MIRIAM MARGOLYES, born on this date, is a British-Australian actress. Her earliest roles were in theatre; after several supporting roles in film and television, she won a BAFTA Award for her role in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and was cast in the role of “Professor Sprout” in the Harry Potter film series.
Margolyes has spent many years dividing her time between the United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy. She has starred in productions in both the United Kingdom and Australia, including the Australian premiere of the 2013 play I’ll Eat You Last. She became an Australian citizen in 2013.
With her distinctive voice, Margolyes first gained recognition for her work as a voice artist. In the 1970s she recorded a soft-porn audio called Sexy Sonia: Leaves from my Schoolgirl Notebook. She performed most of the supporting female characters in the dubbed Japanese action TV series Monkey. She also worked with the theatre company Gay Sweatshop and provided voiceovers in the Japanese TV series The Water Margin (credited as “Mirium Margolyes”).
In 1974, she appeared with Kenneth Williams and Ted Ray in the BBC Radio 2 comedy series The Betty Witherspoon Show.
Margolyes’ first major role in a film was as Elephant Ethel in Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers. In the 1980s, she made appearances in Blackadder opposite Rowan Atkinson: these roles include the Spanish Infanta in The Black Adder, Lady Whiteadder in Blackadder II and Queen Victoria in Blackadder’s Christmas Carol. In 1986, she played a major supporting role in the BBC drama The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. She won the 1989 LA Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Flora Finching in the film Little Dorrit. On American television, she headlined the short-lived 1992 CBS sitcom Frannie’s Turn. In 1994, she won the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mrs Mingott” in Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence.
In 1989, Margolyes co-wrote and performed a one-woman show, Dickens’ Women, in which she played 23 characters from Dickens’ novels.
Margolyes addressed younger audiences as Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach, providing the voice of the Glowworm in the same film. She played the Nurse in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. She voiced the rabbit character in the animated commercials for Cadbury’s Caramel bars and provided the voice of “Fly the dog” in the Australian-American family film Babe.
Margolyes is an out lesbian. On becoming an Australian citizen on Australia Day 2013, she referred to herself as a “dyke” live on national television and in front of the then-Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Since 1968, she has been in a relationship with Heather Sutherland, a now retired Australian professor of Indonesian studies. They divide their time between homes in London and Kent in England, Robertson in Australia, and Tuscany in Italy.
Author and comedian David Walliams says he used Margolyes as a model for the title character in his children’s book Awful Auntie after a rude exchange with her during a stage production, though he stressed that he has nothing against her and is a fan of her work.
Margolyes is a Patron of “My Death My Decision”, an organisation which seeks a more compassionate approach to dying in the UK, including the legal right to a medically assisted death, if that is a person’s persistent wish.