With soulful, saucer-like eyes and a coy smile that hints at playfulness, Oscar-nominated actress Emily Watson burst onto the scene with her shattering performance in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves, a role that almost went to period-piece queen Helena Bonham Carter. Born the daughter of an architect and an English professor in Islington, a borough of London, England, in January 1967, a sheltered upbringing initially led Watson to seek studies in English Literature. After studying in Bristol for three years, Watson made her first bid for drama school only to face disheartening rejection. After three years of working as a waitress and a secretary, she was eventually accepted into the London Drama Studio. It was during this early phase in her career that Watson would meet future husband Jack Waters.
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Launching her career upon joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992, Watson soon set her sights on film. Fate intervened when actress Helena Bonham Carter pulled out of director Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves at the last minute due to the film's explicit sexuality. Despite her lack of big-screen experience, Watson landed the female lead in the film after only one brief screen test. Playing a spiritually driven woman whose oil-rig worker husband (Stellan Saarsgaard) becomes paralized, she exhibited a brash, religiously transcendent sexuality, stunning art-house audiences and recieving an Oscar nomination in the process. Though the subsequent marriage dramedy Metroland proved to be a nostalgia trip by comparison, Watson's honest performance again earned accolades. Watson's reputation continued to grow with her intimate, conflicted portrayal of the Multiple Sclerosis-stricken concert cellist Jacqueline Du Pre in Hilary and Jackie (1998), for which she was again Oscar-nominated, as well as when she played the love interest of an eccentric chess champion in The Luzhin Defence (2000).
After joining the talented ensemble of Robert Altman's acclaimed comedy-mystery Gosford Park, Watson made serious inroads into Hollywood, first in 2002 as the love interest of a temperamental (to say the least) small-business owner played by Adam Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love. That same fall also saw her playing the love interest of a murderous psychopath in Brett Ratner's Hannibal prequel Red Dragon, and re-teaming with Metroland co-star Christian Bale in the little-seen sci-fi action vehicle Equilibrium. After doing voice work for Tim Burton's animated gothic Corpse Bride -- alongside the very woman she replaced in Breaking the Waves, Helena Bonham-Carter -- she returned to the British art-house scene with strong performances in such films as Separate Lives and director Richard E. Grant's autobiographical Wah-Wah.
She appeared in the biopic Miss Potter, and the family fantasy film The Water Horse. In 2008 she was part of Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut Synecdoche, New York. Three years later she played the mother of a boy devoted to his beloved equine mate in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of War Horse, and in 2012 she appeared in Joe Wright's adaptation of Anna Karenina. The following year, she appeared in the film adaptation of the popular book The Book Thief. In 2014, she played Jane Hawking's mother in The Theory of Everything. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi