Judy Davis

Active - 1977 - 2021  |   Born - Apr 23, 1955 in Perth, Western Australia, Australia  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy Drama, Comedy

Share on

Biography by Hal Erickson

Known for her intense intelligence and the range of unconventional characters she has brought to life, Australian actress Judy Davis has had a fairly brilliant career. Born in Perth, Western Australia, on April 23, 1955, Davis rebelled against her Catholic upbringing by leaving home at the age of 17 to join a rock band, which toured across Asia for six months. Upon her return to Australia, she soon gave up her singing career to attend the Western Australia Institute of Technology and then concentrated on another branch of performing at the National Institute of Dramatic Art. At NIDA she trained with the likes of Mel Gibson, with whom she starred in a school production of Romeo and Juliet.

In her subsequent stage work, Davis gravitated toward characters whose significant traits alternated between steel-like strength and vacillating vulnerability: She played the title roles in Lulu and Piaf. In films from 1977, Davis ascended to stardom as Sybilla Melvin in director Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career (1979), a performance that won her several awards, including the Australian and British equivalents of the Oscar. She was likewise showered with industry and film-festival honors for her work in Hoodwink (1981), The Winter of Our Dreams (1982), Heatwave (1982), and Kangaroo (1984), appearing in the latter film with her husband, Colin Friels. She was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of young Golda Meir in the TV miniseries A Woman Called Golda (1982), and earned her first Oscar nomination for her interpretation of the enigmatic Adela Quested in David Lean's A Passage to India in 1984.

Described by one colleague as "the patron saint of modern emotions," Davis has never done anything by halves: She was a lusty George Sand in Impromptu (1991), the junkie wife of William Lee in Naked Lunch (1991), a bibulous, self-destructive Hollywood ghostwriter in Barton Fink (1991), an overbearing ex-spouse in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives (1992) (the second of her Oscar-nominated turns), and a hostage from Hell in The Ref (1994). Davis' films during the second half of the '90s were marked by a notably uneven quality, and she could be seen in everything from the wildly idiosyncratic Children of the Revolution (1996) to some other disappointing collaborations with Allen, Deconstructing Harry (1997) and Celebrity (1998).

In 1999, Davis received another Emmy nomination for her work in Dash and Lilly, in which she starred as Lillian Hellman opposite Sam Shepard as Dashiell Hammett. Nonetheless, that particular award eluded her grasp.

During the first few years of the new millennium, Davis stepped down and maintained a somewhat lower profile than in prior years, placing a much greater emphasis on telemovies than she had in the nineties, and limiting herself to lower-profile theatrical features. She gleaned positive notices - and won a Golden Globe - for her portrayal of the adult Judy Garland in the telemovie Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001), opposite Hugh Laurie and Victor Garber.

Two years later, Davis received yet another Golden Globe nomination (her fifth nod, including the Garland win) for her portrayal of Nancy Reagan (opposite James Brolin as Ronald) in the unexpectedly controversial TV biopic The Reagans.

A few scattered theatrical features highlighted this period, such as the twin 2001 releases The Man Who Sued God and Susan Seidelman's Gaudi Afternoon. Davis then joined the ensembles of two A-list features in 2006. The Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn vehicle The Break-Up - a comedy about the constant sparring between a couple of live-in lovers - hit cinemas in June 2006 to mixed critical receptions, and struck gold at the box, doubtless riding high on the popularity of its twin leads. In the picture, Davis plays Marilyn Dean, Aniston's slave-driving boss at an art gallery. In that same year's hotly-anticipated but underperforming Marie Antoinette, Davis put her inimitably chilly stamp on the role of La Comtesse de Noailles.

She appeared in the miniseries The Starter Wife, and in 2011 she co-starred opposite Geoffrey Rush in the drama The Eye of the Storm and appeared in the well-reviewed spy film Page Eight. In 2012 she reteamed with Woody Allen for the first time in nearly fifteen years, appearing in his Italian comedy To Rome With Love.

Judy Davis married Scotch actor Colin Friels (A Good Man in Africa) in 1984.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • In her teens, dropped out of school and toured with a rock band.
  • In drama school, she played Juliet opposite Mel Gibson's Romeo. (Classmates included future husband Colin Friels and Geoffrey Rush.)
  • Breakthrough role was in 1979's My Brilliant Career.
  • Has played many historical icons, including Judy Garland, Nancy Reagan, Lillian Hellman, Golda Meir and George Sand.
  • Returned to the Australian stage in 2011 after a seven-year absence in an updated version of Chekhov's The Seagull.
  • Won the Don Dunstan Award in 2011 for her outstanding contribution to the Australian Film Industry.