The daughter of an English dancer and an Italian painter, Greta Scacchi was born in Milan, Italy, though she was primarily raised in London. Around the age of 15, Scacchi moved with her family to Australia, where she held a series of odd jobs; among the most unique were cowgirl and Italian interpreter. Two years later, Scacchi moved back to London in hopes of establishing an acting career for herself. Her first step was training at the prestigious Old Vic Theatre, to the displeasure of her father, who, by that point, had become estranged from the family. Before long, Scacchi began appearing in small stage productions and commercials, which were enough to snare the attention of filmmaker Dominik Graf, who cast her in the 1982 German thriller Das Zweite Gesicht. Scacchi learned to speak German strictly for the role.
For nearly eight years, Scacchi performed almost exclusively for British stage and television productions, though, particularly after her 1984 portrayal of the title role in the TV-movie version of Camille, she was slowly building a fan following within the U.S. It was her role in a modernized Chekhov play, however, that would earn her attention from Hollywood. Her first American film was Presumed Innocent (1990), in which she portrayed the seductive attorney whose liaison with the married Harrison Ford precipitates her rather nasty murder. Two years later, Scacchi could be found at her seductive best opposite Tim Robbins in director Robert Altman's showbiz comedy The Player; she would star in a similarly themed film 11 years later (Henry Jaglom's Festival in Cannes).
Despite her success on the big screen, Scacchi continued her work on television rather than pursuing a full-time film career, partly because it provided more opportunities to perform in classic roles -- in addition to co-starring in productions of Macbeth and The Odyssey, the young actress won an Emmy for her performance alongside Ian McKellen and Alan Rickman in Rasputin (1996). Her film roles were generally met with praise; in Emma (1996), Scacchi was held in very high esteem by both critics and co-star Gwyneth Paltrow, though her most significant role came in the film The Red Violin (1998). The Canadian-Italian production was a surprise success, and Scacchi's portrayal of a novelist embroiled in an affair with a British composer (Jason Flemyng) certainly contributed to film's numerous Genie awards (a highly prestigious Canadian film honor) and its Golden Globe win for Best Foreign Film. In 1999, Scacchi appeared in a unique film that took place entirely inside a women's bathroom (the aptly titled Ladies Room), which also featured Lorraine Bracco and John Malkovich. Scacchi continued her international acting career in 2004, when she starred in both Baltic Storm and Sotto Falso Nome.