Despite a visage and presence that seemed to almost predestine her for movie stardom, fair-haired Romola Garai stumbled into acting almost inadvertently. A performer of Hungarian extraction on both her maternal and paternal sides, she grew up with a banker father and a journalist mother and three brothers and sisters, and lived in Singapore and Hong Kong until the age of eight. Though never consciously nurturing any disciplined aspirations to become a film actress, Garai began to move toward the seventh art in her mid-teens, first by appearing in high school plays, then by joining England’s National Youth Theatre. Academically, she enrolled in the City of London School for Girls and (later) London University, as an English major, but a year into her tenure there, a casting director working for producer Su Armstrong and director Gillies MacKinnon noticed her and tapped her for a small role in the bittersweet musical seriocomedy The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, opposite Olympia Dukakis, Judi Dench, and Ian Holm, and Garai’s career was secure. She almost immediately snagged an agent, and numerous additional offers began rolling in. Garai’s breakthrough arrived in 2003, with a star turn in Tim Fywell’s Dodie Smith adaptation I Capture the Castle, for which she did an overwhelming amount of preliminary research and — uncoincidentally — earned high praise from critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Work came quickly and furiously at that point; assignments included hotfooting her way through the Dirty Dancing follow-up Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004), starring as Amelia Sedley opposite Reese Witherspoon in Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair (2004), and — on a particularly memorable note — playing the troubled 18-year-old Briony Tallis in the 2007 Best Picture nominee Atonement, opposite bombshell Keira Knightley — a performer to whom many favorably compared Garai.