One of England's most esteemed actresses, Joan Plowright was trained at the Old Vic. She made her regional stage debut in 1951 and her London stage bow in 1954. Two years later, she joined the English Stage Company, where she essayed her most popular role up to that time, Margery Pincher in Wycherly's The Country Wife. That same year, she appeared in her first film, Moby Dick. In the original 1958 stage production of John Osborne's The Entertainer, Plowright co-starred with Sir Laurence Olivier, whom she would marry in 1961, a union that lasted until Olivier's death in 1989. She appeared on screen with her husband in the film versions of The Entertainer (1960) and The Three Sisters (1970), the latter of which was also directed by Olivier. During the same period, Plowright and Olivier were mainstays of London's National Theatre.
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In 1961, Plowright won a Tony award for her Broadway appearance in A Taste of Honey. Her stage work was briefly curtailed in the mid-to-late '60s, allowing her time to raise her family. From 1982 on, Plowright began appearing in films with increasing regularity, demonstrating at least two traits she'd evidently picked up from Olivier: a propensity for elaborate foreign accents (the hero's Jewish mother in Avalon (1990) and the heroine's Yugoslavian mom in I Love You to Death (1990)) and a willingness to take assignments possibly only for the money (Mrs. Wilson in Dennis the Menace (1993)). While an Oscar win is long overdue (although she was awarded a CBE from the Queen in 1970), Plowright was nominated for her work in 1992's Enchanted April. Perhaps one of her most endearing portrayals in recent years was as the high school teacher in The Last Action Hero who runs a clip from Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948) for her class, introducing Olivier as "the fellow who did all those Polaroid commercials." In 1999, Plowright additionally endeared herself to moviegoers with her role as one of a group of high society women living in fascist Italy in Franco Zeffirelli's Tea with Mussolini.
She continued to work steadily at the beginning of the 21st century appearing in a variety of projects including Rock My World, Callas Forever, and the Steve Martin/Queen Latifah comedy Bringing Down the House. In 2006 she voiced a part in the big-screen adaptation of Curious George, and two years later could be seen in the family fantasy film The Spiderwick Chronicles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi