British actress Julia Ormond had several solid years of stage work to her credit -- not to mention the starring role in the made-for-cable Catherine the Great biography Young Catherine (1991) -- when, at 27, she co-starred in the expensive HBO biopic Stalin (1992). Most of the publicity guns were aimed at Robert Duvall's heavily accented portrayal of the Soviet dictator, but at least one observer singled out Ormond's performance as the long-suffering Mrs. Stalin as one of the highlights of the picture. That observer was director Edward Zwick, then preparing his own big-budget theatrical feature Legends of the Fall. Thanks to her excellent showing in the formidable company of Fall co-stars Anthony Hopkins, Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Henry Thomas, Ormond found herself, on the verge of 30, as Hollywood's ingénue du jour.
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Born in Epsom, Surrey, on January 4, 1965, Ormond was a child when her parents, a businessman and a laboratory technician, divorced. A self-admitted tomboy who excelled at field hockey, she became involved with the theater in school plays, and, following a stint at art school (both of her grandparents were abstract artists), she studied drama at London's Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts. Following graduation, she landed her first professional work in TV commercials, and then acted in a series of plays until she had her breakthrough with Catherine the Great.
Before 1995, her Hollywood breakthrough year, was over, the graceful, silken-haired Ormond had played Guinevere opposite Sean Connery's King Arthur in First Knight and had been cast in the title role of Sydney Pollack's ill-advised remake of Sabrina. When asked by Premiere magazine what her future plans were, Ormond replied, "Along with Godzilla and the rest of the acting community, I'd like to direct." But although she did set up her own production company, the actress opted to stick with working in front of the camera, starring in Bille August's much-publicized filmization of Peter Hoeg's best-selling Smilla's Sense of Snow (1997). Unfortunately, the film proved to be a virtual nonentity both at the box office and amongst critics, and Ormond disappeared from the radars for a couple of years, only popping up to star in Nikita Mikhalkov's Sibirsky Tsiryulnik (1999). In 2000, she reemerged in front of Hollywood cameras alongside Vince Vaughn in Prime Gig, a drama about the life, loves, and losses of a California telemarketer. She was interviewed for the documentary Searching for Debra Winger over the next few years she did show up in diverse productions ranging from David Lynch's Inland Empire to the failed thriller I Know Who Killed Me. In 2008 she was the mother in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, and appeared in the sprawling biopic Che. Two years later she was in the award-winning TV movie Temple Grandin, and the year after that she portrayed Vivien Leigh in My Week With Marilyn. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi