Born July 18, 1977 in Surrey, England, she was raised in the suburb of Chessington by her police officer father and her mother, a housewife and part-time secretary. A shy child, she grew more withdrawn after enrolling at the Tolworth Girls' School in Kingston; there, she struggled to find her footing in academics, but found confidence in drama. Reilly never enrolled in a formal dramatic school, preferring instead to develop her craft at a weekly performers' showcase in London. The experience gained her an agent, but Reilly landed her first role through pure determination. She sent weekly letters to the casting director for the acclaimed police drama "Prime Suspect" (ITV, 1991-96, 2003, 2006), which eventually led to her first screen role at the age of 16 as a drug-addicted schoolgirl framed for murder by her own mother. Her performance won her a role in playwright Terry Johnson's play "Elton John's Glasses," which soon led to more stage work, including "The Graduate" (2000) opposite Kathleen Turner and David Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" (2002) with Matthew Perry and Minnie Driver.
Reilly's feature film debut came in the U.K. comedy Maybe Baby (2001) with Hugh Laurie, and was soon followed with appearances in the award-winning Last Orders (2001), in which she played a younger version of her "Prime Suspect" co-star, Helen Mirren. For much of the early 2000s, Reilly balanced feature and television work with critically acclaimed work in British theater. The former included appearances opposite Audrey Tautou in the French-Spanish production "L'Auberge espagnole" ("The Spanish Apartment") (2002) and its sequel, Russian Dolls (2006), which garnered a Best Newcomer Award at the Cannes Film Festival. Supporting turns in more widely seen features soon followed, including The Libertine (2005) with Johnny Depp, Pride & Prejudice (2005) as the disdainful Miss Bingley opposite Keira Knightley, and Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005) as an ill-fated dancer in a scandalous nude revue during pre-World War II London, which earned her the Empire Award for Best Newcomer.
Her greatest triumph during this period came on the Donmar Warehouse stage in a 2003 production of "After Miss Julie," which made her the youngest actress ever to receive a nomination for the prestigious Laurence Olivier Theatre Award. The acclaim afforded by her performance led to her first leading roles in features with the supernatural thrillers Puffball (), by director Nicolas Roeg, and Eden Lake (2008), starring Michael Fassbender. Reilly also co-starred with Sir Michael Gambon in Stephen Poliakoff's acclaimed TV drama "Joe's Palace" (2007), then returned to Donmar for a high-profile production of "Othello," which cast her as Desdemona opposite Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello and Ewan McGregor as Iago. For her performance, Reilly received her second Olivier Award nomination.
In 2009, Reilly landed the starring role in "Above Suspicion," about an inexperienced police detective who proved her investigative skills with a series of grisly and baffling crimes. That same year, she made her first American feature, "Me and Orson Welles," about the famed director's production of "Julius Caesar" on Broadway in 1937. Reilly then gave a supporting turn as Mary Morstan, fiancée to Dr. John Watson (Jude Law), in Guy Ritchie's caffeinated Sherlock Holmes (2009), which she reprised in the 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). The following year, she enjoyed her most successful American film appearance in Robert Zemeckis' Flight (2012) as a recovering drug addict who became the love interest to Denzel Washington's dissolute airline pilot-turned-unexpected hero. Her performance was honored with the Spotlight Award at the 2012 Hollywood Film Festival.
By Paul Gaita
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