Derek George Jacobi
22 October 1938
|Alma mater||St John's College, Cambridge|
|Partner(s)||Richard Clifford (1979–present)|
Sir Derek George Jacobi //; born 22 October 1938) is an English actor and director. A "forceful, commanding stage presence", Jacobi has enjoyed a successful and distinguished stage career, appearing in various stage productions of William Shakespeare such as Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet. He is also known for his performances in Anton Chekov's Uncle Vanya and Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac. He was given a knighthood for his services to theatre by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994 and is a member of the Danish Order of the Dannebrog.(
In addition to being a founder member of the Royal National Theatre and winning several prestigious theatre awards, Jacobi has also enjoyed a successful television career, starring in the critically praised adaptation of Robert Graves's I, Claudius (1976), for which he won a BAFTA; in the titular role in the medieval drama series Cadfael (1994–1998), as Stanley Baldwin in The Gathering Storm (2002), as The Master in Doctor Who (2007), as Stuart Bixby in the ITV comedy Vicious (2013–2016) and as Alan Buttershaw in Last Tango in Halifax (2012–2020). In 2019, he played Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, in the third season of the critically acclaimed Netflix series The Crown.
Though principally a stage actor, Jacobi has appeared in a number of films, including Othello (1965), The Day of the Jackal (1973), Henry V (1989), Dead Again (1991), Hamlet (1996), Gladiator (2000), Gosford Park (2001), Nanny McPhee (2005), The Riddle (2007), The King's Speech (2010), My Week with Marilyn (2011), Anonymous (2011), Cinderella (2015), and Murder on the Orient Express (2017).
Jacobi has twice been awarded a Laurence Olivier Award, first for his performance of the eponymous hero in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1983 and the second for his Malvolio in Twelfth Night in 2009. He also received a Tony Award for his performance in Much Ado About Nothing in 1984. Jacobi has also received two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for The Tenth Man (1988), and Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for Frasier (2001). Jacobi has also earned two Screen Actors Guild Awards along with the ensemble cast for Robert Altman's Gosford Park (2001), and Tom Hooper's The King's Speech (2010).
Jacobi, an only child, was born on 22 October 1938 in Leytonstone, Essex, England, the son of Daisy Gertrude (née Masters; 1910–1980), a secretary who worked in a drapery store in Leyton High Road, and Alfred George Jacobi (1910–1993), who ran a sweet shop and was a tobacconist in Chingford. His patrilineal great-grandfather had emigrated from Germany to England during the 19th century. He also has a distant Huguenot ancestor. His family was working-class, and Jacobi describes his childhood as happy. In his teens he went to Leyton County High School for Boys, now known as 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 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 recognised 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. Jacobi appeared in a somewhat comical role, as Lord Fawn, in eight episodes of the 26-episode mini-series The Pallisers for BBC Two in 1974. 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 of the era 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 television programme.
Jacobi has narrated audio book versions of the Iliad, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, Farmer Giles of Ham by J. R. R. Tolkien, 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 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 ageing 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 role of the colourful Mr. Wheen, an undertaker. He played the role of Alexander Corvinus in the 2006 action-horror film 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. The show ended in December 2016, with a Christmas special.
In 2018, Jacobi received the World United Creator – Platinum Demiurge Award for his tremendous contribution to uniting and promoting world literature based on his efforts to introduce William Shakespeare into modern cinema.
In 2021, it was announced Jacobi would be joining the cast of Allelujah, a film adaptation of Allan Bennet's play of the same name directed by Richard Eyre, which will also star Jennifer Saunders, Bally Gill, Russell Tovey, David Bradley, and Judi Dench.
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 said that making the film was "a very risky thing to do", stating "the orthodox Stratfordians are going to be apoplectic with rage".
In March 2006, four months after civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom, Jacobi registered his civil partnership with theatre director Richard Clifford, his partner of 27 years. They live in West Hampstead, North West London.
Awards and honours
- 1985: Commander of the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom)
- 1989: Knight 1st class of the Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark)
- 1994: Knight Bachelor, for services to Drama (United Kingdom)
- "Jacobi, Sir Derek". Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Shakespeare. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
- Wheatley, Jane (18 December 2008). "First knight of nerves for Derek Jacobi and A Bunch of Amateurs". The Times. London. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
- "Derek Jacobi Credits, Broadway". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- Sarah Stanton, Martin Banham, The Cambridge Paperback Guide to Theatre (1996), p. 181
- Farndale, Nigel (2 July 2012). "Derek Jacobi: 'I don't mind people having faith. But it ain't for me'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Framke, Caroline (4 November 2019). "TV Review: The Crown Season 3 Starring Olivia Colman".
- "Derek Jacobi Biography (1938–)". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
- "Trace your French émigré ancestors like Sir Derek Jacobi". Who do you think you are magazine. 27 August 2015. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
- Rees, Jasper (15 July 2002). "Crown him with many crowns". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 2 November 2007. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
- Vincent, Sally (19 September 2006). "I already knew I was a tetchy beast". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
- Wheatley, Jane (18 December 2008). "First knight of nerves for Derek Jacobi and A Bunch of Amateurs". The Times.
- Steele, Bruce C. (11 December 2001). "The Knight's Crusade: playing the wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings may make Sir Ian McKellen the world's best-known gay man. And he's armed and ready to carry the fight for equality along with him". The Advocate. pp. 36–38, 40–45.
- Campbell, Duncan (6 November 2001). "TV stars dress down for the Emmy awards". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 January 2019.
- "'Ello, 'Ello, 'Ello". Doctor Who. Season 3. Episode 40. BBC.
- Billings, Joshua (9 February 2009). "Star-Crossed". Oxonian Review. 8 (3).
- "Olivier awards 2009: the winners". WhatsonStage.com. 9 March 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- Lahr, John (3 January 2011). "Crazy Love". The New Yorker. pp. 74–75. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
- Brantley, Ben (5 May 2011). "Fantasies Aside, Life's Tough At the Top". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
- "'Vicious' renewed for second series by ITV, 'Job Lot' moving to ITV2". Digital Spy. 23 August 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
- Les Misérables (TV Mini Series 2018–2019) - IMDb, retrieved 11 January 2022
- Brigstocke, Dominic (26 July 2019), Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans (Comedy, Family, History), Altitude Film Entertainment, BBC Films, Citrus Films, retrieved 11 January 2022
- Thorpe, Vanessa (9 September 2007). "Who Was Shakespeare? That Is (Still) the Question: Campaign Revives Controversy of Bard's Identity". The Observer.
- Horwitz, Jane (9 June 2010). "Backstage: What the Stars Had to Get Over to Get their 'Goat' on at Rep Stage". The Washington Post.
- Jacobi, Derek. "Address to the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre at Concordia University". Concordia University (Oregon). Archived from the original on 10 July 2015. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- Malim, Richard, ed. (2004). Foreword. Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Work of Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1550–1604. Parapress Limited. p. 3. ISBN 978-1898594796.
- Anderson, Mark (3 August 2006). "Shakespeare" by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare. Gotham Books. pp. xxiii–xxiv. ISBN 978-1592401031.
- Horwitz 2010.
- "Sir Derek Jacobi: Equal marriage debate a 'squabble over nothing'". Pink News. 3 July 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- "Sir Derek Jacobi urges landlords to help save famous French's Theatre Bookshop". Camden New Journal. 23 February 2017.
- Itzkoff, Dave (26 June 2015). "Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in a Gay Pride March Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- "No. 50154". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 1985. p. 8.
- "No. 53527". The London Gazette. 30 December 1993. p. 2.
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