Hometown: Newcastle, England
Favorite thing about the biz: “The opportunity to work with some amazing people.”
Least favorite thing: “Questions about my personal life.”
Where you might have seen her: As Bella, the wheelchair-bound character in “Notting Hill.”
Upcoming roles: She’ll appear in the independent production, “The Zookeeper,” directed by Ralph Ziman.
Somehow, if an actor or actress emerges from Great Britain, the assumption is that he or she is classically trained. After 20 years of dues paying, Gina McKee has burst upon the scene to support the minority opinion.
All of her training has been self-imposed. No stuffy Royal Academy lecture halls for her. “I had no formal training, which is kind of the norm in the British system,” says McKee, who will soon be seen stateside in Michael Winterbottom’s “Wonderland.”
“Most actors studied at the drama-degree level (in Great Britain),” she adds. “Everything I do I did through improvisation. It’s something I’m incredibly familiar with.”
This isn’t to say all of her on-camera work over the years is spur-of-the-moment creativity. Her improvisational aptitude is most evident during rehearsals. It’s a talent that served her well in Mike Leigh’s much lauded “Naked.”
“With Mike Leigh, you create the entire movie through improvisation,” she explains. “Once that’s completed, then the script is formalized and you shoot it just like a regular shoot. That’s what we did with Mike Winterbottom. He created an environment that gave us a chance to be incredibly creative.”
In “Wonderland,” McKee plays Nadia, a lonely sister in a family of six who seeks a mate through the personal ads of a newspaper. The film is a riveting look at the dynamics of a fragmented English working-class family over the course of one weekend.
“It shows you how often, as relatives, we are linked with each other even though we might not share every moment together,” she says.
McKee grew up in a small town in the northeast of England and lived there until she was 18. As a teenager, she and her friends answered an ad for a drama workshop, primarily to escape boredom. She took an immediate liking to it.
Her big break came with a part in the acclaimed BBC miniseries “Our Friends in the North.” In nine episodes, it chronicles the lives of four friends from ages 18 to 50. “It looked at life in Britain over those years,” she says, “how local and national politics affected our lives. That opened doors for me.”
Roger Michell, the director of “Notting Hill,” saw McKee in that and gave her the part of Bella, a wheelchair-using friend of Hugh Grant. Soon came a call from Winterbottom for “Wonderland.” And on Jan. 31, McKee began principal photography in Prague for “The Zookeeper,” written and directed by Ralph Ziman.
In each case, McKee relies on her own technique, which is constantly evolving and is always exciting. Says McKee: “It’s so lovely to make stories and explore.”