Sir Derek George Jacobi CBE (born 22 October, 1938) is an English actor and film director, knighted in 1994 for his services to theatre. Like Laurence Olivier, he bears the distinction of holding two knighthoods, Danish and British. He is regarded to have one of the most outstanding speaking voices ever, with studied tonality and an exceptional elocution in drama.
At 18, he won a scholarship to the University of Cambridge, where he studied history 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.
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 70's 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 did not come until 1976. It was the title role of the BBC's blockbuster series I, Claudius that finally 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 epic theatrical world tour through England, Egypt, Greece, Sweden, Australia, Japan and China with himself in the protagonist's role. 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's production of Shakespeare's Richard II, with Sir John Gielgud and Dame Wendy Hiller.
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.
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.
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., entitled 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 200 episodes, with Jacobi as the narrator. He played Nell's grandfather in ITV's Christmas 2007 adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop, and appears in three forthcoming films: Morris: A Life With Bells On, Hippie Hippie Shake and Endgame.
In 2008 he will play Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the Donmar Warehouse.
Monarch in the Making; Sir Derek Jacobi Launches a Major Theatre Tour as King Lear in Wales Next Week. Karen Price Asks Theatre Director Michael Grandage What It's like Working with the Acting Legend
Feb 18, 2011; Byline: Michael Grandage AROUND 10 years ago, acting legend Sir Derek Jacobi told director Michael Grandage that he wanted to...