Page last updated at 23:12 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 00:12 UK

Profile: Jonathan Pryce

Jonathan Pryce
The star worked in his father's grocery store as a teenager

Jonathan Pryce, who has been appointed CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, is one of Britain's most versatile actors.

Bond fans know him as ruthless media tycoon Elliot Carver in Tomorrow Never Dies; Classicists recall his masterful Hamlet; Musical aficionados speak glowingly of his Tony award-winning performance in Miss Saigon; while younger viewers will recognise him as Keira Knightley's father in Pirates Of The Caribbean.

Born in 1947, Pryce was raised in Holywell, Wales, where his father, formerly a coal miner, ran a grocery shop.

A performance in a college production infected him with the acting bug, and he later won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Upon graduation, he joined the Liverpool Everyman during one of its most celebrated and radical periods, eventually becoming the theatre's artistic director and giving Julie Walters her first job.

'Coiled menace'

His breakthrough came in 1975 when he starred as nihilistic young student Gethin Price in Trevor Griffiths' politically-charged drama The Comedians.

The role won him global recognition, transferring from the Nottingham Playhouse to London's Old Vic and, eventually, Broadway - where Pryce won his first Tony.

Jonathan Pryce in The Comedians
The actor came to prominence in The Comedians, which explored political tension in 1970s Manchester

Critics of the time applauded his "coiled menace", while the play's director, Richard Eyre, called him "the most dangerous theatre actor around".

However, the actor's ferocious intensity sometimes landed him in trouble.

In London, an off-duty policeman once tried to arrest him as he made a surprise "drunken" entrance to Shakespeare's Taming Of The Shrew, running riot amongst the audience and battling with ushers, before leaping onto the stage and demolishing the set.

"Sometimes, I would like just once not to be described as intense or passionate," he told one reporter in 1986, shortly before detailing the "danger and menace" he would bring to his interpretation of Macbeth.

The desire to be seen in a different light almost certainly informed his decision to turn his back on "straight" theatre a few years later. But his real epiphany came while watching the original production of Les Miserables.

Cast of My Fair Lady
This will be your first Eliza. Well, this is my third this week. Any member of the audience interested in playing Eliza can find applications at the door. Wednesday and Saturday matinees available.
Jonathan Pryce, after My Fair Lady co-star Martine McCutcheon and her understudy both fell ill, 2001

"I'd just been playing Macbeth and I thought, 'they're getting the response from an audience that I hope to get with Macbeth, but they're not beating their heads against the wall'," he told the Guardian.

"And I thought, 'I'd like to have a go at that!'"

In 1989, he got his chance, originating the role of a cynical pimp, The Engineer, in Miss Saigon - for which he received an eight-minute standing ovation on the opening night in London.

The Cameron Mackintosh production transferred to Broadway two years later - but Pryce was nearly banned from the show after the US actors' union, Equity, protested over his being cast as an Asian.

After more than 600 members protested at the decision, and Mackintosh threatened to cancel the musical altogether, the actor was reinstated.

He went on to win his second Tony and, in his acceptance speech, made sure to thank the show's "multi-racial cast".

Cannes prize

Further musical roles followed, including a West End stint as Fagin in Oliver Twist! and a high-profile film role as Argentine President Juan Peron in Evita, in which Pryce starred alongside Madonna.

"She is hugely confident, but I had a good working relationship with her," he recalled years later.

"She's a very bright woman. She has an extraordinary life, so it was never going to be a case of let's all be pals and have a chat together. But... there was mutual respect."

Jonathan Pryce as Timon
As Timon in a 1981 BBC production of Shakespeare's Timon Of Athens.

The 1996 Alan Parker production remains, perhaps, his best-known movie, but Price has turned up in more than his fair share of influential films - from Terry Gilliam's dystopian satire Brazil to David Mamet's claustrophobic, loquacious tour-de-force, Glengarry Glen Ross.

He also picked up a best actor prize in Cannes for his subtle and nuanced portrayal of author Lytton Strachey in 1995's Carrington.

On stage, he played opposite Martine McCutcheon in the ill-fated West End revival of My Fair Lady - famously telling one audience that anyone "interested in playing Eliza can find applications at the door" after his leading lady and her understudy both fell sick.

In recent years, he has stepped away from musicals - partly due to a bad back - and declared he is in his "cameo period" as far as films are concerned.

That has rekindled his passion for theatre. He starred alongside his wife, Kate Fahy, in 2004's The Goat - about a man who has an affair with a barnyard animal - and this autumn he will return to the Everyman in Liverpool for a production of Pinter's The Caretaker.

He may have come full circle, but the 62-year-old has no regrets about branching out.

"I have done all these things because I can," he told the Financial Times.

"I can do comedy and musicals and serious drama and still be credible in every form, thankfully."



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