Fans of Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed Schindler’s List (1993) will recognize actress Embeth Davidtz for playing the abused Jewish maid Helen Hirsch, while those who love Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series may remember her for playing the two-faced Sheila in the third Evil Dead installment, Army of Darkness (1992). Still others will recognize the actress for her strong work in such period dramas as Feast of July (1995) and Mansfield Park (1998).
Born in Indiana but raised in South Africa, Davidtz is fluent in English and Afrikaans, having studied classical and contemporary drama in both languages. A graduate of Rhodes University, she made an auspicious theatrical debut with the country’s National Theater Company, as Juliet in a production of Shakespeare’s classic romantic tragedy, and she subsequently garnered considerable accolades for her theatrical work. Davidtz entered films playing the daughter of an interracial couple in the South African television movie A Private Life (1988) and went on to win the country’s equivalent of an Oscar in the Afrikaaner psychological drama Night of the Nineteenth. As her early work might indicate, Davidtz has shown a preference for appearing in political dramas from her first days in film.
A resident of the U.S. since 1991, Davidtz has appeared in numerous television movies and miniseries, including the 1992 crime thriller Deadly Matrimony. In 1995, she won more critical praise for her work as a young woman who causes a family crisis after being impregnated and deserted by her callous lover in an acclaimed adaptation of H.E. Bates’ novel The Feast of July. As a change of pace, she played a kindhearted teacher in Danny DeVito’s darkly comic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel Mathilda (1996) and then it was back to straight political drama with Garden of Redemption (1997). In 1998, Davidtz co-starred with Kenneth Branagh, in Robert Altman’s adaptation of John Grisham’s novel The Gingerbread Man, as a low-rent caterer with more than her share of dirty secrets. That same year, she continued in a similarly sly vein as the conniving Mary Crawford in Patricia Rozema’s controversial adaptation of Mansfield Park, injecting the proceedings with a savory dollop of manipulative eroticism.