Long before she recited her first line as an actress, Justine Waddell was playing roles -- real-life roles. First, she was a South African child, then a Scottish adolescent, and finally an English teenager after her family planted itself in London. There, Waddell took root and blossomed as one of Britain's finest young actresses. But she wasn't finished with multiculturalism. During and after her education at Cambridge University, she played characters in adaptations of English, Norwegian, French, and Russian authors. Then, in Dracula 2000, based on Irish-born author Bram Stoker's Dracula, she played an Englishman's daughter living in America who is pursued by a Transylvania vampire. Obviously, the world has been very much with Waddell, as Wordsworth might observe, and it is no wonder that she studied political science and sociology at Cambridge's Emmanuel College. There are, however, at least two constants in Waddell's life: one, striking beauty; two, extraordinary acting talent. The latter quality is, of course, the more important. But it doesn't hurt for an actress to have a stunning face and a symmetrical body when she is trying out to play Tess in Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles or Estella in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Waddell played both roles, to the delight of audiences and critics, in TV miniseries.
Waddell was born in Johannesburg in 1976. Her Scottish-born father, Gordon Waddell, was a member of Parliament and an employee of De Beers, the world's largest producer and distributor of diamonds. Her South African-born mother, Cathy Gallagher Waddell, was a fashion designer who also operated a small shop in Soweto, a ghetto southwest of Johannesburg that rebelled often against unfair laws. To escape the dangerous social climate in South Africa, the Waddells moved to Kelso, Scotland, near the tranquil River Tweed, in the mid-'80s. About four years later, they moved to London, where Justine Waddell attended a school on Baker Street and eventually enrolled in Cambridge. Though not a school of drama as such, it did offer courses that introduced her to acting. While still a student there, she played Joan of Arc in the Edinburgh Festival's production of Jean Anouilh's drama The Lark. Then came roles in period costume dramas requiring her to squeeze into corsets and plumb the keen insights she gleaned as a cultural hybrid. Among the roles that challenged her were Sasha (opposite Ralph Fiennes) in Chekhov's Ivanov, performed in London and Moscow, and Nina in Ibsen's The Seagull, performed in Stratford-upon-Avon. She also played Laura in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, Countess Nordston in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Tess in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Julia in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Estella in Dickens' Great Expectations, and Molly in Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters.