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Imelda Staunton Biography

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Birth Name: Imelda Staunton
Born: 01/09/1956
Birth Place: London, England, GB

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).