The expression “not just another pretty face” may have been coined for Vanessa Kirby; her face is certainly attractive and so is her long blond hair and svelte figure, but there’s a lot more to watch in her performance so far. In fact she is already on several lists of rising stars in the movie business, but she doesn’t seem to be in a great hurry to claim fame, and most of her acting credits are relatively low key, certainly not the big budget blockbusters that breed sudden stardom.
Born in 1988, Vanessa grew up in Wimbledon, raised by a surgeon father and magazine editor mother, so her theatrical tendencies weren’t necessarily inherited. At the age of twelve she saw Vanessa and Corin Redgrave in The Cherry Orchard at the National Theatre and decided she wanted to be an actress.
At the age of 17 Vanessa auditioned and was turned down at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, then traveled for a ‘gap year’ and returned to Exeter University to study English. She got a place at LAMBDA but gave it up when she signed with an agency, where she met the theatre director who gave her a head start on a stage career.
David Thacker, Artistic Director at the Octagon Theatre, gave Vanessa starring roles in three different plays during 2009, for one of which she garnered the BIZA Rising Star Award – as Ann Deaver in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. From there she continued on the stage at various theatres and got a number of enthusiastic reviews from critics who saw her talent as the mark of a star-to-be if not yet at full radiance.
Kirby’s first television role came in 2011 when she had a small part in the BBC’s The Hour, but the big breakthrough was arguably her role as Estella in another BBC production, Great Expectations. The complex character of Estella was a challenge that Vanessa was able to meet with impressive success, and subsequent roles in which she has mastered both comedy and tragedy have shown her versatility as an actress.
Over the approximately five years of her career so far Vanessa has won a large handful of awards and nominations including the Ian Charleson Award – three times. Currently she’s still a ‘star of tomorrow’ and ‘outstanding newcomer’, so major limelight has not really been focused on her. She does have several substantial film roles under her belt, with About Time the biggest box office winner, though Vanessa did not have a starring role.
Up to this point most of Kirby’s acting credits come from her performances on stage, though she had a leading role as Alice in the mini-series Labyrinth and a minor role in The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman as well as in The Rise, neither of which won any special recognition. She’s also in the cast of Everest, a feature film due out in 2015.
In a recent interview with the Scotsman Reporter Vanessa emphasized that she really wants to be a ‘character actor’ – as in characters who are real people with real problems as opposed to a showy celeb with not much more to offer than the ubiquitous pretty face. Her friends, she said, call her Nu, short for Nuala, since she felt ‘Vanessa’ was too formal. Her agent reminded her of the Redgrave Vanessa, so she decided to go that route for the screen.
The 26-year-old actress has been seen almost exclusively in the UK up to this point in her career, but she’ll be a familiar name and face abroad as well by this time next year, according to all the signs. Look for her next as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, opening at the Young Vic Theatre London in July.