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Why The White Widow From Mission: Impossible - Fallout Looks So Familiar

Six movies in and counting, the Mission: Impossible franchise has yet to find a mission that it cannot actually accomplish. While many movie franchises based around explosive action sequences and not much character development tend to fizzle out, the Tom Cruise machine continues to deliver adrenaline-pumping, gravity-defying, techno-babbling hits. In fact, when you look at the Mission: Impossible movies ranked worst to best (in a highly non-subjective and totally scientific way), the two most recent entries top the list.

It helps that the rotating cast has included a galaxy of stars, even in small and early roles. In addition to Cruise as leading man Ethan Hunt, Mission: Impossible movies have featured Aaron Paul, Thandie Newton, Laurence Fishburne, Kristin Scott Thomas, and even Anthony Hopkins.

Joining that impressive line-up is Vanessa Kirby, who played Alanna Mitsopolis, aka the White Widow, in Mission: Impossible – Fallout and who's set to return in at least the next two movies. The British actress has a background in theater, but she's popping up on screens both big and small. From playing a literary crush to the royal family's glamorous rebel, this is where you may have seen Vanessa Kirby before she appeared in Mission Impossible – Fallout.

Vanessa Kirby played Princess Margaret in The Crown

One of Kirby's biggest roles to date has been Princess Margaret — Queen Elizabeth II's younger sister — in Netflix's royal family drama The Crown. While the monarch throws herself into work, Margaret smokes, drinks, parties, and occasionally tantrums her way through the 1950s and '60s. Even the most ardent monarchist has to admit that episodes centering on Kirby's Margaret are the most exciting to watch. Where Elizabeth keeps her emotions bottled up, Margaret lets them fly.

Unleashing that fiery side was a deliberate choice for Kirby. "I wanted to try and find the person she was before she hardened, before she became bitter and self-loathing, which is what I sensed. I wanted to find the torment that's underneath those things. That, for me, made a real woman, even though the circumstances were ridiculous," she told The Guardian in July 2018. 

With the way The Crown works, casting new actors in roles as the narrative moves through time periods, Kirby didn't get the opportunity to play Margaret in her later, sadder years. After the show's first two seasons, Kirby handed the role over to Helena Bonham Carter, but admitted to The Guardian, "Saying goodbye to it was awful. I really grieved it, actually."

Vanessa Kirby has appeared in a lot of British period TV series

Before landing The Crown, Kirby appeared in multiple British period TV dramas, including quite a few based on literature. 

In 2011, she played Estella in the BBC's adaptation of Great Expectations. If you remember your Charles Dickens, you'll know that Estella is the spoiled love interest of the main character Pip, played in this version by Douglas Booth, aka the Romeo to Hailee Steinfeld's Juliet. Three years later, Kirby went head-to-head with another beloved British character when she played Celia Ravenscroft, a client of Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot (David Suchet), in a 2014 episode of Poirot

Sticking to literary true-crime with a period twist, starting in 2015, Kirby played Lady Jemima Hervey in The Frankenstein Chronicles. The crime series, starring Game of Thrones' Sean Bean as John Marlott, drew on Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein. It originally aired on British network ITV, but it's also available on U.S. Netflix, so you may have stumbled upon it in your feed.

Kirby has occasionally had the chance to tell a story set at least partially in modern times. In 2014, she played archaeologist Alice in a two-part adaptation of the best-selling novel Labyrinth, which switched between Alice's contemporary search for the Holy Grail and a search led by a woman named Alaïs (Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay) in the medieval era. 

Vanessa Kirby became action hero Hattie Shaw in Hobbs & Shaw

If you've never seen The Crown or any other British period drama but you're a still Mission: Impossible fan and you're certain you know Kirby from somewhere, there's a good chance it's from Hobbs & Shaw. In the 2019 Fast & Furious spin-off, Kirby played Hattie Shaw, the (much) younger sister of Jason Statham's Deckard Shaw and the (much) younger love interest of Dwayne Johnson's Luke Hobbs.

Kirby is the first to admit that going from ballgowns and Buckingham Palace to fighting the Rock with a motorcycle helmet and her bare thighs seems like quite the leap. As she told Rolling Stone, "I'm so not an action-movie type. I'm a theater nerd from London!" However, as Kirby also pointed out, being an actor means being open to "as many [new experiences] as possible." Plus, she "knew it'd be fun to do" — and she might get to do it all again in Hobbs & Shaw 2.

Additionally, Kirby had a more noble motivation for signing up for a fight-heavy action role. She explained to Rolling Stone, "What drove me was the idea that somewhere out there, some 13-year-old girl would go to the movies, and while her brothers are freaking out over the Rock, she gets someone to relate to. That girl gets to see herself up there. It suddenly seemed like this was an important thing to do as well."

Vanessa Kirby's other movie roles

Although Kirby's most famous movies to date — Mission: Impossible and Hobbs & Shaw — showcase her action skills, her earlier career saw her feature in smaller roles in several notable rom-coms. 

Kirby stole scenes as Rachel McAdams' posh friend Joanna in About Time, which stars Domhnall Gleeson as a time-traveling romantic who uses his gift to win over McAdams' character. If that's not ringing any bells for you, you should know that About Time is simultaneously one of the time travel movies you shouldn't skip and the best romantic comedy movies you haven't seen

If you're pretty sure it's a rom-com you know Kirby from, in the Emilia Clarke-led movie Me Before You, Kirby played the ex-girlfriend of Will (Sam Claflin), a man who's paralyzed from the neck down after an accident.

However, Kirby's most critically acclaimed movie role to date is relatively recent and not exactly romantic. In 2021's Pieces of a Woman, she starred opposite Shia LaBeouf and Ellen Burstyn as a woman trying to cope with the aftermath of a traumatic birth. Streaming on Netflix, Pieces of a Woman earned Kirby a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama.