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Romola Sadie Garai ( ; born 6 August 1982) is an award-winning Hong Kongmarker born Englishmarker actress.

Early life

Garai was born in Hong Kongmarker, the daughter of Janet, a journalist, and Adrian Garai, a high-ranked bank manager. Her first name is the female version of Romulus, one of the founders of Romemarker. Garai's father is of Jewish Hungarianmarker descent; her great-grandfather was Bert Garai, the founder of the Keystone Press.

Garai is the third of four siblings. She relocated to Singaporemarker at five before her family returned to Wiltshiremarker in the United Kingdommarker when she was eight. She attended an independent boarding school, Stonar School in Wiltshiremarker, and later moved at sixteen to Londonmarker to attend the City of London School for Girlsmarker where she ended up finishing off her A-levels. She was fond of drama and appeared in school plays, and also with the National Youth Theatre up until the age of eighteen, where she was spotted by an agent who whisked her away to play the younger version of Judi Dench's character in a television production called The Last of the Blonde Bombshells.

After A-levels, she studied English Literature at Queen Mary, University of Londonmarker; she originally intended to only study but decided to do acting on the side during the summer holidays. She is a former model.

Acting career

Garai's first professional acting role was in a television production, The Last of the Blonde Bombshells. She then landed a part in a BBC-produced television series called Attachments. It was this production that prompted her to make the decision to stop her education and concentrate solely on her acting career.

Garai's first major film role was in 2002's Nicholas Nickleby. She played Kate Nickleby, a supporting role, in the well-reviewed film. The entire cast was widely recognized for their work and were awarded Best Ensemble by the National Board of Review. In 2003's I Capture the Castle, she played 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain. She received glowing praise for her work and the film scored 80% at Rotten Tomatoes. Her performance earned her a nomination for a Most Promising Newcomer award from the British Independent Film Awards. Many critics hailed her as the next Julie Christie taking into account not only Romola's acting talent but also her uncanny resemblance to the screen legend. Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) was Garai's biggest critical flop to date, scoring only 23% at Rotten Tomatoes (though it went on to make $27 million worldwide). Her performance received mixed reviews – many critics felt let down after her previous impressive turns. Later that same year Vanity Fair was released.

In 2005, Garai received another BIFA nomination, this time for their Best Supporting Actress award, for her performance as Siobhan in the independent film Inside I'm Dancing. Her portrayal earned her the British Supporting Actress of the Year award from the London Film Critics Circle. Also in 2005, she starred in a two-part drama made for television, entitled The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant.

While critics hailed it as "pleasingly old-fashioned adventure", it was her performance that won the most admiration and earn her two nominations: Best Lead Actress in Television from the Australian Film Institute and Most Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series from the Logie Awards. As The Observer noted: "As for the tireless Garai, she once again demonstrated an instinctive understanding of the vital difference between overperforming and overacting".

She can be seen in Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like It (2006), as Celia. The film was released in some European cinemas before being broadcast in 2007 on HBO cable television in the U.S. In 2009, it opened in theatres in Mexicomarker.

In 2007, Garai starred in her biggest role yet, as Angel Deverell in Francois Ozon's Angel. The Independent named her one of the Actresses of the year for her performance in Angel. Romola was also nominated for the Prix Lumiere award (the French equivalent of the Golden Globes) as Best Female Newcomer for Angel, making her the first British actress to be nominated for a Prix Lumiere

The same year she also starred in the Oscar-nominated movie Atonement as the teenaged Briony Tallis alongside James McAvoy and Keira Knightley. The movie went on to receive seven Academy Award nominations including Best Picture. Garai earned a Best Actress nomination from the Evening Standard British Film Awards for her performance. She also appeared in two Royal Shakespeare Company productions: as Cordelia in King Lear and as Nina in The Seagull, starring alongside Ian McKellen, Frances Barber, Sylvester McCoy, Jonathan Hyde and William Gaunt. The run, which toured the world, went into residence in the New London Theatremarker where it ended mid-January 2008. She received rave reviews, especially as Nina in The Seagull, The Independent calling her a "woman on the edge of stardom", and This Is London calling her "superlative", and stating that the play was "distinguished by the illuminating, psychological insights of Miss Garai's performance." She reprised her role as Cordelia in a televised version of King Lear.

In 2008 she appeared in the feature film The Other Man alongside Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Antonio Banderas.

Garai next starred in Stephen Poliakoff's World War II thriller Glorious 39, alongside Julie Christie, Jenny Agutter, Bill Nighy, Christopher Plummer and Eddie Redmayne. The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. In 2009, she worked on a television adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma - the 4 hour-long mini-series premiered on BBC One in October 2009, co-starring Michael Gambon and Jonny Lee Miller.

She is attached to play iconic American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy in Flying Into Love; she will also appear in Hettie Macdonald's feature Nova Scotia, in which she plays a character called Lucy Hay, and in director Gareth Bryn's Driven, which is written by Catrin Clarke. Romola has also signed to play the female lead in I was Bono's Doppelgänger alongside Charlie Cox and Bill Nighy. Filming was set to begin in August 2009.

In 2009 The Sunday Times Magazine named her as one of Britain's Rising Stars alongside Matthew Goode, Andrea Riseborough, Hugh Dancy, Eddie Redmayne and many others. Past recipients of this honor include Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Michael Sheen. In January of that year she travelled to the Syrian-Iraqi border to make a short film titled No Man's Land for the UNHCR highlighting the plight of 800 Palestinian refugees living in Al- Tanaf refugee camp. Of her visit to the refugee camps Garai states, "My trip to a refugee camp in Syria destroyed any hope that the horrors of Iraq might end, or that we are doing enough to help its victims."Garai has been hailed by her Glorious 39 director Stepehen Poliakoff as the next Kate Winslet and someone who will dominate British cinema in the future.Garai would like to diversify into writing, especially for the theatre, which remains her first love.

Personal life

Garai, who is of Hungarian Jewish descent, lost most of her ancestors in the Holocaust – there are no known family ties left in Eastern Europe. Her great grandfather immigrated to England in order to escape the Nazis and keep the family safe. Garai's great-grandfather left Budapest for New York in the 1920s, then moved to London where he founded the Keystone Press Agency. Romola admits she has "not yet" been to Hungary and feels modern, cosmopolitan and British.Garai lives in London and in 2009 finished her degree in English Literature with the Open Universitymarker.

Garai guards her private life: "It's too simplistic to say that people start to believe what's written about them. But what happens is that you become a certain way to please people, to be liked, to be what's expected of you, to change yourself so that you become the best possible version of yourself for people who don't know you. And I think that's a terrible, pernicious thing." She states ,"In a way, I'd rather go into an interview and be disliked, and have unpleasant things written about me, than to have a wonderful, glowing article written that is in no way a reflection of who I am."

Garai enjoys traveling and cooking in her spare time calling it 'therapeutic' in many ways. She has visited Hong Kong, Malaysia, Italy, Austria, Morocco and Switzerland, and states, To be the outsider for a period of time changes you for the better. It shakes up your comfort level. You have to really make an effort to enter into other people's culture and psychology and language, which the British are very bad at doing. Garai is very close with directors Francois Ozon and Stephen Poliakoff, both of whom she occasionally calls for career advice.



  1. See:
  2. Fifteen Stupid Questions for Romola Garai; British Esquire - November 2004; Words by Tim Lewis
  3. BIFA - British Independent Film Awards

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