Antony Sher

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Sir Antony Sher
Born (1949-06-14) 14 June 1949 (age 66)
Cape Town, South Africa
Citizenship British
Alma mater Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art
Occupation Actor, writer and theatre director
Years active 1972–present
Organization Royal National Theatre
Royal Shakespeare Company
Notable work I.D. (2003)
Primo (2004)
Home town Sea Point
Partner(s) Gregory Doran
Parent(s) Emmanuel and Margery Sher
Relatives Ronald Harwood (cousin)
Awards 2 Laurence Olivier Awards
1 Screen Actors Guild Award
1 Drama Desk Award
1 Evening Standard Award
1 Critics Circle Theatre Award
1 TMA Award

Sir Antony Sher, KBE (born 14 June 1949) is a British actor of South African origin, and twice winner of the Laurence Olivier Award. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982 and toured in many roles, as well as appearing on film and TV, and working as a writer and theatre director. In 2001, he starred in his cousin Ronald Harwood’s play Mahler's Conversion, and said that the story of a composer sacrificing his faith for his career echoed his own identity struggles. Sher and his partner and collaborator Gregory Doran became one of the first gay couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK.

Early life[edit]

Sher was born into a Lithuanian-Jewish family in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of Emmanuel and Margery Sher, who worked in business.[1] He grew up in the suburb of Sea Point and is a cousin of playwright Ronald Harwood.[2] Sher, however, has worked mainly in the United Kingdom and is now a British citizen.

In 1968, after completing his compulsory military service, he left for London to audition at the Central School of Speech and Drama and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), but was unsuccessful. He instead studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art from 1969 to 1971. After training, and some early performances with the theatre group Gay Sweatshop, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982.


In the 1970s, Sher was part of a group of young actors and writers working at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre.[3] Comprising figures such as writers Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell and fellow actors Trevor Eve, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Pryce and Julie Walters, Sher has summed up the work of the company with the phrase "anarchy ruled".

With the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sher took the title role in Tartuffe and played the Fool in King Lear. His big break arrived in 1984, when he performed the title role in Richard III and won the Laurence Olivier Award. Since then he has played the lead in such productions as Tamburlaine, Cyrano de Bergerac, Stanley and Macbeth, and most recently played Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2 in Stratford-upon-Avon and on national tour. He has also played Johnnie in Athol Fugard's Hello and Goodbye, Iago in Othello, Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Sher received his second Laurence Olivier Award in 1997 for his performance as the eponymous Stanley Spencer in Stanley.

In 2001, Sher played the role of the composer Gustav Mahler in Ronald Harwood’s play Mahler's Conversion, about Mahler’s decision to renounce his Jewish faith prior to his appointment as conductor and artistic director of the Vienna State Opera House in 1897. Speaking about the role to The Guardian’s Rupert Smith, Sher revealed:

"When I came to England in 1968, at 19, I looked around me and I didn't see any Jewish leading men in the classical theatre, so I thought it best to conceal my Jewishness. Also, I quickly became conscious of apartheid when I arrived here, and I didn't want to be known as a white South African. I was brought up in a very apolitical family. We were happy to enjoy the benefits of apartheid without questioning the system behind it. Reading about apartheid when I came to England was a terrible shock. So I lost the accent almost immediately, and if anyone asked me where I was from I would lie. If they asked where I went to school, I'd say Hampstead, which got me into all sorts of trouble because of course everyone else went to school in Hampstead and they wanted to know which one. Then there was my sexuality. The theatre was full of gay people, but none of them were out, and there was that ugly story about Gielgud being arrested for cottaging, so I thought I'd better hide that as well. Each of these things went into the closet until my entire identity was in the closet. That's why this play appealed to me so much: it's about an artist changing his identity in order to get what he wants."[2]

In 2015 he will play Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

He also has several film credits to his name, including Yanks (1979), Superman II (1980), Shadey (1985) and Erik the Viking (1989). Sher starred as the Chief Weasel in the 1996 film adaptation of The Wind in the Willows and as Benjamin Disraeli in the 1997 film Mrs. Brown.

Sher's television appearances include the mini-series The History Man (1981) and The Jury (2002). In 2003, he played the central character in an adaptation of the J. G. Ballard short story, "The Enormous Space", filmed as Home and broadcast on BBC Four. In Hornblower (1999), he played the role of French royalist Colonel de Moncoutant, Marquis de Muzillac, in the episode "The Frogs and the Lobsters". More recent credits include a cameo in the British comedy film Three and Out (2008) and the role of Akiba in the television play God on Trial (2008).

Sher was cast in the role of Thrain, father of Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but appears only in the Extended Edition of the film.

Other work[edit]

Sher's books include the memoirs Year of the King (1985), Woza Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus in South Africa (with Gregory Doran, 1997), Beside Myself (an autobiography, 2002), Primo Time (2005), and Year of the Fat Knight (2015), a book of paintings and drawings, Characters (1990), and the novels Middlepost (1989), Cheap Lives (1995), The Indoor Boy (1996) and The Feast (1999).

Sher has also written several plays, including I.D. (2003) and Primo (2004). The latter was adapted as a film in 2005. In 2008, The Giant, the first of his plays in which Sher did not feature, was performed at the Hampstead Theatre. The main characters are Michelangelo (at the time of his creation of David), Leonardo da Vinci and Vito, their mutual apprentice.

In 2005, Sher directed Breakfast With Mugabe at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. The production moved to the Soho Theatre in April 2006 and the Duchess Theatre one month later. In 2007, he made a crime documentary for Channel 4, titled Murder Most Foul, about his native South Africa.[4] It examines the double murder of actor Brett Goldin and fashion designer Richard Bloom. In 2011, Sher appeared in the BBC TV series The Shadow Line in the role of Glickman.[5]

Personal life[edit]

In 2005, Sher and his partner – director Gregory Doran, with whom he frequently collaborates professionally – became one of the first gay couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK.[6]





Year Title Role
1976 The Madness Militia man/Young man in café
1978 ITV Playhouse Morris
1979 Collision Course Tasic
Play for Today Nathan
One Fine Day Mr Alpert
Yanks G.I. at cinema
1980 Superman II Bell Boy
1985 Shadey Oliver Shadey
1989 Erik the Viking Loki
1990 Screenplay David Samuels
1992 The Comic Strip Presents... Scum editor
1993 Screen Two Genghis Cohn
1994 Shakespeare: The Animated Tales Richard III
1995 One Foot in the Grave Mr Prothrow
The Young Poisoner's Handbook Dr Ernest Zeigler
Look at the State We're In! The Don
1996 The Wind in the Willows Chief Weasel
Indian Summer Jack
1997 Mrs. Brown Benjamin Disraeli
The Moonstone Sergeant Cuff
1998 Shakespeare in Love Dr Moth
1999 The Winter's Tale Leontes, King of Sicilia
2000 The Miracle Maker Ben Azra (voice)
2001 Macbeth Macbeth
2004 Murphy's Law Frank Jeremy
Churchill: The Hollywood Years Adolf Hitler
2005 A Higher Agency Chef
Great Performances Primo Levi
Primo Primo Levi
2008 Three and Out Maurice
Masterpiece Contemporary
2010 The Wolfman Dr Hoenneger
2013 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Thrain (Extended Edition only)
2014 War Book David


Year Title Role Notes
1981 The History Man Howard Kirk Episodes: "Part 1: October 2nd 1972"
"Part 2: October 3, 1972 (a.m.)"
"Part 3: October 3rd 1972 (p.m.)"
"Gross Moral Turpitude"
1999 Hornblower: "The Frogs and the Lobsters" Colonel Moncoutant
2002 The Jury Gerald Lewis QC
2003 Home Gerald Ballantyne
2007 The Company Ezra ben Ezra, the Rabbi
2008 God on Trial Akiba
2011 The Shadow Line Peter Glickman Episodes: "Episode #1.5"
"Episode #1.6"


Year Award Category Work Result
1984 Critics' Circle Theatre Award Best Actor Richard III Won
1985 Laurence Olivier Award Best Actor Richard III Won
Evening Standard Award Best Actor Richard III Won
1995 TMA Awards Best Actor in a Play Titus Andronicus Won[7]
1997 Laurence Olivier Award Best Actor in a Play Stanley Won
1998 Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Shakespeare in Love Won
2006 Drama Desk Award Outstanding One-Person Show Primo Won
2008 BAFTA TV Award Best Actor Nominated



  1. ^ "Antony Sher Biography". 2008. Retrieved 22 January 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Smith, Rupert (20 September 2001). "The great pretender". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 4 May 2015. 
  3. ^ "Everyman Theatre". Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  4. ^ "Murder Most Foul". September 2007. 
  5. ^ "The Shadow Line, a New Drama for BBC Two". BBC Online. Retrieved 2 February 2011. 
  6. ^ BBC News, 21 December 2005.
  7. ^ Sher, Anthony. "TMA Previous Winners". 1995. Theatre Management Association. Retrieved 17 February 2014. 

External links[edit]