Derek Jacobi –

Derek Jacobi in Cadfael.

About Derek Jacobi (1938 – ____)

Sir Derek George Jacobi, an only child, was born in Leytonstone, London, England, the son of Daisy Gertrude (née Masters), a secretary who worked in a drapery store in Leyton High Road, and Alfred George Jacobi, who ran a sweet shop and was a tobacconist in Chingford. His great-grandfather on his father's side had emigrated from Germany to England during the 19th century. His family was working class. Jacobi describes his childhood as happy. In his teens he went to the Leyton Sixth Form College and became an integral part of the drama club, The Players of Leyton.

While in the sixth-form, he starred in a production of Hamlet, which was taken to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was very well regarded. At 18 he won a scholarship to the University of Cambridge, where he read history at St John's College and earned his degree. Younger members of the university at the time included Ian McKellen (who had a crush on him — "a passion that was undeclared and unrequited", as McKellen relates it) and Trevor Nunn. During his studies at Cambridge, Jacobi played many parts including Hamlet, which was taken on a tour to Switzerland, where he met Richard Burton. As a result of his performance of Edward II at Cambridge, Jacobi was invited to become a member of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre immediately upon his graduation in 1960.

Jacobi's talent was recognized by Laurence Olivier, who invited the young actor back to London to become one of the founding members of the new National Theatre, even though at the time Jacobi was relatively unknown. He played Laertes in the National Theatre's inaugural production of Hamlet opposite Peter O'Toole in 1963. Olivier cast him as Cassio in the successful National Theatre stage production of Othello, a role that Jacobi repeated in the 1965 film version. He played Andrei in the NT production and film of Three Sisters (1970), both featuring Olivier. On 27 July 1965, Jacobi played Brindsley Miller in the first production of Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy. It was presented by the National Theatre at Chichester and subsequently in London.

After eight years at the National Theatre, Jacobi left in 1971 to pursue different roles. In 1972, he starred in the BBC serial Man of Straw an adaptation of Heinrich Mann's book Der Untertan, directed by Herbert Wise. Most of his theatrical work in the 1970s was with the touring classical Prospect Theatre Company, with which he undertook many roles, including Ivanov, Pericles, Prince of Tyre and A Month in the Country opposite Dorothy Tutin (1976).

Jacobi was increasingly busy with stage and screen acting, but his big breakthrough came in 1976 when he played the title role in the BBC's series I, Claudius. He cemented his reputation with his performance as the stammering, twitching Emperor Claudius, winning much praise. In 1979, thanks to his international popularity, he took Hamlet on a theatrical world tour through England, Egypt, Greece, Sweden, Australia, Japan and China, playing Prince Hamlet. He was invited to perform the role at Kronborg Castle, Denmark, known as Elsinore Castle, the setting of the play. In 1978 he appeared in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of Richard II, with Sir John Gielgud and Dame Wendy Hiller.

In 1980, Jacobi took the leading role in the BBC's Hamlet, made his Broadway debut in The Suicide (a run shortened by Jacobi's return home to England due to the death of his mother), and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). From 1982 to 1985 he played four demanding roles simultaneously: Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, for which he won a Tony for its Broadway run (1984–1985); Prospero in The Tempest; Peer Gynt; and Cyrano de Bergerac which he brought to the US and played in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing on Broadway and in Washington DC (1984–1985). In 1986, he made his West End debut in Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore, starring in the role of Alan Turing, which was written with Jacobi specifically in mind. The play was taken to Broadway. In 1988 Jacobi alternated in West End the title roles of Shakespeare's Richard II and Richard III in repertoire.

He appeared in the television dramas Inside the Third Reich (1982), where he played Hitler; Mr Pye (1985); and Little Dorrit (1987), based on Charles Dickens's novel; The Tenth Man (1988) with Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott Thomas. In 1982, he lent his voice to the character of Nicodemus in the animated film, The Secret of NIMH. In 1990, he starred as Daedalus in episode 4 of Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Greek Myths.

Jacobi continued to play Shakespeare roles, notably in Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film of Henry V (as the Chorus), and made his directing debut as Branagh's director for the 1988 Renaissance Theatre Company's touring production of Hamlet, which also played at Elsinore and as part of a Renaissance repertory season at the Phoenix Theatre in London. The 1990s saw Jacobi keeping on with repertoire stage work in Kean at the Old Vic, Becket in the West End (the Haymarket Theatre) and Macbeth at the RSC in both London and Stratford. In 1993 Jacobi voiced Mr Jeremy Fisher in The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends.

He was appointed the joint artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre, with the West End impresario Duncan Weldon in 1995 for a three-year tenure. As an actor at Chichester he also starred in four plays, including his first Uncle Vanya in 1996 (he played it again in 2000, bringing the Chekhov play to Broadway for a limited run). Jacobi's work during the 1990s included the 13-episode series TV adaptation of the novels by Ellis Peters, Cadfael (1994–1998) and a televised version of Breaking the Code (1996). Film appearances included performances in Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again (1991), Branagh's full-text rendition of Hamlet (1996) as King Claudius, John Maybury's Love is the Devil (1998), a portrait of painter Francis Bacon, as Senator Gracchus in Gladiator (2000) with Russell Crowe, and as "The Duke" opposite Christopher Eccleston and Eddie Izzard in a post-apocalyptic version of Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy (2002).

In 2001, Jacobi won an Emmy Award by mocking his Shakespearean background in the television sitcom Frasier episode "The Show Must Go Off", in which he played the world's worst Shakespearean actor: the hammy, loud, untalented Jackson Hedley. This was his first guest appearance on an American TV series.

Jacobi has narrated audio book versions of the Iliad, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis and two abridged versions of I, Claudius by Robert Graves. In 2001 he provided the voice of "Duke Theseus" in The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream film. In 2002, Jacobi toured Australia in The Hollow Crown with Sir Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson and Dame Diana Rigg. Jacobi also reprised the role of Senator Gracchus in Gladiator and starred in the 2002 miniseries The Jury. He is also the narrator for the BBC children's series In the Night Garden.

In 2003, he was involved with Scream of the Shalka, a webcast based on the science fiction series Doctor Who. He played the voice of the Doctor's nemesis the Master alongside Richard E. Grant as the Doctor. In the same year, he also appeared in Deadline, an audio drama also based on Doctor Who. Therein he played Martin Bannister, an aging writer who makes up stories about "the Doctor", a character who travels in time and space, the premise being that the series had never made it on to television. Jacobi later followed this up with an appearance in the Doctor Who episode "Utopia" (June 2007); he appears as the kindly Professor Yana, who by the end of the episode is revealed to actually be the Master. Jacobi admitted to Doctor Who Confidential he had always wanted to be on the show: "One of my ambitions since the '60s has been to take part in a Doctor Who. The other one is Coronation Street. So I've cracked Doctor Who now. I'm still waiting for Corrie."

In 2004 Jacobi starred in Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, in an acclaimed production, which transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in London in January 2005. The London production of Don Carlos gathered rave reviews. Also in 2004, he starred as Lord Teddy Thursby in the first of the four-part BBC series The Long Firm, based on Jake Arnott's novel of the same name. In Nanny McPhee (2005), he played the colorful Mr. Wheen, an undertaker. He played the role of Alexander Corvinus in the 2006 movie Underworld: Evolution.

In March 2006, BBC Two broadcast Pinochet in Suburbia, a docudrama about former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and the attempts to extradite him from Great Britain; Jacobi played the leading role. In September 2007, it was released in the U.S., retitled Pinochet's Last Stand. In 2006, he appeared in the children's movie Mist, the tale of a sheepdog puppy, he also narrated this movie. In July–August 2006, he played the eponymous role in A Voyage Round My Father at the Donmar Warehouse, a production which then transferred to the West End.

In February 2007, The Riddle, directed by Brendan Foley and starring Jacobi, Vinnie Jones, and Vanessa Redgrave, was screened at Berlin EFM. Jacobi plays twin roles: first a present-day London tramp and then the ghost of Charles Dickens. In March 2007, the BBC's children's programme In the Night Garden... started its run of one hundred episodes, with Jacobi as the narrator. He played Nell's grandfather in ITV's Christmas 2007 adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop, and returned to the stage to play Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (2009) for the Donmar Warehouse at Wyndham's Theatre in London. The role won him the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor. He appears in five 2009 films: Morris: A Life with Bells On, Hippie Hippie Shake, Endgame, Adam Resurrected and Charles Dickens's England. In 2010 he returned to I, Claudius, as Augustus in a radio adaptation. In 2011, he was part of a medieval epic, Ironclad, which also starred James Purefoy and Paul Giamatti, as the ineffectual Reginald de Cornhill, castellan of Rochester castle.

Jacobi starred in Michael Grandage's production of King Lear (London, 2010), giving what The New Yorker called "one of the finest performances of his distinguished career". In May 2011 he reprised this role at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

In April 2012 he appeared in Titanic: Blood and Steel and in November 2012 he starred in the BBC series Last Tango in Halifax. In 2013 he starred in the second series of Last Tango and in 2014 the third series.

In 2013, Jacobi starred alongside Ian McKellen in the ITV sitcom Vicious as Stuart Bixby, the partner to Freddie Thornhill, played by McKellen. On 23 August 2013 the show was renewed for a six-episode second series which began airing in June 2015.

Jacobi has been publicly involved in the Shakespeare authorship question. He supports the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, according to which Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare. Jacobi has given an address to the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre promoting de Vere as the Shakespeare author and wrote forewords to two books on the subject in 2004 and 2005.

In 2007, Jacobi and fellow Shakespearean actor and director Mark Rylance initiated a "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt" on the authorship of Shakespeare's work, to encourage new research into the question.

In 2011, Jacobi accepted a role in the film Anonymous, about the Oxfordian theory, starring Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave. In the film Jacobi narrates the Prologue and Epilogue, set in modern-day New York, while the film proper is set in Elizabethan England. Jacobi allows that making the film was "a very risky thing to do", and imagines that "the orthodox Stratfordians are going to be apoplectic with rage".

Jacobi is openly gay. In March 2006, four months after civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom, Jacobi registered his civil partnership with Richard Clifford. They live in Primrose Hill, north London. He was a Grand Marshal of the 46th New York City Gay Pride March in 2015.

Derek Jacobi's movie credits include...

Year Movie Role
1970Three SistersAndrei
1973Blue BloodGregory
1973The Day of the JackalCaron
1974The Odessa FileKlaus Wenzer
1978The Medusa TouchTownley
1979The Human FactorArthur Davis
1982The Secret of NIMHNicodemus
1982EnigmaKurt Limmer
1988Little DorritArthur Clennam
1989Henry VChorus
1990The FoolMr. Frederick/Sir John
1991Dead AgainFranklyn Madson
1996Looking for RichardHimself
1996Breaking the CodeAlan Turing
1998BasilFather Frederick
1998Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis BaconFrancis Bacon
1999Molokai: The Story of Father DamienFather Leonor Fousnel
2000Up at the VillaLucky Leadbetter
2001The BodyFather Lavelle
2001Gosford ParkProbert
2001The Diaries of Vaslav NijinskyNijinsky
2002Revengers TragedyThe Duke
2002Two Men Went to WarMajor Merton
2005Bye Bye BlackbirdLord Dempsey
2005Nanny McPheeMr. Wheen
2006Underworld: EvolutionAlexander Corvinus
2007The RiddleCharles Dickens
2007Airlock Or How To Say Goodbye In SpacePresident
2007The Golden CompassMagisterial Emissary
2008A Bunch of AmateursNigel
2009Morris: A Life with Bells OnQuentin Neely
2009EndgameRudolf Agnew
2009Adam ResurrectedDr. Nathan Gross
2009Charles Dickens's EnglandHimself
2010Hippie Hippie ShakeJudge
2010There Be DragonsHonorio
2010The King's SpeechCosmo Gordon Lang
2011My Week with MarilynSir Owen Morshead
2012Jail CaesarSulla
2013Effie GrayTravers Twiss
2015CinderellaThe King
2016Stratton: First Into ActionRoss

Derek Jacobi's television credits include...

Year Show/Series Role
1972Man of StrawDiederich Hessling
1972The Strauss FamilyJoseph Lanner
1974The PallisersLord Fawn
1976I, ClaudiusClaudius
1977Philby, Burgess and MacLeanGuy Burgess
1978Richard IIRichard II
1979MinderFreddie Fenton
1982Inside the Third ReichAdolf Hitler
1982The Hunchback of Notre DameFrollo
1985Cyrano de BergeracCyrano de Bergerac
1987The Secret GardenArchibald Craven
1986Mr PyeMr. Pye
1988The Tenth ManThe Imposter
1990The Civil WarVarious
1993The World of Peter Rabbit and FriendsMr Jeremy Fisher
CadfaelBrother Cadfael
2000The Wyvern MysterySquire Fairfield
2000Jason and the ArgonautsPhineas
2001FrasierJackson Hedley
2002The JuryGeorge Cording QC
2002The Edwardian Country HouseThe Narrator
2002The Gathering StormStanley Baldwin
2004The Long FirmLord Edward Thursby
2004Marple - "The Murder at the Vicarage"Colonel Protheroe
2007The Old Curiosity ShopGrandfather
Mist: The Tale of a Sheepdog PuppyNarrator
2007Doctor WhoThe Master / Professor Yana
In the Night GardenNarrator
2011The BorgiasCardinal Orsini
2012Titanic: Blood and SteelWilliam Pirrie
2012—Last Tango in HalifaxAlan Buttershaw
2013—ViciousStuart Bixby
2014—16The Amazing World of GumballNarrator, Moon

Memorable Quotes by Derek Jacobi

[ On his civil partnership ceremony ] “I've now been there, done that, and got the T-shirt. We just went to the registry office, signed a bit of paper and it was all over. We didn't have a bit party, but we had twenty-five friends to lunch. It was very quiet though, all over in a morning.”

[ On his two-year spell of stage fright and subsequent return in 1982 to the Royal Shakespeare Company ] “It's as though you have crossed Niagara on a tightrope 250 times and, on the 251st crossing — vertigo. You are convinced you can't move across the stage without falling over. You go rigid from the knees down. You suddenly wonder, why am I doing this? I knew I'd got to get through a whole season, three spanking parts, and that if I ran away, I would never act on stage again. It was that knowledge that shocked me out of my illness. But I had a very bad time in the first weeks.”

“Acting is painting, not photography, but painting is just as 'real' as photography. As an actor conscious that you are in a theatre, you still have to make it look as spontaneous as if you did not know that you are being watched by 1,000 pairs of eyes.”

“I've been acting for 33 years. I've proved I can do it. So any performance now has got to be deeper and better than that, nothing to do with ego, bravura, look-at-me acting. That is an invitation to the audience to assess your ability, and it gets in the way. The object is to get past that and lose yourself in your belief in the person you are trying to create. To find something absolutely real. But I constantly hope to go further than I manage to do. ”

“Actors, I don't think, ever really grow up. I'm hoping that that rejuvenating process applies to me, too. It has so far. I've been very lucky.”

“There's never been any game plan or thread through my career. It's just happened that I've ricocheted from one interesting character to another.”

Things You May Not Know About Derek Jacobi

He was on the short list of actors considered for the role of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

He and Laurence Olivier are the only actors to have received both a Danish and a British Knighthood.

Charlton Heston and Ronnie Barker had been considered for the role of Claudius in I, Claudius before Jacobi landed the role.

In 1963, when Jacobi auditioned for Britain's just-forming National Theatre, Olivier hired him as an understudy and spear-carrier. Luckily for Jacobi, the actor he was understudying, Jeremy Brett, got the call to Hollywood, and Jacobi inherited all his parts.

He once was invited to play Hamlet at Kronborg Castle, better known as Elsinore Castle, the setting of the play itself.

He has appeared in several films as a character with a stutter: the title character in I, Claudius, Frankie in Dead Again, and Alan Turing in Breaking the Code. He also appears in The King's Speech (2010), though not as the character who stutters.

Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen in Vicious (2013-2016).
Derek Jacobi in Underworld: Evolution (2006).
Jacobi in an episode of Doctor Who (2007)... with Chipo Chung.
Jacobi as Cosmo Gordon Lang in The King's Speech (2010).
Jacobi in My Week With Marilyn (2011).
jacobi derek-jacobi
In Agatha Christie's Marple: "The Murder at the Vicarage" (2004)...
top picture with Christina Cole... bottom picture with Geraldine McEwan
jacobi derek-jacobi jacobi
In Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon (1998)...
top picture with Daniel Craig...
As Alan Buttershaw in Last Tango in Halifax (2012-2013).
jacobi derek-jacobi
In Jail Caesar (2012).
As Hitler in Inside the Third Reich (1982)... with Rutger Hauer as Albert Speer.
jacobi-actor derek-jacobi jacobi _0017_I-Claudius-pic4 derek-jacobi jacobi derek-jacobi
Jacobi in his most famous role, as Roman Emperor Claudius in I, Claudius (1976)...
second picture with John Hurt as Caligula... fifth picture with Kevin McNally as Castor
and James Faulkner as Herod Agrippa... sixth picture with Sheila White as Messalina.
With Helen Mirren in Gosford Park (2001).
Jacobi in Gladiator (2000).
derek-jacobi derek-jacobi derek-jacobi jacobi _0023_dead-again-pic5-with-kenneth-branagh-emma-thompson
With Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson in Dead Again (1991).
jacobi _0029_cinderella-pic2-with-cate-blanchett _0028_cinderella-pic3
As the King in Cinderella (2015)... with Cate Blanchett in middle picture.
derek-jacobi jacobi
As the titular Brother Cadfael in Cadfael (1994-1998).