From Tilda Swinton to Karen Gillan: our 10 favorite Scottish actors, from “Breaking Bad” to “Game Of Thrones”


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The rebirth of Scottish cinema in the 1990s was, with a few exceptions, a heavily male affair, both behind and in front of the camera. Actors such as Ewan McGregor, Dougray Scott and Peter Mullan became stars, and younger Scottish actors such as James McAvoy came in their wake. But the women of Scotland have opened doors and did equally significant and outstanding work, and not just in the 1990s. So, here are ten of our favorite female Scottish stars.

Kelly Macdonald Macdonald

In Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s landmark 1996 film about Edinburgh drug users, Glasgow-born Macdonald made her first screen appearance – in truth, her first acting role ever – and she’s the one wearing a dress in the iconic poster.

Thanks to her strong performances in such diverse movies as Gosford Park (directed by the great American author Robert Altman), No Country For Old Men (a thriller by the Coen brothers) and Brave, in which she played the role of Merida, any thought that Macdonald would fade back into obscurity has long been dispelled. As for the small screen, her resume, including Boardwalk Empire (she plays Margaret Thompson), the latest BBC hit Giri/Haji (now on Netflix) and the highly awaited new Line Of Duty season, is equally marked by critical and commercial achievements.

And let’s not forget Harry Potter: In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, Macdonald plays Helena Ravenclaw.

Deborah Kerr, Deborah Kerr

Born Deborah Trimmer in Glasgow’s Hillhead district in 1921 – Kerr was a family name on her father’s side – the actress is best known for her starring role in From Here To Heaven in 1953, in which she appeared alongside Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra.

One of the most famous (and parodied) kisses in film history is also included in the film, with Kerr and Lancaster lying on a Hawaiian beach as the ocean washes over them. For her role in the musical The King And I, Kerr won a Golden Globe, but while she was six times nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, she never won it.

That is a record yet. She’s well known on this side of the pond for the strength of her roles in the 1961 horror masterpiece The Innocents (the best adaptation you’ll ever see of Henry James ‘The Turn Of The Screw) and the similarly searing Black Narcissus of 1947.

From Shirley Henderson

Lochgelly-born Henderson is one of the unsung jewels of the Scottish acting world, super-creepy in Sally Wainwright’s Happy Valley, super-pathetic as Weeping Myrtle in the Harry Potter films and just plain super in everything else she does. She’s a regular in the films of Michael Winterbottom-great she’s in 24 Hour Party People and A Cock And Bull Tale, but the highlight is Wonderland-and she’s respected by American and European directors such as Sofia Coppola, Kelly Reichardt, Todd Solondz, and Matteo Garrone as well. She also appeared in The Rise Of Skywalker, a Star Wars movie in which she played Babu Frik.

From Gerda Stevenson

Her sister, the harpist Savourna Stevenson, is an actress, artist, author, producer, playwright, radio playwright and musician. Gerda Stevenson is one of the most outstanding and admired stage actresses in Scotland.

In 1993, she created the renowned women’s theater company Stellar Quines, and her many excellent stage roles include Phaedra in the adaptation of Racine’s Phèdre by Edwin Morgan at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh, Margaret Bennett in Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story by Cora Bissett, and Lady Macbeth in the now legendary production by Richard Demarco on the Isle of Inchcolm in 1989. Although Stevenson has appeared on the small screen too rarely in dramas such as Shetland, and although she appeared in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Scottish filmmakers will still refer to her greatest screen role as that of Greta Thorburn in Blue Black Permanent, the once-lost (and now rehabilitated) 1992 masterpiece of Margaret Tait.

About Karen Gillan

Thanks to her role as Amy Pond, the pugnacious Scottish earthling who faces Matt Smith’s bow tie-wearing Time Lord in Doctor Who, Whovian will always have a soft spot for the Inverness-born actress. Beginning in 2010, Gillan played Pond for three years before having her big break with the part of Nebula in the superhero film Guardians Of The Galaxy in 2014.

She has since reprised the role in a sequel to the Guardians,


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