Brenda Blethyn

By the time Brenda Blethyn wowed moviegoers with her Oscar-nominated portrayal of a mother getting to know the daughter she gave up in Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies (1996), she'd already been a working actress for more than two decades. But that was on stage: Now, Blethyn would begin a whole new phase of her career -- one that included another Oscar nod (for Little Voice) and a string of successful films.

One of nine children, Blethyn was born Feb. 20, 1946, in Ramsgate, England. After working as a secretary for a decade, she finally saved enough money to enroll in acting school. In 1975, she joined England's National Theatre Company where she rose to prominence working with leading stage directors such as Peter Wood and Peter Hall.

Recent films for Blethyn include 2000's Saving Grace and 2005's Pride and Prejudice (opposite Keira Knightley and Donald Sutherland).