Formed the Field Day Theatre Company in 1980 with Irish playwright Brian Friel.
Was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA award for his turn as an IRA terrorist who becomes involved with a hostage's lover in the 1992 drama The Crying Game.
Passed up the offer to appear in The Snapper (1993) in order to make his Broadway debut in Someone to Watch Over Me, the story of international journalists taken hostage by a radical Muslim faction.
Works frequently with director Neil Jordan. Rea appeared in his 1982 directing debut Angel, and went on to appear in many of his films, including The Company of Wolves (1984), The Crying Game (1992), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Michael Collins (1996), The Butcher Boy (1997), In Dreams (1999), The End of the Affair (1999) and Breakfast on Pluto (2005).