Breaking the Waves
“The first Oscar cast, I was definitely functioning in a surreal mode. It was like I was watching myself watch the ceremony. Yet I had a good time. Hey, wearing a beautiful dress and being surrounded by beautiful people is not a terrible way to spend an evening. And I had a great time at all the parties. The second Oscar cast, I just went and planned on enjoying myself. People think of me as such a serious actress, but I find myself behaving like a gadabout.” Emily Watson
British actress Emily Watson first came to the attention of the public as Bess McNeill, a Scottish bride madly in love with her paraplegic, oil rig working husband, in her film debut, the Lars Von Trier-directed Breaking the Waves (1996). For this initial foray, Watson nabbed several awards like a National Society of Film Critics Award, a Los Angeles Film Critics Award, a New York Film Critics Circle Award, a Felix Award, a Bodil Award and a European Film Award, as well as received nominations at the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTA Awards. Watson’s portrayal of eccentric cellist Jacqueline du Pre in Hilary and Jackie (1998) again garnered Watson a Best Actress Academy Award nomination.
A two-time Oscar nominee, Watson continued to draw accolades for playing the title role of Frank McCourt’s mother in the adaptation of his award-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes (1999), in which she picked up a London Critics Circle Film Award and earned a BAFTA nomination, and the feature role of rebellious head housemaid Elsie in Robert Altman’s ensemble piece Gosford Park (2002), where she was honored with a Screen Actors Guild Award. In 2002, Watson won a Toronto Film Critics Association Award for her virtuoso supporting turn as the love interest of Adam Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Two years later, Watson received a Golden Globe nomination for her scene-stealing, Peter Sellers’ first wife Anne Sellers in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004).
Watson is also well-remembered as Daniel Day-Lewis’s long-suffering love interest in The Boxer (1997), blind girl Reba McClane in Red Dragon (2002) and Mary O’Brien in the sci-fi movie Equilibrium (2002, with Christian Bale). Recently starring in The Proposition (2005), Wah-Wah (2005), Tim Burton’s animated feature Corpse Bride (2005) and Julian Fellowes’ directorial debut Separate Lies (2005), Watson is set to play roles in the forthcoming Crusade in Jeans (2006) and Shantaram (2007).
The dreamy, wide-eyed, long-haired Watson spends her time outside the limelight with her actor husband Jack Waters and daughter (born November 2005). Watson is a supporter of the English soccer team Arsenal.
Childhood and Family:
“I was taught the value of imagination at an early age. I didn’t have a television. I read a lot of books and developed a good sense of storytelling. I was happy as well and I think that helped. The more secure you feel, the more unbalanced you can let yourself become.” Emily Watson
On January 14, 1967, Emily Anita Watson was born in Islington, London, England, to an architect father and an English professor mother. Born and raised in London, Emily enrolled as a literature major at Bristol University, in Bristol, England, and received a degree in English three years later. Discovering a knack for acting, she applied to the London Drama Studio, but was rejected on her first attempt. After three years of working in waitressing and clerical jobs, Emily tried again to enter the school and was accepted. She also honed in on her skills by joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992.
At age 28, in 1995, Emily married actor Jack Waters, whom she met while working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. After 10 years of marriage, their daughter was born. They currently reside in London, England.
Hilary and Jackie
A Bristol University graduate, Emily Watson kicked off her stage career in her hometown of London. After appearing in several theatrical productions, she took a position with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992 and participated in such productions as “The Taming of the Shrew” (1992) and “The Changeling.” But it was Watson’s fine performance in the production of Lillian Hellman’s “The Children’s Hour” (1994), where she portrayed Mary, a young student who wrongly accuses her teacher of being a lesbian, that put the actress on the radar of director Lars von Trier.
Watson was a virtual unknown until Trier hired the actress to star in his drama-romance Breaking the Waves (1996), replacing Helena Bonham Carte. As Bess McNeill, a young Scottish bride deeply in love with her husband Watson, Emily’s realistic, affecting performance became the darling of the Cannes Film Festival and was hailed by critics. Watson’s performance in the film, her first in front of the camera, was so remarkable that she was garnered countless awards, including a National Society of Film Critics, a Los Angeles Film Critics, a New York Film Critics Circle, a Felix, a Bodil and a European Film for Best Actress. She also received Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.
“The challenge in playing Bess is that, in physical, psychological, intellectual, moral, ethical and political terms, she’s a disaster; part saint, part clown. But she has an infinite capacity to love and believe. I tried to make the logic of that transcend those judgments.” Emily Watson on her character in Breaking the Waves
Watson went on to achieve success in her native country in the British production of The Mill on the Floss (1997) and Metroland (1997, opposite Christian Bale), a comedy drama about an eccentric couple in 70s London. However, her first popular film in America arrived when Watson starred as the Irish, Daniel Day-Lewis’s long-suffering love interest in The Boxer (1997).
In 1998, Watson once again attracted attention when she was cast in the controversial role of unconventional cellist Jacqueline du Pre in the biopic Hilary and Jackie, for director Anand Tucker. Watson’s performance was critically applauded and she was garnered a second Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
After being featured in the ensemble cast of Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock (1999), Watson received both critical acclaim and North American success with Angela’s Ashes (1999), a movie version of Frank McCourt’s bestselling book of the same name. With Alan Parker directing, Watson netted a London Critics Circle Film award for British Actress of the Year, as well as earned a nomination at BAFTA for her brilliant turn as Angela McCourt, an Irish, hardworking mother of many children and wife of a drunken husband.
2000 saw roles in less successful films like Alan Rudolph’s Trixie and the period romance The Luzhin Defence, opposite John Turturro. In 2001, Watson made a memorable cameo as disobedient head housemaid Elsie in the Robert Altman-directed period mystery Gosford Park, in which she took home a 2002 Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Theatrical Motion Picture.
The actress continued to make an impression with audiences as well as film critics when she costarred as Adam Sandler’s romantic interest in the romantic comedy Punch-Drunk Love (2002), from director Paul Thomas Anderson. Premiering at Cannes, the film was well-received and Watson was honored with a Toronto Film Critics Association award for Best Supporting Performance. Additionally, the actress was nominated for Best Kiss at the MTV Movie awards. That same year, Watson was also perfectly cast as a serial killer’s innocent blind girlfriend, Reba McClane, in the adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs prequel, Red Dragon, and achieved top billing as Mary O’Brien in the sci-fi movie Equilibrium, where she was re-united with Christian Bale.
The following year, Watson took a break from filmmaking and made her return to the stage with Sam Mendes’ dovetailed productions of “Twelfth Night” and “Uncle Vanya” (both in 2003). The latter brought Watson a Best Actress nomination at the 2003 Laurence Olivier Theatre Awards. In 2004, Watson made her comeback to the cinematic industry by providing her voice for Alanta in the animated feature Back to Gaya (2004). She was also seen in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), playing Anne Sellers, the first wife of the radiant, but troubled, screen comedian Peter Sellers (played by Geoffery Rush). Watson’s good acting received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Watson made five films in 2005. She first played Martha Stanley in Nick Cave’s Australian-set western The Proposition (2005) and then starred as Ruby Compton in Richard E. Grant’s autobiographical directorial debut Wah-Wah (2005). Next up for Watson, she lent her voice for Victoria Everglot in Tim Burton’s animated feature Corpse Bride (2005, alongside Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter) and was cast opposite Tom Wilkinson in Julian Fellowes’ directorial debut Separate Lies (2005). Watson will soon be seen in the 2006 production of Crusade in Jeans, an adaptation of Thea Beckman’s children’s novel of the same name, and the biographical drama Shantaram (2007), where she will star alongside Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
- Toronto Film Critics Association: Best Supporting Performance, Female, Punch-Drunk Love, 2002
- Screen Actors Guild: Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Theatrical Motion Picture, Gosford Park, 2002
- London Critics Circle Film: British Actress of the Year, Angela’s Ashes, 2000
- European Film: Best Actress, Breaking the Waves, 1999
- Bodil: Best Actress, Breaking the Waves, 1997
- Felix: Best Actress, Breaking the Waves, 1996
- New York Film Critics Circle: Best Actress, Breaking the Waves, 1996
- Los Angeles Film Critics: New Generation Award for Breaking the Waves (debut film), 1996
- National Society of Film Critics: Best Actress, Breaking the Waves, 1996