Injecting both sexy vitality and strong-minded intelligence into every role she plays, Rachel Griffiths is one of the screen's most interesting and unpredictable actresses. Since her breakthrough role as Rhonda in the 1994 Muriel's Wedding, Griffiths -- whose looks recall an off-kilter amalgam of Juliette Lewis and Juliette Binoche -- has earned international appreciation for her work, particularly in the form of the Oscar nomination she received for her performance in Hilary and Jackie (1998).
Born in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, on June 4th, 1968, Griffiths grew up in Melbourne with her art consultant mother and two older brothers. A 1990 graduate of Victoria College, where she earned a Bachelor of Education degree in drama and dance, she began her career as a member of Woolly Jumpers, Inc., a community theatre group. She had her first success as the creator and performer of Barbie Gets Hip, which played at the 1991 Melbourne International Film Festival.
Griffiths' true breakthrough came courtesy of her film debut in P.J. Hogan's sleeper hit Muriel's Wedding. As the fast-living best friend of the film's titular heroine (Toni Collette), Griffiths gave a scene-stealing performance that earned her both the Australian Film Critics Award and the Australian Film Institute Award for best supporting actress. She followed this triumph in 1996 with a drastically different role, that of the earthy, ill-mannered pig farmer wife of the titular protagonist (Christopher Eccleston) in Michael Winterbottom's Jude.
After returning to Australia to star in two back-to-back comedies, Cosi (which had Griffiths sharing the screen with Muriel co-star Collette) and Children of the Revolution (both 1996), Griffiths re-teamed with director Hogan for a supporting role in My Best Friend's Wedding (1997). Her first major Hollywood film, it overshadowed her starring role in that same year's My Son the Fanatic, a romantic comedy that featured the actress in a tough, dynamic portrayal of a London prostitute who becomes involved with a Pakistani taxi driver (Om Puri).
Griffiths finally earned overdue recognition with her portrayal of the real life Hilary Du Pre, sister of famed cellist Jaqueline Du Pre, in Hilary and Jackie (1998). Cast opposite Emily Watson as Jackie, she gave a strong, understated performance and more than managed to hold her own against the prodigiously talented Watson, whose own performance was tremendously vibrant and forceful. The two actresses complemented one another so perfectly that they both earned Oscar nominations, Watson for Best Actress and Griffiths for Best Supporting Actress.
Griffiths found further success as the first-time director of Tulip, a short film about a man's readjustment to life after his wife's death. The film earned awards at a number of international film festivals and established Griffiths as a promising filmmaker. However, she quickly returned to working on the other side of the camera, starring in such little-seen films as Among Giants (1998), a romantic drama in which she played an Australian hitchhiker who finds adventure in the wilds of Sheffield.
Back in Australia, Griffiths won lavish acclaim for her role in Me Myself I (1999), in which she starred as a young woman who gets the opportunity to experience her own life in a parallel universe. Although the film came in for decidedly mixed reviews, critics were almost unanimous in their agreement over the strength of Griffiths' performance. The following year she could be seen in Blow Dry, a British comedy about two competing hair salons that featured her as a salon owner who becomes romantically involved with the ex- wife (Natasha Richardson) of her business rival.
Turning up opposite Johnny Depp in Blow the same year, Griffiths' rise to international stardom continued it's ascent as she took home the Best Supporting Actress in a television series award for her role in HBO's Six Feet Under.
Although her career has assumed international proportions, Griffiths has remained involved with the arts and politics of her native country. In addition to her continued work in the Australian theatre and television, she has earned a reputation for her stance in Melbourne politics: in 1997, in protest of the development of a casino in one of Melbourne's neighborhoods, she stood outside of the casino wearing only a loincloth and a banner reading "Need Not Greed," before dropping the banner and baring her chest to a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers and disgruntled policemen.
Griffiths was praised for her role in the Australian family drama Deluge in 2003, and continued her role in Six Feet Under until the show concluded after five seasons. The actress went a different direction in 2006, when she played a strong, yet compassionate mentor to a street smart dancer in Step Up. Griffiths returned to the television screen during 2006 and 2007 for a lead role in ABC's family drama Brothers & Sisters. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi