Life and Work
Duff was born on October 8, 1970, the younger of two children of Irish immigrants. The family lived in Southall, London, and Duff went to a comprehensive school. At an early age, Duff attended a local youth theatre.
In her mid-teens, involved in an amateur theatre company, she began to think seriously about applying to drama schools. Her first application was rejected. "At the time, I was dersperately unhappy about it, but I just wasn't polished. I got too nervous in the audition. It wasn't a world I was familiar with..." After further study of Film and Theatre, at the age of 19, she attended, alongside John Simm, Anastasia Hille and her good friend, Paul Bettany, the Drama Centre in London.
Duff was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award in 2000, but first mainstream attention came as Fiona in the television programme Shameless, and for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in the lavish 2005 BBC television miniseries, The Virgin Queen which also starred Tom Hardy, Joanne Whalley and Tara Fitzgerald. She also played Julia Stanley, the mother of John Lennon, in Nowhere Boy. in The Last Station, a biopic about Leo Tolstoy's later years, she played his devoted daughter Sasha.
An accomplished theatre actor, she has worked extensively with the Royal National Theatre and also in London's West End. Credits at the National Theatre include Collected Stories, King Lear, and most recently the title character in Marianne Elliott's production of George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan to great acclaim. In 2011 she played in Alma Rattigan's final play Cause Célèbre at The Old Vic directed by Thea Sharrock. In 2007 she was one of nine female celebrities to take part in the What's It Going to Take? campaign promoting awareness of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom.