Daniel Deronda: Who's Who

The Contessa The Contessa
played by Barbara Hershey

A celebrated opera diva, the glittering and self-possessed Contessa Maria Alcharisi holds a key to Daniel's past.

Barbara Hershey is keeping quiet about her role in Daniel Deronda. "I don't want to say a great deal about the character because I feel it would spoil it for the audience to know too much about her. Let's just say that she's very mysterious. Her appearance has a profound impact on the course of the novel, affecting almost everyone and everything."

It was this aura surrounding the Contessa which first attracted Hershey to the story. "She's a very original character, one of the most intriguing and complex women I have ever had the good fortune to play." And when it comes to strong female roles, Hershey, it seems, has cornered the market.

In an acting career that spans almost four decades, Hershey has worked with a veritable who's who of Hollywood: directors Woody Allen, Barry Levinson, and Martin Scorsese; and actors Michael Douglas, Robert Redford, and Michael Caine. Nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA, Barbara has won Emmy and Golden Globe awards and is in the distinguished category of having won two Best Actress awards at Cannes. When asked to name the favorite of her own films, however, she hedges a bit: "It's really difficult for me to name one specific project, because I actually have quite a few of which I'm really proud and fond. I'd have to put A World Apart, Hannah and Her Sisters, and The Last Temptation of Christ among my favorites -- but don't tell anyone..."

Hershey is no stranger to acting in adaptations of literary classics. In 1997 she starred with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich in Jane Campion's multi-award-winning adaptation of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady. Of Daniel Deronda she says: "I was fascinated by the subject of the novel. Ultimately, Eliot is writing about the discovery of the individual, the discovery of the self. It's a story which is not only heartbreakingly powerful but also massively pertinent to the new world order in which identity is being continually questioned and examined."