Nil by Mouth
“When you are called a character actress it's because you are too ugly to be called a leading lady.” Kathy Burke
British actress and theatre director Kathy Burke began her career with supporting roles in such films as Alex Cox's “Sid and Nancy” (1986) before making an impact with her comic roles for BBC television, which included Magda in the hit series “Absolutely Fabulous” (1994-1996) and various characters on “Harry Enfield and Chums” (1994-1997). She took home a Royal Television Society Award for her performance as the abused, mute, bald Martha on the BBC miniseries “Mr. Wroe's Virgin” (1993). A dominant character player of the 1990s, Burke, however, did not gain international attention until she was cast in “Nil by Mouth” (1997). For her effort, she was handed a Cannes Film Festival Award and a British Independent Film award.
One of the most honored comic and dramatic character actresses in England, Burke has continued to work in her native country and delivered strong performances in such films as “Dancing at Lughnasa” (1998), “Elizabeth” (1998) and “Kevin and Perry Go Large” (2000). She also appeared in the miniseries “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling” (1997) and enjoyed success with her role of Linda La Hughes in the BBC sitcom “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” (1999-2001), from which she nabbed a 2002 British Comedy Award.
Since 2001, Burke has pursued a second career as a stage director.
Childhood and Family:
Katherine Lucy Bridget Burke, who would later be famous as Kathy Burke, was born on June 13, 1964, in London, England, to working-class Irish immigrants. Her mother passed away when she was an infant and she was briefly raised in foster homes until her widower father, who was a heavy drinker, was able to regain custody of Kathy. She then lived with her father and two older brothers in Islington.
Kathy, known by family and close friends simply as Kath, attended Maria Fidelis RC Convent School in Euston. She was encouraged to act at school and entered the prestigious Anna Scher Theatre School in Islington. She later attended Kingsway College in London.
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
Kathy Burke was discovered by movie director Mai Zetterling when she was 17 years old. This led to her first film role in Zetterling's “Scrubbers” (1983), where she portrayed the character Glennis. She went on to appear on stage in a production of “Saved” (also 1983), which was directed by Edward Bond and marked her early collaboration with Gary Oldman. Three years later, she appeared with Oldman in the actor's vehicle “Sid and Nancy” (1986), which was directed by Alex Cox. 1986 also saw Burke write a play titled “Mr. Thomas.” In 1990, she directed the play “Old Red Lion” with Ray Winstone starring in the title role. By this time, she had also appeared in Alex Cox's movies “Straight to Hell” and “Walker” (both 1987) and was featured on the British variety program “One Hour With Jonathan Ross” (1989).
In 1994, Burke received a regular gig on the sketch comedy show “Harry Enfield and Chums” and created a number of memorable characters during her three years on the show. She was nominated for a BAFTA TV for Best Light Entertainment Performance for her work on the series. Burke furthered gained prominence with her recurring role of magazine editor Magda on the well liked series “Absolutely Fabulous” (1994-1996). She also won a Royal Television Society award for her starring role in the miniseries “Mr. Wroe's Virgins” (1993), which was directed by Danny Boyle. All three programs aired on BBC.
In 1997, Burke was cast as Ray Winstone's abused pregnant wife on “Nil by Mouth,” Gary Oldman’s semi-autobiographical directorial debut. The role won the talented actress a Best Actress Cannes Film Festival award and a British Independent Film for Best Performance by a British Actress in an Independent Film. She also received a BAFTA nomination.
After the success, Burke starred as Honour in the TV adaptation of “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling” (1997), based on the classic novel by Henry Fielding. She received her next BAFTA nomination for her work in the miniseries. She then gave strong portrayals as Maggie, the second eldest of five Irish sisters, in the Pat O'Connor directed “Dancing at Lughnasa” (1998), from which she netted a Golden Satellite nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture-Drama, and the vengeful Queen Mary Tudor in the lavish acclaimed biopic “Elizabeth” (also 1998), which was directed by Shekar Kapur and starred Cate Blanchett in the title role.
1999 saw Burke mix drama and comedy in the movie “This Year's Love,” in which she portrayed Mary, an airport cleaning woman who was convinced that anyone who falls in love with her is crazy. In the 2000 comedy film “Kevin and Perry Go Large,” she reprised her TV role of Perry, with Harry Enfield recreating his role of Kevin/Executioner. She was nominated for a 2001 Empire for Best British Actress for her work in the latter film. She also appeared with Sadie Frost, Jude Law and Ray Winstone in the comedy “Love, Honour and Obey” (2000) and costarred as Lee Evans' long suffering wife in “The Martins” (2001).
Meanwhile, on the small screen, Burke scored success when she was cast as Linda La Hughes in the British sitcom “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” which ran on BBC-1 from 1999 to 2001. Costarring with James Dreyfus, she was awarded a British Comedy in 2002 for Best Comedy Actress and collected several additional nominations, including BAFTA nominations for Best Comedy Performance (2001 and 2002) and a 2002 National Television nomination for Most Popular Comedy Performance. The character Linda La Hughes was written by writer Jonathan Harvey especially for Burke after she directed the 1995 premiere of Harvey's play “Boom-Bang-a-Bang.” She also appeared in his play “Out in the Open” in 2001.
After the demise of the series, Burke had supporting roles in the comedies “Once Upon a Time in the Midlands,” with Robert Carlyle and Vanessa Feltz, and “Anita and Me” (both 2002), opposite Kabir Bedi and Max Beesley. She then began to concentrate on her career as a theatre director. However, she also did voiceover work in “Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky” (2005, TV) and the animated film “Flushed Away” (2006).
In 2007, Burke returned to acting to star in the TV film “Comedy Showcase: The Eejits,” alongside Patrick McDonnell and Paul McGlinchey.
British Comedy: Best Comedy Actress, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” 2002
British Independent Film: Best Performance by a British Actress in an Independent Film, “Nil by Mouth,” 1998
Cannes Film Festival: Best Actress, “Nil by Mouth,” 1997
Royal Television Society (UK): Best Actor – Female, “Mr. Wroe's Virgins,” 1994