Should you harbor any illusions that Rachel Griffiths is just like the primly practical housewife she plays in Hilary and Jackie, consider a 1998 public appearance she made in her native Australia. To protest the opening of a new Melbourne casino, Griffiths reportedly showed up topless, covered in glitter.
If the true test of acting is to play convincingly against type, Griffiths, 30, gets the gold star. In Hilary and Jackie, she portrays the overshadowed sister of acclaimed-but-troubled cello goddess Jacqueline du Pré (Emily Watson). Griffiths brings a commanding dignity to the role of Hilary, a woman who has accepted that she will never be the artistic equal of her genius sister and has nestled instead into a quiet, contented family life in the country. (Of course, Hilary’s willingness to share that life — specifically her husband’s services between the sheets — with Jacqueline adds a curious edge to her character and gives new meaning to the word martyr.)
Imparting nuance to supporting roles in such films as Muriel’s Wedding, Jude, and My Best Friend’s Wedding, Griffiths has built a reputation as an actress to watch. But her inspiration comes strictly from within: She chose not to meet the real Hilary du Pré (whose memoir, A Genius in the Family, inspired the film) until after shooting was complete. ”Most actors would be living there and following her around the house,” she has said. ”But I just felt I had to make her true for myself.”
The approach worked: After Hilary and Jackie wrapped, Griffiths got a late-night call from Hilary, who thanked her ”for bringing so much love and care” to the role. High validation indeed — and every bit as deserved as Oscar’s emphatic seconding of that emotion.