Emily Margaret Watson, OBE (born 14 January 1967) is an English actress who gave an acclaimed debut film performance in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves. She is a two-time Academy Award nominee and four-time BAFTA Award nominee.
Watson began her career on stage and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1992. She received Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her roles as Bess McNeil in the 1996 film Breaking the Waves and Jacqueline du Pré in the 1998 film Hilary and Jackie. In 2002, she returned to the stage in Twelfth Night at the Donmar Warehouse. Also at the Donmar in 2003, she starred in Uncle Vanya and was nominated for the Olivier Award for Best Actress. On television, she starred in the ITV drama Appropriate Adult in 2011, for which she won the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress.
Her other films include, The Boxer (1997), Angela's Ashes (1999), Gosford Park (2001), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), Red Dragon (2002), Equilibrium (2002), The Life and Death of Peter Sellers (2004), Within the Whirlwind (2009) and The Book Thief (2013).
Early life and education
Watson was born in Islington, London, England. Her father, Richard Watson, was an architect, and her mother, Katharine (Venables), was an English teacher at St David's Girls' School, West London. She was brought up as an Anglican. Watson has described her childhood self as a "Nice middle class English girl ... I'd love to say I was a rebellious teenager but I wasn't".
Watson was educated at St James Independent Schools, in west London, which she has described as 'progressive'. She attended the University of Bristol, where she obtained a B.A. (1988, English). Following university, she trained at the Drama Studio London and later received an M.A. (2003, honorary) from Bristol University.
Watson's career began on the stage. Her theatre credits include The Children's Hour (at the Royal National Theatre), Three Sisters, Much Ado About Nothing and The Lady from the Sea. Watson has also worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company in A Jovial Crew, The Taming of the Shrew, All's Well That Ends Well and The Changeling. In 2002, she took time off from cinema to play two roles in Sam Mendes' repertory productions of Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night, first at Mendes' Donmar Warehouse in London and later at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Her performance was widely acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic and garnered her an Olivier Award nomination for Uncle Vanya.
Watson was virtually unknown until director Lars von Trier chose her to star in his controversial Breaking the Waves (1996) after Helena Bonham Carter dropped out "at the very last minute." Watson's performance as Bess McNeill won her the Los Angeles, London and New York Critics' Circle Awards, the US National Society of Film Critics' Award for Best Actress, and ultimately an Oscar nomination.
Watson came to public notice again in another controversial role, as cellist Jacqueline du Pré in Hilary and Jackie, for which she learned to play the cello in three months, and received another Oscar nomination. She also played a leading role in Cradle Will Rock, a story of a theatre show in the 1930s, directed by Tim Robbins. Though she won the title role of Frank McCourt's mother in the adaptation of his acclaimed memoir, Angela's Ashes, the film underperformed. In 2001, she appeared alongside John Turturro in The Luzhin Defence and in Robert Altman's ensemble piece Gosford Park. The following year, she starred as Reba McClane in the adaptation of Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs prequel, Red Dragon, as the romantic interest of Adam Sandler in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love, and in the sci-fi action thriller Equilibrium alongside Christian Bale.
In 2004, Watson received a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Peter Sellers's first wife, Anne Howe, in the HBO film The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. 2005 saw Watson starring in four films: Wah-Wah, Richard E. Grant's autobiographical directorial debut; Separate Lies, directed by Gosford Park writer Julian Fellowes; Tim Burton's animated film Corpse Bride, alongside Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter; and John Hillcoat's Australian-set "western", The Proposition. In 2006, she took a supporting role in Miss Potter, a biopic of children's author Beatrix Potter from Babe director Chris Noonan, with Ewan McGregor and Renée Zellweger, and also in an adaptation of Thea Beckman's children's novel Crusade in Jeans. In 2007, she appeared in The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, an adaptation of the Dick King-Smith children's novel about the origin of the Loch Ness Monster.
Watson married Jack Waters, whom she had met at the Royal Shakespeare Company, in 1995. Their daughter, Juliet, was born in autumn 2005, and her son Dylan in 2009. Watson's mother fell ill with encephalitis shortly before filming commenced on Oranges and Sunshine. Watson returned home to England to attend to her, but she died five minutes before she arrived in London.