LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Lesley Manville is the latest British actress to emerge from the Mike Leigh laboratory of breakthrough performances.
A 40-year veteran of stage and screen in England and a friend and collaborator of Leigh's for nearly that long, Manville dominates the director's "Another Year," an ensemble film set around a contented couple and their circle of family and friends.
Leigh's films have earned Academy Awards nominations or other Hollywood honors for his actresses: Brenda Blethyn and Marianne Jean-Baptiste for "Secrets & Lies," Imelda Staunton for "Vera Drake," Sally Hawkins for "Happy-Go-Lucky."
And while Leigh often works with the same actors again, he proudly calls Manville his record-holder. She has had roles in seven of his film and TV productions, among them significant parts in the Gilbert and Sullivan saga "Topsy-Turvy" and the working-class drama "All or Nothing."
Manville, who will collaborate with Leigh again next year for a play at London's National Theatre, has been ready and willing every time he comes calling.
"I've never said no yet. It's such fantastic work. I don't know an actor that doesn't want to work with him, because so much is being asked of you creatively," Manville, 54, said of Leigh and his style of creating characters, stories and screenplays through a long process of improvisation with his actors.
"Another Year" features Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as a happy old married couple who go through four seasons of gatherings with friends and relations. Among their circle is Manville's Mary, the lonelyheart of lonelyhearts, a tragically self-absorbed woman desperate for a crumb of romance and happiness.
The film premiered at last May's Cannes Film Festival with great buzz for Manville, who has found herself on the Hollywood interview circuit as "Another Year" migrated to North American festivals ahead of its U.S. theatrical release Wednesday.
"I've been acting for such a long time, and although it's all wonderful, I'm not getting flaky about it, because I'm too grounded as a person. ... At heart, I'm a realist, and I'm very rooted. I'm not skittish and 24, being un-levelheaded about it," Manville said. "But that isn't to say that it isn't extremely nice and it isn't very welcome that America has taken to the film and my performance so strongly."
While Hawkins won a Golden Globe for "Happy-Go-Lucky," she missed out on an Oscar nomination. Manville also could get snubbed when Oscar nominations come out Jan. 25. She already has been passed over for a Globe nomination amid a crowded awards field this season that includes Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman and Natalie Portman.
Leigh hopes Manville will not get left out among such top Hollywood players, but even if she is nominated for an Oscar, he is certain she won't win.
"I say this with no rancor or bitterness. It's just a cold and simple fact. We are outsiders. ... This is a Hollywood operation, and the movies that win are the Hollywood movies, on the whole," Leigh said.
"But I cannot see how anybody really could seriously suggest that there is any performance by an actress in any current film that is actually — in terms of real, solid, creative, extraordinary, star-quality screen acting — better than what Lesley Manville does."
Manville met Leigh in her early 20s for a theater project he was directing at the Royal Shakespeare Company. While that project never came to pass, the two struck up an immediate friendship.
The daughter of a taxi driver and a housewife, Manville trained as a classical singer and moved into acting around age 16, doing plays with the Royal Court Theatre and later TV and films.
Her screen credits have been confined mostly to Britain, though she did co-star in Jim Carrey's "A Christmas Carol," playing Mrs. Cratchit opposite ex-husband Gary Oldman as counting-house clerk Bob Cratchit. Manville and Oldman have a 22-year-old son.
In an interview at a suite in Los Angeles' posh Four Seasons Hotel, Manville said she hopes the attention she's receiving for "Another Year" might bring her more Hollywood roles.
"It'll be very good hopefully, because it'll open up the possibility of working here, which would be very nice," Manville said. "I have an amazing career in England. I do the best theater there is around, I make films with Mike, I do some nice television when I want to. It can't really get much better there.
"I'd love to come here and work with some interesting directors and have the next adventure."