Though Brenda Blethyn has enjoyed a long and successful career as an actress on the British stage and in television, it wasn't until the release of Mike Leigh's film "Secrets and Lies" in 1996 that she became well-known to moviegoers as well, earning a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for what was only her third film.
Blethyn's early stage experience included stints in the stock companies of the Bubble Theatre and the Belgrade Theater of Coventry. In 1975, she joined the Royal National Theater, where she worked with some of Britain's leading stage directors, including Peter Wood, Peter Hall, and Bill Bryden, and her roles ran the gamut from Nora in Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House" to Billie Dawn in "Born Yesterday." With the Royal Shakespeare Company, she appeared under the direction of Maximillian Schell in "Tales From the Vienna Woods" and in Alan Ayckbourn's "Wildest Dream." In 1991, she received the British Drama Awards' Best Actress prize for her role in "Steaming" and the Theatre World Awards' Outstanding New Talent prize for her role in the Broadway production of "Absent Friends."
Blethyn made her film debut in 1990, with a small part in Nicholas Roeg's "The Witches." Robert Redford cast her as Brad Pitt's mother in "A River Runs Through It" in 1992, but 1996's "Secrets and Lies" provided Blethyn with her first substantial screen role. In a story developed through six months of improvisations with Leigh and the cast, Blethyn's performance as a woman getting to know the daughter she had given up made her an international sensation almost overnight. Blethyn received another Oscar nomination in 1999, for her role as the overbearing mother in "Little Voice"; her nomination complemented her growing popularity in Hollywood, reflected by her casting in such high-profile projects as Billy Bob Thornton's "Daddy and Them" (1999). The following year, Blethyn again earned raves for her starring role in "Saving Grace," a comedy about a woman forced to start growing marijuana to stave off creditors following her husband's death.
On television, Blethyn has appeared in BBC productions of "King Lear" and "Henry VI, Part One," as well as several series, including "The Labours of Erica," "The Buddha of Suburbia," and "Outside Edge," which first teamed her with "Secrets and Lies" co-star Timothy Spall.