Kristin Scott Thomas made audiences swoon in 1996's The English Patient, earning a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her heartbreaking performance in the sweeping wartime epic. Before that, she stole scenes from Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell as the lovelorn Fiona in 1994's Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Despite going on to star in studio films such as 1998's The Horse Whisperer, opposite Robert Redford, and 1999's romantic thriller Random Hearts with Harrison Ford, the British actress made the bold decision not to move to Hollywood at the height of her fame.
Instead, she opted to raise her three children — Hannah, 32, Joseph, 29, and George, 19 — in Paris with her now ex-husband, French doctor François Olivennes.
"You’re not going to have a great career if you don’t have a happy family, and vice versa. It was a family decision," Scott Thomas, 60, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "My husband could not travel as easily as I could, and it meant a big career move for him."
She has zero regrets about her decision.
"I don’t think I would have done theater, which is a huge part of my life, had I gone to America.”
Her latest movie is the feel-good dramedy Military Wives (streaming on demand), based on the true story of British military wives who form a choir.
Scott Thomas plays a no-nonsense colonel's wife mourning the loss of her son who died while deployed in Afghanistan. She felt a deep connection to the role: Her father and her stepfather were both Royal Navy pilots who died in plane crashes.
"Being creative has been very helpful," she says of coping with the trauma. "I’ve managed to kind of deal with it through my work. I happened to be good at roles that involved a lot of sadness, because I had a personal connection to it. In some ways some of the work that I’ve done has been very therapeutic."