Derek Jacobi, December 2006
|Born||Derek George Jacobi
22 October 1938
Leytonstone, London, England
|Spouse(s)||Richard Clifford (March 2006-present)|
A "forceful, commanding stage presence", Jacobi has enjoyed a highly successful stage career, appearing in such stage productions as Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, Oedipus the King, and received a Tony Award for his performance in Much Ado About Nothing. His stage work also includes playing notable historical figures such as Edward II, Octavius Caesar, Richard III of England, and Cyrano de Bergerac.
As well as holding the distinction of being a founder member of the Royal National Theatre and winning several prestigious theatre awards, Jacobi has also enjoyed a successful television career, appearing in the critically praised adaptation I, Claudius for which he won a BAFTA, the titular role in the acclaimed medieval drama series Brother Cadfael, Stanley Baldwin in The Gathering Storm.
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 emigrated to England from Germany during the 19th century. His family was working class. Although a war baby, he claims a happy childhood. In his teens he went to the Leyton County High School and became an integral part of the drama club, The Players of Leyton.
While in sixth-form, he starred in a production of Hamlet, which was taken to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and 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. Other 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 stay at Cambridge, he 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, he was invited to become a member of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre immediately upon his graduation in 1960.
Jacobi quickly came to the fore, and his talent was recognised by Laurence Olivier, who invited him back home to London to become one of the founding members of the new National Theatre, even though at the time he was relatively unknown. He played Laertes in the National Theatre's inaugural production of Hamlet opposite Peter O'Toole in 1963. Olivier then cast him as Cassio in the successful National Theatre stage production of Othello, a role that Jacobi repeated in the 1965 film version, and of Andrei in the stage version and 1970 film of Three Sisters in 1970. Both these productions also starred Olivier. On 27 July 1965, Jacobi starred as Brindsley Miller in the first production of Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy. It was presented by the National Theatre at Chichester. Subsequently it was presented at the Old Vic Theatre, London.
After eight years at the National Theatre, Jacobi left in 1971 to pursue different roles and mediums of expression. In 1972, he starred in the BBC serial Man of Straw, directed by Herbert Wise. Most of his theatrical work in the 70s 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).
Although Jacobi's name was becoming known and he was increasingly busy with stage and screen acting, his big breakthrough came in 1976 when he played the title role in the BBC's series I, Claudius. He cemented his increasing reputation with his performance as the stammering, twitching Emperor Claudius winning him many plaudits. In 1979, thanks to his international popularity he took Hamlet on an theatrical world tour through England, Egypt, Greece, Sweden, Australia, Japan and China with himself in the as Prince Hamlet. He was then invited to essay the role once more at Kronborg Castle, better known as Elsinore Castle, the setting of the play itself. In 1978 he played 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 then joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) from 1982 to 1985 where 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, with 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.
His TV career saw him measure with Inside the Third Reich (1982), where he played Hitler; Mr Pye (1985); Little Dorrit (1987), from Charles Dickens's book; The Tenth Man (1988) with Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott Thomas. In 1982, he starred as the voice 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, 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.
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 took a second run in 2000, which he brought to Broadway for a limited run). Jacobi's work during the 90's included the 13 episodes 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, in 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, he 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 television programme.
Jacobi has done the narration for 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 played 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 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. In that, 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 on the Doctor Who BBC TV series itself, in the June 2007 episode "Utopia". Jacobi appears as the kindly Professor Yana, who by the end of the episode is revealed to actually be the Doctor's arch-nemesis, the Master.
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 role of the colourful 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, his feature film The Riddle, directed by Brendan Foley, in which he stars alongside 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 100 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 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.
Jacobi is openly gay, and in March 2006, after 27 years together, he registered his civil partnership with partner Richard Clifford, four months after civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom. They live in north London.