The L Word
British actress Rachel Shelley first came to the attention of American audiences playing Elizabeth Russell in the Oscar nominated film “Lagaan: Once Upon Time in India” (2001), in which she nabbed a Zee Cine nomination (Indian Oscar) for her performance. She gained even more popularity and recognition with her portrayal of Helena Peabody in the TV series “The L Word,” which she played from 2005 to the show's end in 2009. Shelley also had recurring roles in “Baddiel's Syndrome” (2001) and “Ghost Whisperer” (2006-2008) and one episode stints in “Highlander,” “The American Embassy,” “Miss Match” and “Coupling,” among other shows. Other film credits include “Photographing Fairies” (1997), “Everybody Loves Sunshine” (1999), “Canone inverso” (2000), “The Bone Snatcher” (2003), “Seeing Other Film” (2004), “Gray Matters” (2006) and “The Children” (2008). She has also appeared in many theater productions. Apart from acting, Shelley has written articles for the British newspaper “The Guardian.”
Childhood and Family:
Rachel Shelley was born on August 25, 1969, in Swindon, England. She left Swindon at age 1 and was raised in London. Currently, she resides in Notting Hill. Rachel received a B.A. in English and drama from Sheffield University. Along with four friends from the university, she set up The Crowded Theater in Sheffield, which ran for a year.
Rachel enjoys music produced by Radiohead. Her favorite films are “Moulin Rouge,” “The Three Colors Red” and “Sean of the Dead.” Her favorite book is “Of Human Bondage” by W. Somerset Maugham.
Lagaan: Once Upon Time in India
Rachel Shelley kicked off her film career in 1994 when she played Alana Maxwell in the action comedy “Royce,” opposite James Belushi, Miguel Ferrer and Peter Boyle. She next appeared in “Broken Heart” (also 1994), an 18 minute length British drama helmed by Matt McConaghy. During 1994 and 1995, she did TV commercials for Nissan, Bank of Ireland, vitamins (a Public Health advertisement) and Cadbury's High Lights drink.
Shelley resurfaced in 1997 when she guest starred in the live action TV series “The New Adventures of Robin Hood” (Turner Network), appeared in the series “Wycliffe” (ITV), portrayed Jenna Spinks in the dramatic series “Bugs” (BBC One) and was seen as Sophie Baines in the science fiction series “Highlander.” The same year, she portrayed Mrs. Anne-Marie Castle in “Photographing Fairies,” a fantasy film adapted for the screen by Nick Willing from the 1992 novel of the same name by Steve Szilagyi. She acted in the film with Toby Stephens, Emily Woof, Ben Kingsley, Frances Barber and Philip Davis. Two years later, she starred as Clare in the British independent drama “Everybody Loves Sunshine,” which was written and directed by Andrew Goth. In “Lighthouse” (1999), a British horror film helmed by Simon Hunter, she offered a memorable performance as Dr. Kirsty McCloud. The film won a Special Jury Prize at the 2000 Fantafestival and the Grand Prize of European Fantasy Film in Silver at the 2000 Cinénygma - Luxembourg International Film Festival.
Entering the new millennium, Shelley appeared as the mother of Jeno (played by Hans Matheson) in the Italian movie “Canone inverso” (2000), based on the book “Canone Inverso” by Italian writer Paolo Maurensig. Directed by Ricky Tognazzi and starring Gabriel Byrne as The Violinist, the film was nominated for ten David di Donatello Awards (won five) and won awards at the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists and the Newport Beach Film Festival. She then supported Laura Harris, Richard Lintern, Francis Magee and Alice Krige in the horror film “The Calling” (2000), which was directed by Richard Caesar. The same year, the co-founder of the now defunct The Crowded Theater in Sheffield played Kirsten in “Gasping,” a play by Ben Elton, at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth, England.
Following a two episode role in the short lived British comedy series “Baddiel's Syndrome” (2001), Shelley was cast as Elizabeth Russell in the critically acclaimed Indian film “Lagaan: Once Upon Time in India” (2001), which was co-written and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker and starred Aamir Khan. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and collected many awards and additional nominations. Shelley received a Popular Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 2002 Zee Cine Awards for her performance. With the film, she began gaining notice from the American public.
Next, Shelley portrayed Harmonia in the Emmy Award winning fantasy TV film “Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story” (2001, Hallmark Entertainment), which was adapted from the English fairy tale. The film was directed by Brian Henson and starred Matthew Modine, Mia Sara, Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Attenborough, Darryl Hannah and James Corden. She also appeared in the British TV film “Cruise of the Gods” (2002), starring Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, played Rosemary Barton in the TV film adaptation of Agatha Christie's “Sparkling Cyanide” (2003), costarred as Mikki in the British/Canadian horror film “The Bone Snatcher” (2003), opposite Scott Bairstow and Adrienne Pierce, and appeared with Jay Mohr, Julianne Nicholson, Lauren Graham, Bryan Cranston, Josh Charles and Andy Richter in the comedy film “Seeing Other Film” (2004), which was directed and co-written by Wallace Wolodarsky.
Shelley returned to series TV as a guest star in the British long running police drama “Heartbeat” (2001), the Fox short lived drama “The American Embassy” (2002, as Mandy) and the British sitcom “Coupling” (2002, as Samantha). In addition, she portrayed Linda Kubrick in the TV series “Licensed by Royalty.”
However, Shelley did not receive a huge break until she landed the regular role of Helena Peabody in 2005 for the second season of the Showtime hit series “The L Word.” She would remain on the show until season six in 2009. On being in the show, she stated, “God, it's so much…it's so much. As an actress it's a great challenge. It's an amazing job. It opened my eyes to lots of things, I mean I have gay girlfriends before I did the show but now I know a culture inside out and it's a very warm supportive culture. It's full of generally very smart women and very educated, vocal women who are strong. I've met so many amazing women in LA and I don't think those circles would have ever been open to me if I hadn't done 'The L Word' because LA isn't known for smart, intelligent women especially. There's many of them there but the image of the people that you meet is very different so I've met a lot of amazing women. I've learned an awful lot as an actress. I've developed as an actress. I've just had a wonderful time.”
After her role in “The L Word,” Shelley worked with Heather Graham, Tom Cavanagh, Bridget Moynahan, Molly Shannon, Alan Cumming and Sissy Spacek in the Hollywood romantic comedy “Gray Matters,” which premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival on October 21, 2006, prior to its limited U.S. release on February 23, 2007. She portrayed Julia Barlett in the film. She also portrayed the recurring role of Kate Payne in four episodes of the Jennifer Love Hewitt supernatural series “Ghost Whisperer” (CBS, 2005-2010) during 2006 to 2008. In 2008, she was cast as Detective Underhill in the A&E TV film “Under,” directed by Charles S. Dutton, and Chloe in the British horror film “The Children,” which starred Eva Birthistle and was directed by Tom Shankland.