Although British audiences had been familiar with her work since the mid-'80s, it wasn't until Janet McTeer's Oscar-nominated performance in 1999's Tumbleweeds that American filmgoers also began to take notice. A Newcastle native whose versatile physical features compliment her ability to truly realize a character (no matter how foreign), McTeer made her film debut opposite screen siren Sigourney Weaver in the 1986 feature Half Moon Street. Though her looks and talent for intense personal drama made comparisons to veteran star Vanessa Redgrave common, McTeer soon distinguished herself on the London stage with roles in The Grace of Mary Traverse and Greenland, small-screen parts in Precious Bane (1989) and Portrait of a Marriage (1990) proved that her talent transferred outside the theater, as well. Critics also singled out her performance in the 1992 adaptation of Wuthering Heights. That same year, McTeer stepped into the shoes of super-sleuthing professor Loretta Lawson in the made-for-TV mystery A Masculine Ending, and she reprised the role in the following year's Don't Leave Me This Way. It was her turn as a determined prison warden in the popular U.K. series The Governor, however, that found McTeer truly coming into her own on television. Her imposing (six foot-one inch) frame and emotional vulnerability worked in perfect harmony to create a compelling character, and McTeer began to become a familiar face to PBS viewers in the U.S. thanks to roles in such efforts as Precious Bane (1989) and The Black Velvet Gown (1991).
After winning both Olivier and Tony awards in 1997 for her performance in the stage version of A Doll's House, McTeer began to work almost exclusively in films. Just a year after she made a vocal impression on stateside audiences as the narrator of Todd Haynes' glam rock-tribute Velvet Goldmine in 1998, American audiences were offered a face to accompany the voice (though thanks to her masterful Southern accent, they may not have recognized it) with the release of the mother/daughter road drama Tumbleweeds. Cast as a nomadic, free-spirited mother, McTeer's Oscar-nominated performance left quite an impression, even if the film itself ultimately didn't. The actress followed this film with three titles in 2000: Waking the Dead, Songcatcher, and The King Is Alive. She then took a two-year break from the screen before returning with 2002's The Intended, which she also co-wrote.
McTeer continued to work steadily on the stage, on TV, and in movies, but her next big awards splash came in 2011 when her supporting work in the gender-bending drama Albert Nobbs garnered her nominations from the Academy, the Golden Globes, and the Screen Actors Guild.