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Jessica Brown-Findlay, 'Downton Abbey'
As a girl in Berkshire, England, Jessica Brown-Findlay, 22, dreamed of being a prima ballerina. At age 15, she even performed with the Kirov Ballet at London's Royal Opera House, but an ankle injury a few years later permanently derailed her career ambitions. While studying art at Central St. Martin's in London, she decided to give acting a try. In short order, she was cast as Lady Sybil Crawley, the spirited youngest daughter of a wealthy British earl in "Downton Abbey," Julian Fellowes' dishy period drama set in the early 20th century.
An acting neophyte, Brown-Findlay had the daunting task of performing alongside the formidable Maggie Smith, but her English rose looks and plummy voice made her the series' breakout star. Certifying her it-girl status, she was honored as one of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' Brits to Watch at a party attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in July.
The highly anticipated second season of "Downton Abbey," which premieres Jan. 8 on PBS, finds Sybil working as a nurse. To prepare, Brown-Findlay spent hours at the Imperial War Museum in London, poring over the letters and diaries of World War 1 nurses. "I really wanted to do justice to the huge sacrifice women like Sybil would have made," she said.
In 2011, she filmed two other British TV series: the medieval adventure "Labyrinth" and "Black Mirror," a technophobic satire, and 2012 promises to be yet another busy year for Brown-Findlay. First up is the lead role in the indie film "Albatross." And in February, she'll be back on set for Season 3 of "Downton Abbey."
-- Meredith Blake