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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 14:45 GMT
Imelda Staunton's steady rise
Imelda Staunton, star of Vera Drake, is up for an Oscar for her role as a post-war backstreet abortionist in Mike Leigh's gritty drama.

Staunton is one of the UK's hardest working character actresses but her down-to-earth roles often meant she was overlooked.

Imelda Staunton
Imelda Staunton has been acting for nearly three decades
But at the age of 49 she is now receiving big plaudits around the world for her role in director Leigh's critically acclaimed film, which is up for three Oscars.

The trophies she has won for the role as an illegal abortionist include best actress at the Venice Film Festival and best actress from the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago film critics associations.

She may be an unfamiliar face to many US audiences but she has been a mainstay of British drama and independent films for 28 years.

A graduate of Rada, Staunton has played a variety of stage roles including A Chorus of Disapproval and The Corn is Green for which she won Laurence Olivier Awards for best supporting actress.

She also won an Olivier Award in 1991 for best actress in a musical for Into the Woods.

Lusty maid

One of her early screen roles was in the critically acclaimed series of Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, playing Nurse White.

Much of her work after this was on the small screen, with a big screen outing in the black comedy Peter's Friends, playing alongside some of the UK's best-known comic talent including Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.

She also landed a part in the Hollywood version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, playing the naive yet lusty maid Margaret.

Another period drama followed with Sense and Sensibility, once again starring Emma Thompson.

Her trained vocals have also been called into action, lending her voice to Chicken Run.

In 2003 she appeared in two British films, Stephen Fry's Bright Young Things and I'll Be There, which starred Charlotte Church, although neither were starring roles.

Vera Drake
Vera Drake has brought her worldwide acclaim
But it is Vera Drake that has really thrown her into the limelight, with a powerful role in a powerful film.

Leigh called Staunton "exactly the right person for the job".

"She is brilliant. She has great warmth, compassion and humanity and a great sense of humour," Leigh added.

"Also she has not a grain of sentimentality, she is very rooted in the real world."

Burden

Although it may have taken nearly three decades to receive the level of adulation she is getting now, Staunton is satisfied with the path her career has taken.

"I've always wanted a long career, not an instant one - a long career.

"And I'm having it, you know, I work all the time in England. I've got theatre awards, I have a career, a good career."

Although tipped as a contender for the best actress Oscar, Staunton does not consider receiving an Academy Award as a necessarily positive thing.

"Will it mean I might get another job? That's all I want to do, keep working. And I think that sometimes those big prizes can sometimes be a burden. I don't know, I'll have to wait and see," she said.

Staunton's next projects include a role in Nanny McPhee, a film written by Emma Thompson, and in the adaptation of Sarah Waters' book Fingersmith.




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