• Frances O'Connor in The Missing (SBS)Source: SBS
Celebrating the Aussie actress who said no to Downton Abbey
By
Jeremy Cassar

16 Feb 2016 - 12:54 PM  UPDATED 16 Feb 2016 - 12:54 PM

Here’s an actress who turned down a meaty part on Downton Abbey because she thought she was too young to nail the character.

More recently, as the broken parent of a vanished boy in the acclaimed British import The Missing, veteran Aussie actress Frances O’Connor shines without hogging the spotlight.

It’s the kind of performance we’ve come to expect from O’Connor – measured, committed and seamlessly fitted into work’s world. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association agreed, awarding her with a Golden Globe nomination for the performance.

As we watch her character’s plight unfold, let’s celebrate the career-in-progress of a homegrown talent who could do with a little more attention.

 

Love and Other Catastrophes (1996)

In her film debut as love-struck student Mia, O’Connor earned a nomination for Best Actress at the AFI (Now AACTA) Awards and established her relatable, infectious screen presence.

The film itself comes across as overly dated (as well as delectably 90s) but can still boast that it introduced the country to an undeniable talent. Well, those who failed to catch her in three episodes of Blue Heelers.

 

Kiss Or Kill (1997)

1997 was O’Connor’s year, as she headed up two successful films and grabbed a double-nomination for Best Actress at the AFIs. She didn’t win.

While her performance in Thank God He Met Lizzie did due justice to the romantic comedy genre, it was her fast-and-loose performance as fugitive Nikki Davies in Bill Bennett’s Kiss or Kill that withstands the test of time.

 

Mansfield Park (1999)

The career highlights section of O’Connor’s CV would have to include her interpretation of Fanny Brice in 1999’s Mansfield Park – a role that saw her Jane Austin-ing the teacake out of Jane Austin.

While the film may not have attained the success of the star-powered Sense and Sensibility, it’s now welcomed as a charming addition to the Jane Austin legacy.

 

Bedazzled (2000)

If you haven’t yet seen Elizabeth Hurley play Satan then I’m sorry but you can’t really claim to be anything other than an imposter.

It also means you haven’t seen Frances O’Connor cut loose in a ridiculous part as the object of Brendan Fraser’s affection, where she delights in playing several caricatures of the same woman.

Don’t pretend you don’t like it.

 

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

Though labelled as tart at the time, Spielberg’s A.I. ages like a fairly decent wine, growing more riveting the further we move from Stanley Kubrick’s death.

As the woman who grows into a mother-type figure to boy who isn’t entirely real, O’Connor brings conviction to what was always going to be a sometimes-saccharin role. It was Spielberg, sci-fi and kids, after all.

 

Blessed (2009)

Thirteen years after her first nomination, O’Connor took home the nation’s top acting honour in the dreary, wallowing, yet well-acted Ana Kokkinos-directed adaptation of the Christos Tsiolkas play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?

And for good reason. As the jittery, chain-smoking Rhonda, O’Connor gave the performance of her career, stealing away with a film that could never catch up to her.

 

Next for O’Connor...

This year, O’Connor will appear in Cleverman, an intriguing US/AUS/NZ tri-production set in a dystopian near future, centred around two estranged Indigenous brothers who are bound together by a struggle to stay alive.

She’ll also appear in James Wan’s follow up to the hit horror film The Conjuring.

 

Watch Frances O'Connor work her magic in the final episode of The Missing, airing on Wednesday 17 February at 9.30pm (AEDT) on SBS. It will also be available on SBS On Demand after it airs.