or costumes. Her quiet, subtle performance (she did her own singing, as well) captured the power of theater and art to cause personal change, more persuasively than the whole film's attempt to show art's political effect.
Watson's next film role was in the highly-anticipated Angela's Ashes , the movie version of Frank McCourt's 1996 best-selling autobiography about his Irish-American childhood. Again in a salt-of-the-earth role, Watson effectively personifies the title character, whom millions of readers had already pictured in their minds. Eschewing excessive emotion, she is truly effective in one traumatic scene when her adolescent son Frank slaps her in the face. Again, her performance anchors a film directed by a Hollywood name out of his element.
With two Oscar nominations under her belt before reaching age 35, Watson is trying to shake her wobegone screen image in the 2000 film Trixie , playing an American private eye. Perhaps as with her countrywomen Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter, she will achieve wider popularity doing more openly enviable characters.