"A face saved from the commonplace by a pair of enormous eyes."
An unlikely movie star and an unconventional actress, Rita Tushingham broke all the stereotypes for a female movie star -- not tall, not buxom, not cally pretty.
Unkindly labeled an "ugly duckling" at the start of her career -- comments worthy of a lawsuit today -- she could be strikingly beautiful one moment, and then plain-looking the next -- an amazing and useful ability for such a versatile actress. Her soulful eyes and extraordinarily expressive face helped to give her an on-screen vulnerability and emotional transparency like no other contemporary actress.
Rita was discovered at the age of eighteen when she auditioned for the role of a working-teenager for Tony Richardson's screen adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste Of Honey (1961). In her film test, Rita's uncanny ability to communicate without dialogue, using only her large "all-speaking" eyes and hyper-expressive face, won the role for her. She quickly rose to fame, and became a favorite of movie critics with her nuanced, vulnerable performance in Desmond Davis' Girl With Green Eyes (1964).
Other notable performances in the 1960's included Richard Lester's The Knack (1965), where she demonstrated deft comic delivery and impeccable comic timing, David Lean's Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Sidney Hayers' The Trap (1966). Her performance in The Trap was especially impressive, making full use of her expressive face, since the role she played was that of a woman who could not speak.
In the 1970's and early 1980's, her career suffered the same downturn as many other British artists, due to the virtual collapse of the British filmmaking industry. She kept working by performing in films made in other countries, most notably Italy and (West) Germany.
For about twenty years, she lived in Toronto, Canada, with her second husband and her two daughters from her first marriage. She moved back to England in 1994, at about the time that her second marriage came to an end, and appeared in Mike Newell's An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), with Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman.
Rita generously supports the efforts of fledgling filmmakers by performing in films by new directors, such as Martin Duffy's The Boy From Mercury (1996), Carine Adler's Under The Skin (1997), and Simon Marshall's Out Of Depth (2000). Her latest role was as Aunt Carrie in Being Julia (2004), with Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons.
A well-known personality in her native England, this down-to-earth, unpretentious movie star shows no signs of slowing down in a film career that now spans 45 years.