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Whatever happened to Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter?

The Harry Potter universe is well-known for its biggest and baddest villain, Lord Voldemort, who arrives at the end of nearly every book and movie to try and kill Harry, but there are plenty of other baddies lurking in the wings. Aside from Voldemort's twisted, evil army known as the Death Eaters — who enjoy torturing and murdering Muggles and other enemies for sport — some villains are less obviously evil, the best example of which is Dolores Umbridge, played in the films by Imelda Staunton.

A Ministry of Magic employee sent in to quietly exert control over Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Umbridge takes over the school's Defense Against the Dark Arts classes during Harry's fifth year in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, immediately proving to be nearly as frightening of a villain as Voldemort himself. Umbridge's sickly sweet, simpering exterior hides an extraordinarily dark nature, as Harry soon discovers, and throughout her time at Hogwarts and beyond, she exhibits a cruelty rarely seen elsewhere in the series.

Any actor who takes on such a layered and intense role must be up for a serious challenge, making Staunton, a versatile and immensely talented performer, the perfect woman for the role. But what happened to the actress after leaving the wizarding world of Harry Potter? Well, from theater work to voice roles to TV spots, here's what Staunton has been up to since she donned Umbridge's pink robes.

The Harry Potter actress got her start in theater

Born and raised in North London, Imelda Staunton got her start in small roles in her Catholic school plays, but eventually, she set her sights even higher, applying for a place at London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, or RADA, after encouragement from one of her teachers. Accepted at the age of 18, Staunton clearly showed considerable talent right off the bat, and in 1976, she graduated from the acting school and began her career on the stage.

Ever since she made her National Theatre debut in 1982 in The Beggar's Opera, for which she received her first two Olivier Award nominations (the British equivalent of a Tony Award), Staunton has been one of Britain's most recognized stage actors. Staunton has been nominated for and won several Olivier awards. As of 2018, she's received 13 total nominations and won four awards over the years thanks to leading roles in shows like Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods. Plus, she also starred in The Corn is Green and A Chorus of Disapproval, two distinct shows for which she won one award for Supporting Actress. Later in her career, Staunton would continue displaying her bold versatility by performing in both Stephen Sondheim's Follies and Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 2017, both of which earned her more Olivier nominations.

Working with future Harry Potter co-stars

In the midst of dominating the British stage, Staunton began her film career in 1986, appearing in Comrades alongside venerated actress Vanessa Redgrave. From there, she moved seamlessly into classic literary adaptations, appearing in Kenneth Branagh's version of Much Ado about Nothing before playing in Sense and Sensibility with Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. And as any Potter fan knows, all three of these filmmakers showed up in the same magical franchise as Staunton.

Though Branagh and Staunton both played Defense Against the Dark Arts professors in later Potter projects, they were in completely different films. Branagh played Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the second installment, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. However, Staunton reunited with her Sense and Sensibility castmates during her time in the Potter films, going on to butt heads with Rickman's severe Professor Snape and Thompson's unreliable Professor Trelawney, even firing Trelawney during her Hogwarts tenure in Order of the Phoenix. 

A new spin on Shakespeare

Imelda Staunton's biggest supporting turn came in 1998 when she appeared in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, acting closely alongside Academy Award winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Colin Firth (Paltrow won her statue for Shakespeare in Love, and Firth won over a decade later for his role in The King's Speech). The film focuses on one of Shakespeare's most creative periods and details his ultimately doomed love affair with gentlewoman Viola de Lesseps (Paltrow). Though the two must part ways after they perform together in Romeo and Juliet, their bond gives him the inspiration to write Twelfth Night

As for Staunton, she plays Viola's nursemaid, a loyal servant who helps cover up the noblewoman's affair with Shakespeare and semi-successfully hides the romance from Viola's vindictive and fussy fiancé, Lord Wessex (Firth). As a perfect piece of trivia, Staunton's real-life husband, Jim Carter, plays an actor who takes on the role of Juliet's nurse in the play, mirroring his actual spouse and her role in the film. Staunton also appeared with yet another future Potter star, Mark Williams (who plays Arthur Weasley throughout the series), though the two don't share screen time in either project.

Vera Drake almost netted her an Oscar

The critical success of Shakespeare in Love gave Staunton a small taste of awards season, and in 2004, she scored an Academy Award nomination of her own, proving that she was the perfect actress for prestige projects. Helmed by well-regarded British director Mike Leigh, Vera Drake tells the story of a woman working under the radar in London to help preserve reproductive rights for the working class, with Staunton in the title role.

Vera risks her life and livelihood to help women in need, and even though she refuses to take payment for her services to women, she ends up in jail by the end of the film, unfairly punished for intended acts of charity and kindness. For her performance, Staunton received her first Academy Award nomination for Best Leading Actress (the film also received nominations for Leigh as director and for his original screenplay) and a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress. While Staunton didn't win the Oscar — she lost out to Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby — the film did win the coveted Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, and it also received BAFTA Awards for Staunton and Leigh.

Staunton's tenure as Dolores Umbridge

Staunton didn't join the Potter films until the fifth installment, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but she was the perfect choice to play the evil, layered character of Dolores Umbridge, who arrives at Hogwarts during Harry's fifth year to interfere with the teaching structure of the magical school. As the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, the saccharine, pink-clad professor is only there to dissuade students from actually learning, which forces Harry and his friends to create an illegal student group so that they can learn actual defensive spells. In case that wasn't bad enough, she also tortures her students.

Despite the fact that she's forcibly driven out of Hogwarts by the end of Harry's fifth year, Umbridge reappears during the second to last installment of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. Umbridge, a character that series creator J.K. Rowling intended to represent the gray area between "good people" and "Death Eaters," simply loves power, and even though the Ministry of Magic has been overtaken by Voldemort's cronies, Harry manages to best her once again. But still, Staunton's pitch-perfect performance as Umbridge leaves an unforgettable mark on the series.

She dabbled in Disney after Harry Potter

After her stint in the Harry Potter films, it made sense for Staunton to transition into other blockbuster films, and eventually, she found her way into a few hugely successful Disney projects. 

In 2010, Staunton joined Tim Burton's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic novel Alice in Wonderland, which features  a few of her Potter co-stars, including Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, and Helena Bonham Carter, as well as Staunton's husband, Jim Carter. Though Staunton only speaks a few distinct lines during the film as the Talking Flowers, the physiques of the flowers are clearly based on her, so she leaves a distinct impression on the film despite her small role.

Staunton reappeared in Disney's 2014 antihero tale Maleficent, which stars Angelina Jolie as the seemingly evil witch that terrorizes Aurora, or "Sleeping Beauty" (played by Elle Fanning), despite the fact that Maleficent actually cares for Aurora. Staunton appears as one of three pixies — she specifically plays Knotgrass — who are assigned to stay by Aurora's side until she turns 16 and becomes safe from Maleficent's clutches. Staunton later reprised the role in the 2019 sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. 

Imelda Staunton played in Paddington

Staunton might not have appeared on screen in her next huge project — an adaptation of another beloved children's book series — but her role was an incredibly vital one. In 2014's Paddington, Staunton provided the voice of Aunt Lucy, who remains off-screen for most of the film but still manages to provide an emotional backbone for the entire narrative.

Paddington, the title bear with a toggle coat and signature hat voiced by Ben Whishaw, spends his childhood with his loving Uncle Pastuzo (Staunton's Potter co-star and adversary Michael Gambon, who plays Albus Dumbledore in the series) and Aunt Lucy in darkest Peru, all of whom are part of a hyper-smart species of bears that can speak. When Pastuzo is tragically killed in an earthquake, Aunt Lucy sends Paddington to live in London, where he's adopted by the quirky, kind Brown family.

Though Aunt Lucy is absent from the rest of the first film, she's always with Paddington, and in the second film, he embarks on a mission to bring her to London to live with him and the Browns. Despite difficulties and struggles, he eventually succeeds, and Staunton briefly reprises her role in Paddington 2 during the film's tear-jerking, emotional climax.

She showed her pride in Pride

The same year that Staunton made her first appearance in the Paddington series, she took on another emotionally charged and resonant project in Britain with Pride, a movie celebrating and chronicling the LGBTQ+ movement. The film, which is based on a true story, tells the tale of a faction of London's LGBTQ+ community that bands together to help miners during the 1984 British miner's strike. Though the two groups have very little in common, when the LGBTQ+ community comes forward to help raise money for the miners, creating a campaign known as Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, both communities work together and achieve incredible success.

Staunton played real-life activist Hefina Headon, who was a part of the Women's Support Group and strike committee, and thanks to her faithful and fierce performance, she earned herself a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and the film itself got a nod at the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical). 

A few high-profile TV roles

After years on the big screen, Staunton took on some television roles, but true to form for the veteran actress, she wisely chose high-profile projects that brought her even more fame and acclaim.

In 2007, Staunton appeared against her real-life husband Jim Carter once again in Cranford, a limited British series adapted from the 19th-century short novels by Elizabeth Gaskell. The story of the titular small town where widows and unmarried women lead happy, fulfilled lives within their community, Cranford featured Staunton as Octavia Pole, one of the more gossipy members of the town, and in addition to her husband, she was joined by her Potter cohort and frequent collaborator Michael Gambon (as a local farmer). Staunton also reprised her role in 2009's Return to Cranford.

The year 2012 brought Staunton even more critical success with HBO's original film The Girl, which told the dark, lurid story of Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) and his enduring obsession with his The Birds' leading lady Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller). Staunton played Alma Reville, Hitchcock's long-suffering wife and screenwriting partner, and her performance netted her nominations for both another BAFTA and a Primetime Emmy Award.

Staunton decided to visit Downton Abbey

Staunton collaborates frequently with her husband, Jim Carter, who's an esteemed and established actor in his own right. Carter has been a prominent performer for years, but ever since Downton Abbey first premiered in 2010, Carter has become a star as Carson, the head butler who manages the entire staff of the enormous, titular estate.

After the success of the original series, it seemed inevitable that Downton Abbey would get its own feature film, and in 2019, the Downton Abbey movie hit theaters. The film focuses on a visit from King George V to the Crawley estate. And in the film, Carter reprises his role as Carson, while Staunton plays Maud, one of Queen Mary's ladies-in-waiting. The movie premiered to positive reviews, and it also allowed Staunton to work with her Potter co-star Maggie Smith, who played Professor McGonagall in the wizarding film series.

The Harry Potter actress received a great honor from Great Britain

The actress who played Dolores Umbridge isn't just a star of stage and screen. In fact, Imelda Staunton has received a special honor from her home country, marking her as one of the most important creative minds and decorated performers to represent the United Kingdom. 

In 2006, Staunton was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, also known as an "OBE," and ten years later, she earned the title of Commander of the British Empire (a "CBE"), both thanks to her work in the dramatic arts. The award was originally intended as a British order of chivalry, but it clearly extends to the performative arts, as well. Staunton might not be an official knight of the British Empire, but she has been recognized by the Queen for her work as an actress, proving that she's an indispensable and invaluable staple of British drama who will represent her home country for years to come.

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