Miranda Richardson Profile

Never mind Judi Dench or Cate Blanchett – the finest screen depiction of Elizabeth I is surely the hysterical "Queenie" of Blackadder II. Playing the monstrous, headchopping monarch made Miranda Richardson a household name, but she is that rare thing: a major actor totally uninterested in the limelight. Discover more about a refreshingly different sort of star.

Miranda Richardson

Animals and acting

Born in Merseyside in 1958, Miranda Richardson fell in love with acting as a child, when she proved a star performer in a succession of school plays. The appeal for her lay in "turning into other people" and she particularly relished putting on different accents and playing the most challenging roles. She was also a film nerd who had what she later called a "very strange crush" on John Wayne – as a teenager she actually met the man and got his autograph!

Yet, despite this youthful love of performance, Miranda's other love – animals – led to her to seriously consider becoming a vet. Luckily for her future fans, her extreme squeamishness led her to follow the acting path instead.

Hitting the big time

After getting some experience acting in amateur productions, Miranda took the big leap and enrolled at the prestigious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School – where one of her classmates happened to be a young Daniel Day-Lewis.

She made her stage debut in 1981 and bagged a number of small TV roles before her big breakthrough came with the 1985 film Dance with a Stranger, in which she played the infamous Ruth Ellis – the last woman to be hanged in Britain. The film won her rave reviews and marked her out as a star in the making, but "household name" status came as a result of the far humbler project Blackadder II – in which she stole ever scene she was in as a child-like, flirtatious and rather frightening Elizabeth I.

A modest star

In the years since her career-making turn in Blackadder, Miranda has steadily established herself as one of the most versatile actors in the business. We've watched her playing a young Christian Bale's mentor in Empire of the Sun, a terrorist femme fatale in The Crying Game, Virginia Woolf's sister in The Hours and Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Yet, despite this impressive CV, she's always been a supporting rather than leading actor – and that's because she prefers it that way. "I would rather do many small roles on TV, stage and film that one blockbuster that made me rich but didn't stretch me," she once said – which explains why she turned down the role in Fatal Attraction that was later given to Glenn Close.

Comedy and drama

While many actors flit from comedy to drama throughout their career, this duality is even more striking with Miranda, who in the States is mainly known as a movie star but on her native soil is firmly identified with telly comedy roles like Blackadder and Absolutely Fabulous.

Miranda – who was a member of the anarchic Comic Strip crew for a time – has always been careful to make time for comedy parts, despite the fact that drama is her first love. And the main reason is that comedy gives her a surge of energy when she feels at a low ebb. "If you have dark things going on and you feel a bit numb, then do comedy," she says. "It changes the molecules around." Of course, it helps that she has a natural talent for comedy (despite her own modest insistence that she'd never want the "dreadful responsibility of being regarded as a comedian").

The real Miranda

Miranda is well known in showbiz circles as one of the most private and guarded celebrities around. When she's not out in Hollywood morphing herself almost unrecognisably for various roles, she leads a quiet and serene life in the West Country – a rustic existence that allows her to indulge her lifelong passion for animals (she has an array of dogs and cats, and – being a bird buff – is also an avid practitioner of falconry).

Rather unusually for a star, she very rarely turns up in the gossip pages and little has ever been revealed about her personal life. Although she did once state her position with admirable bluntness. "I think marriage would be quite good for me," she conceded. "But I'm not just going to go out and hire somebody."