Best-known to American TV audiences as Saffy, the frighteningly sensible daughter of Edina Monsoon on Absolutely Fabulous, Julia Sawalha has earned a reputation as one of Britain’s more beloved comedic actresses.
The daughter of respected Jordanian actor Nadim Sawalha (who immigrated to England in the 1960s) and an English mother, Sawalha was born in London on September 9, 1968. Raised in the company of two sisters, she became interested in acting at a young age, and landed her first break when she was chosen to star on the long-running TV series Press Gang. A show about a group of teens who run a youth newspaper, it was produced by Bob Spiers, who would later direct Sawalha in Absolutely Fabulous.
Premiering in 1992, Absolutely Fabulous would become one of the most popular TV shows in British history, winning scores of fans on both sides of the Atlantic. For her part, Sawalha earned both respect and recognition for her portrayal of the hilariously uptight Saffy, and her work led to roles in a number of TV miniseries, including the BBC’s acclaimed 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Although Sawalha made her film debut in 1990, she had her first major big-screen role in Kenneth Branagh’s In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), a comedy about a group of actors putting on a production of Hamlet. Cast as the actress who plays Ophelia, the film allowed her to perform alongside Branagh, Richard Briers, Joan Collins, and Jennifer Saunders. The actress finally got a crack at the lead in a major film in 2000, lending her voice to the character of Ginger, the feathered heroine of Peter Lord and Nick Park’s Chicken Run. A hugely successful all-poultry retelling of The Great Escape, the film also featured the vocal talents of Mel Gibson, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson, and Imelda Staunton. In addition to her work in Chicken Run, Sawalha kept busy that year with a number of other film and TV projects, including The Final Curtain, a comedy about a rivalry between two British game show personalities.