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This coming Sunday (March 8) marks International Women’s Day. Every day is women’s day to us, but with IWD being an official holiday, let’s put a spotlight on some of our favorite actresses, who pop up on Anglophenia regularly.

While there’s no scientific method to determine the exact moment a performer breaks through, here are early roles that got the world’s attention and each actress talking about what it meant to her:

1.Helena Bonham Carter

Helena Bonham Carter is known for her go-to quirky roles like Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies and 2007’s Sweeney Todd. Currently, she’s taken on a more buttoned-up role as Princess Anne in the biopic drama The Crown.

But, before all that, in 1985 she starred in the movie adaptation of E.M. Forster‘s A Room with a View. At 19-years-old, Bonham Carter took on the role of Lucy Honeychurch in the romantic-drama. Lucy and her chaperone (Maggie Smith) travel from Surrey, England to Florence, Italy, on holiday. Away from her chaperone’s watchful eye… Lucy meets a man.

In the above clip, when the movie first premiered, Bonham Carter talks about the film, saying, “It’s so nice to be associated with something that is giving people so much pleasure.”

2. Catherine Zeta-Jones 

You may know Catherine Zeta-Jones from rom-coms like 2001’s America’s Sweethearts and 2007’s No Reservations. But, before starring in mainstream Hollywood flicks, she got her start in the family drama The Darling Buds of May (1991-1993). The series revolves around the Larkin family, who live on a farm in Kent, England. Zeta-Jones, 22, played the eldest daughter Mariette.

In the above clip from the nineties, Zeta-Jones says “the simplicity and the way of life” was what attracted her to the role.

3. Kate Winslet 

Kate Winslet has been a household name for a while now. But, even before Titanic (1997), she had a standout role in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures, which got a lot of people’s attention. Possibly because of the nature of the film. Based on a true story, two young girls scheme to kill their parents, who they find completely out of line. Really, they’re just being parents.

In the 2015 interview above, Winslet talks about her favorite roles, retrospectively. And do you know what her No. 1 pick is? Yep, you guessed it, Heavenly Creatures.

4. Dame Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren had already starred in movies like 1980’s The Long Good Friday and 1989’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, but it was playing DCI Jane Tennison in the police procedural Prime Suspect (1991-2006) when things really clicked. With the series popping up on PBS stateside, it introduced her to an American audience.

In the above, Charlie Rose asks her about returning to Prime Suspect after the show took a bit of a hiatus, with her saying, “I just follow my instincts. And I do what I kind of feel like doing. And I kind of felt like it was time.” Rose was not surprised that she’s kind of woman who does what she wants (neither are we).

Since then, she’s taken on epic roles like Queen Elizabeth II in 2007’s The Queen. These days she has her pick, pretty much casting herself in the Fast and Furious franchise. 

5. Olivia Colman

As you all know, Olivia Colman just won the 2019 Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in The Favourite. And, she is currently reigning over The Crown as Queen Elizabeth II. As well, she took the lead in BBC America’s Broadchurch. That is A LOT and that’s only covering the past five years or so.

And, that’s why it’s so fun to backtrack to where it all started. One of Colman’s earliest roles, and fan favorite, was portraying Sophie in the comedy Peep Show. She teamed up with her Cambridge Footlights pals Robert Webb and David Mitchell. The series follows flatmates, Mark and Jeremy, as they go about life. Colman plays Sophie, Mark’s colleague and love interest.

In the above, Colman talks about having an a-ha moment when doing a school play. She says, “It was the first thing I had ever done actor-y. I remember at the time, just going — the light switched on — ‘I love this.’ It changed how I felt about what I wanted to do.”

6. Sandra Oh

Yes, Sandra Oh stars in the title role of the most popular show on TV right now, aka Killing Eve (which returns for season three on April 26.) And she has a huge fanbase from her long-running portrayal of Dr. Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy (2005-2014). She is at the top of her game, and she worked very hard to get here.

Oh auditioned for the 1994 biopic The Diary of Evelyn Lau. She traveled from Montreal to Toronto by bus, seven hours total. When arriving, she slept in the bus terminal, having nowhere else to go. When it came time to audition, she asked for a moment to get her focus and proceeded to lie on the floor for a full five minutes. Looking back, Oh ruminated to Vulture, “I really admire who that person was at that moment who just said, ‘I don’t know what the rules are. I’m going to lie down.’ That person took her time and was unapologetic about it.”

So, did she get the role? She did. In the above clip, Oh talks about auditioning for Grey’s and says, “At that time, I was practicing asking for what I wanted… in my life. Which, I still practice today. And I saw the part of Christina Yang. And, I wanted to do that part.”

7. Jodie Comer

And what about Oh’s KE co-star Jodie Comer, aka Eve’s counterpart Villanelle? Prior to becoming our favorite psychopath, Comer starred in hits like BBC America’s Thirteen (2016) and Doctor Foster (2015-2017).

But, it was probably the titular role of Chloe Gemell in the dark comedy My Mad Fat Diary when things first started to pivot. The series revolves around a teenager (Sharon Rooney), who is returning home after a four-month stint at a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt. Comer plays her best friend, but she has no idea that her friend is suffering, nor that she’s been hospitalized.

In the above clip, Comer gives a tour of her trailer on the set of My Mad Fat Diary. And, even a peek at the motorbike she used to get to work (who knew!?).

8. Jodie Whittaker

And, finally, Jodie Whittaker, who made history becoming the Thirteenth Doctor in 2017. Before joining Doctor Who, Whittaker starred in TV series like 2011’s Marchlands, 2014’s The Smoke and 2014’s The Assets.

But, it was 2013’s Broadchurch where we at BBCA first met her. Whittaker played mum to Danny Latimer, the little boy who goes missing in the series opener. That scene on the beach (SPOILER ALERT), when Beth Latimer sees her son’s limp body, is forever tattooed on our brains. Her performance was just that compelling… and heartbreaking. You can see a snippet of her performance in the above clip.

In the below clip, Whittaker talks about taking on a character who is so devastated and maintaining authenticity.

Are you feeling all inspired now? Hope so! 

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By Brigid Brown