Born in England in 1989, Jessica Brown Findlay became interested in pursuing a life in the ballet around age 3. After training with the National Youth Ballet and the Associates of the Royal Ballet, she danced with the Kirov Ballet. She later attended Arts Educational School, where she continued to pursue dance until a career-ending physical ailment forced her to change her path. Soon taking acting classes and going to auditions, she got her feet wet on the TV show The Misfits and a few other projects before securing the role of Lady Sybil Crawley on the period drama Downton Abbey.
Born on September 14, 1989, in Cookham, England, Jessica Brown Findlay set out at an early age to be a ballerina and trained for years at it, notably with the National Youth Ballet and the Associates of the Royal Ballet. At age 15, she danced for a summer season with the Kirov Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London. She went on to attend Furze Platt Senior School in Maidenhead before being accepted to several ballet schools, eventually deciding on the Arts Educational School (at Tring Park, Hertfordshire).
Brown Findlay trained there for two years, but in her third year, she developed problems in her ankles and had three operations to remedy the issue. The last operation was unsuccessful and, worse, damaging, resulting in her not being able to dance again.
Heartbroken, Brown Findlay finished her education at Tring Park and then enrolled at London's Central Saint Martin's College to study, at the urging of an art teacher, fine arts painting. While there, she took up acting classes, went to auditions, and was soon spotted by a casting agent.
Breakthrough Role on 'Downton Abbey'
In 2009, Brown Findlay landed her first television role, a small part on the series The Misfits, and one that she would reprise in a 2011 episode. What followed would be a game-changer for the young actress: She won the role of Lady Sybil Crawley on the soon-to-be international hit series Downton Abbey. As Brown Findlay recalls, she read the script for the producers, and a week later, the part was hers. Set in 1912-1914 as World War I approaches, the show centers on the Crawley family of England and their servants. Brown Findlay's character, Lady Sybil, is the progressive rebel of the family, a champion of women's rights issues in a time when they had few champions. The actress's time on Downton Abbey was cut short in early 2013 when the death of Lady Sybil—of eclampsia, a condition of unknown cause that used to be called "toxemia of pregnancy"—was written into the storyline.
More TV roles soon came the actress's way, including parts on Black Mirror (2011) and Labyrinth (2012). Feature films also followed, including Albatross (2011), Lullaby (2013; with Amy Adams and Jennifer Hudson, among others), Winter's Tale (2013; with Will Smith and Russell Crowe), the indie film Shoplifters of the World (2013) and Victor Frankenstein (2015), to name a few.
Brown Findlay has been named a "new talent to watch" by Vanity Fair, and was nominated for the British Independent Film Award (2011) and the Evening Standard Film Award (2012) for best newcomer. In what is likely to be just the first such win, in 2013, Brown Findlay and the entire Downton Abbey cast took home the Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series.
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