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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 17:26 GMT
Tom Wilkinson: Acting up In the Bedroom
Tom Wilkinson, nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars
With a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his latest performance, In the Bedroom star Tom Wilkinson has established himself as one of Hollywood's favourite Englishmen. As Bob Chaundy, of the BBC's News Profiles Unit reports, his long road to movie success owes a great deal to his baring all in front of 200 baying Yorkshirewomen.

"None of us wanted to do it", says Tom Wilkinson of the famous male striptease scene at the end of The Full Monty. "But it got rid of whatever fears you might have about making a fool of yourself."

With this new lack of inhibition, Wilkinson made the decision after the Full Monty to make films the priority in a career that had previously featured mainly theatre and television.

Performing in In the Bedroom
A powerful performance in In the Bedroom
Now, at the age of 53, the face you vaguely remembered from countless TV shows such as Prime Suspect and Inspector Morse has become instantly recognisable in such highly successful movies as Shakespeare in Love, The Patriot, Rush Hour and now In the Bedroom.

"Tom Wilkinson has that ability to make human a character from any level of society", says Alexander Walker, film critic of the London Evening Standard. "As a middle-class American in In the Bedroom, he examines corners of his character that most American actors wouldn't bother with."

The movie's director, Todd Field, was attracted by "an actor with a tremendous amount of power, because the character is so restrained." Tom Wilkinson worked hard to get the American accent right and even maintained it between takes "because it forces you to be a slightly different person than you think you are."

Practising the striptease in The Full Monty
The Full Monty opened doors in the United States
It came easy to him. When he was young, his father, who was finding it hard to make a living as a farmer in Yorkshire, moved the family to Canada. But after five years and several unsuccessful attempts to buy a farm, the Wilkinsons returned to live in Cornwall, where they scraped by, managing a pub until his father died in the early 1960s.

Tom Wilkinson became preoccupied with acting and directing while studying at Kent University. His hard work paid off. He won a place at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, RADA.

He then followed the well-worn path of the British jobbing actor; repertory theatre mixed with TV and film work. He refined his craft at the Oxford Playhouse, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre and London's West End.

By 1986, he was the acclaimed star of the TV series First Among Equals and of his leading role in Ibsen's Ghosts at the Young Vic. Though he had to endure the lot of most actors, "resting periods" (during which he became a proficient golfer), he has been unusually busy.

As Seth Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit
His performance in Martin Chuzzlewit was a tour de force
In 1997 alone, aside from The Full Monty, he had important roles in Oscar and Lucinda, The Ghost and the Darkness, Wilde and Smilla's Feeling for Snow. Indeed, he is now in such demand that he has already made four films since In the Bedroom, including The Importance of Being Earnest, due out later in the year.

His profile was helped enormously by what many critics regard as his most accomplished performance, as Seth Pecksniff in BBC Television's 1994 adaptation of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit.

The producer of the series, Chris Parr, now Head of Drama at Thames Television, recalls that: "Tom's career up to then had been as if he'd just been dipping his toe in the water. With Pecksniff he plunged in wholeheartedly. We all watched in amazement."

Fame for Tom Wilkinson has meant a lot more time in the United States, away from his home in Muswell Hill, London, which he shares with his actress wife, Diana Hardcastle, and his two young children.

Wilkinson at home
His new celebrity status means less time spent at home
Celebrity status is unlikely to change him radically. This is the man who famously met but failed to recognise both Madonna and Julia Roberts, and who first thought Jackie Chan was the female director on Rush Hour. He has turned down many potentially lucrative roles, most notably in Titanic.

"He is a serious and thoughtful person", says Chris Parr. "He's completely lacking in conceit and he'll keep a sense of surprise and proportion."

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12 Feb 02 | Oscars 2002
24 Jan 02 | Oscars 2002
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