Karvan was inducted into the Australian Film Walk of Fame in 2007 in acknowledgment of her contributions to the Australian film and television industry. From 2010 to 2011, she starred in the drama series Spirited. She appeared as Judy Vickers in Puberty Blues.
Karvan began screen acting in 1983 when she appeared in the film Molly. In 1987, she went on to appear in Phillip Noyce's Echoes of Paradise and appeared alongside Judy Davis in Gillian Armstrong's High Tide that same year.
When she was 17 years old Karvan secured a leading role in the Australian comedy/caper film The Big Steal.
In 1993, Karvan won an FCCA (Film Critics Circle of Australia) Award for Best Actress for her role in The Heartbreak Kid. She has starred alongside many of Australia's leading men, including Guy Pearce in Flynn (1991) (playing the young fiancee of Errol Flynn) and Dating the Enemy (1996), Ben Mendelsohn in The Big Steal (1990) and Hugh Jackman in Paperback Hero (1999). She was nominated for an AFI Award for Best Supporting Actress in the 1999 film Passion.
In 2006, she had a role in Footy Legends, a film about rugby league. She also played the role of Hailey's (Joanna Levesque) mother in the American film Aquamarine. That year, Karvan appeared in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith as Sola Naberrie, the older sister of Padmé Amidala. She also filmed scenes for Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, but her scenes were cut and appear only on the DVD release.
She also co-starred with Jim Caviezel in Nature's Grave, directed by Jamie Blanks in 2008. In 2009, she voiced in the film $9.99. She appeared in the 2009 film Daybreakers, a vampire thriller co-starring Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill and filmed on the Gold Goast. She also starred in 33 Postcards, released in 2011 and Long Weekend.
In 1996, Karvan was awarded her first Australian Film Institute award for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Television Drama for the GP episode titled "Sing Me a Lullaby". She won the award again in 2005 and 2007 for her role as Frankie Paige in the television series Love My Way. As a producer of Love My Way, Karvan received further AFI awards in 2005, 2006 and 2007 for Best Television Drama Series.
Karvan has won Logie Award for Most Outstanding Actress three times. First in 2003 for The Secret Life of Us, then in 2006 for Love My Way, and again in 2010 for Saved.
In August 2010, a new Australian series starring Karvan was launched, Spirited. Karvan is a co-creator and producer of the series. She plays the dentist, Suzy Darling, who has left her husband and moved into a flat in a building which she discovers is haunted by the ghost of a 1980s British rock musician, Henry (Matt King).
Karvan was cast in the first eight-part season of Puberty Blues, a television series shown on Channel Ten in Australia in 2012. It is an updated version of the 1981 film Puberty Blues. In 2014, she returned to season two of the show. In 2013, Karvan starred in the ABC miniseries The Time Of Our Lives as Caroline.
In 2016 Karvan starred opposite Guy Pearce in Jack Irish, for ABC TV, as character Sarah Longmore, while 2017 has seen her play the lead character Josephine Newton in Newton's Law once again for ABC TV.
Karvan has also appeared on stage in a production of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll.
Karvan was born in Sydney, Australia, and attended SCEGGS Darlinghurst. When she was 8 she lived in Bali for a year with her mother and brothers. After returning from Bali, Karvan's family moved to King's Cross where her father owned the nightspot Arthur's.
Karvan's partner is Jeremy Sparks. Together they have two children, a daughter Audrey (born in 2001), and a son Albie (born on 18 May 2006). She is also stepmother to the lead singer from indie band Bridezilla, Holiday Sidewinder (born in 1990), Sparks' daughter from a previous relationship with Australian actress Loene Carmen.Molly (1983)
Echoes of Paradise (1987)
High Tide (1987)
The Big Steal (1990)
Flynn (1991, released 1996)
The Heartbreak Kid (1993)
Touch Me (1993)
Heat (1996) (TV movie)
Dating the Enemy (1996)
The Violent Earth (1998) (miniseries)
Paperback Hero (1999)
Footy Legends (2006)
Nature's Grave (2008)
33 Postcards (2011)