Jessica Brown Findlay was born 14 September 1989, to parents Beverley and Christopher Findlay.
Her great-grandfather, William Brown Findlay, who was born in Glasgow, incorporated his own middle name into his surname.
Born in Cookham, Berkshire, Jessica attended Furze Platt Senior School in Maidenhead. At the end of her GCSEs, Brown-Findlay was accepted to a number of ballet schools, but chose to go to the Arts Educational School, because of the A-level courses it provided and its pastoral care.
Jessica trained as a ballerina for most of her early life, she had three operations on her ankles and the last one went wrong. “When I woke up I was told that I couldn’t dance anymore. It was heartbreaking, because I had done all that training and my body was saying No, I’m not going to let you.” She trained with the National Youth Ballet and the Associates of the Royal Ballet and at just 15, and was invited to dance with the Kirov at the Royal Opera House for a summer season. Unfortunately, due to her injury, Jessica’s dancing career was short lived and she was forced to give up dancing.
“I was quite angry for a long while after that but my art teacher thought I was talented and encouraged me to apply to do Fine Art at St Martin’s, which I did,” she explains. Once there, Jessica happened upon acting and then began attending classes herself. What happened after that surprised Jessica more than anyone. Having been seen by a couple of casting agents, she landed the lead role as Emelia in the soon to be released film Albatross, directed by Niall MacCormick opposite Hollywood actress Julia Ormond.
It was in landing the role as Lady Sybil Crawley, the beautiful and rebellious youngest daughter of the Earl of Grantham in ITV1 and PBS’ critically acclaimed series Downton Abbey, that Jessica’s talents became known worldwide. However, after just three series, Jessica chose to leave the show to concentrate on more challenging acting roles.
“The casting process was ridiculously short for me,” she explains. “I read it and called my agent right away and said, ‘please can I read for this, I absolutely adore it. I came out of the reading really happy, which is a good sign and I got a phone call about a week later offering me the part.” The read-through for any show can be a daunting process, as it is often the first time the cast meet each other and get a real sense of the script. But when you are sharing a table with Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, and Hugh Bonneville, for a young actress, that process is even more daunting. “It was fun in the end, but I had the most incredible butterflies. It took a while to relax into it, but it was great to meet everyone before we got to set.”
Downton Abbey starts in 1912 and women aren’t yet allowed to have the vote. The gender differences were obvious and women were expected to take a back seat when it came to politics and voicing their opinions. Lady Sybil, Jessica explains, was “very forward thinking, she’s at that age where she’s learning who she is and consequently she’s discovering this at a time when women were becoming more vocal and less subservient”.
With a core cast of 18 actors it is inevitable that there would be a lot of laughter on set and seemingly often at the heart of that laughter is Maggie Smith. “Maggie’s sense of humour is so dry and quick – she’ll just pass by you and out pops a quip that makes you cry with laughter – she is so much fun. If I’ve learnt one thing on this job it is to laugh and not take myself too seriously.
In Easter 2013 Channel 4 aired the 2 part drama Labyrinth, based on the bestselling novel by Kate Mosse. Critics gave the show luke warm reviews but praised Miss Brown Findlay saying, “Jessica proved to be very watchable, moving across the screen with grace and confidence”.
We expect Jessica Brown-Findlay will hit new highs across the pond in America as she landed the role of Beverly Penn in the film adaptation of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel Winter’s Tale opposite Will Smith and Russell Crowe. Winter’s Tale is set for a late 2013 release and has already been tipped for possible Oscar nods.