James Nesbitt (born 15 January 1965) is a Northern Irish actor. Nesbitt began his career in the 1980s after leaving the Central School of Speech and Drama. His first appearances on stage and screen were critically praised and he came to wider attention in the mid-1990s after appearing in Cold Feet and Waking Ned. He took the lead role in Peter Cattaneo's Lucky Break in 2001 and in the same year was cast as the title character in Murphy's Law, the role being created for him by Colin Bateman. In 2002 he played Ivan Cooper in Bloody Sunday, a dramatisation of the events of 1972, for which he won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor.
Bloody Sunday established him as a dramatic actor and since 2002 he has appeared in the fact-based drama Wall of Silence, the adaptation of Quite Ugly One Morning, and Steven Moffat's Jekyll (the latter he was nominated for a Golden Globe award). Comedic roles are still offered to him; he appeared alongside Dennis Waterman and Billie Piper in the light-hearted BBC series The Canterbury Tales and has filmed an adaptation of Cinderella, which was broadcast as part of the BBC's Fairy Tales anthology in 2008.
Additional film roles include appearances in Woody Allen's Match Point, and Danny Boyle's Millions. Theatrical roles include a leading role in Owen McCafferty's Shoot the Crow in 2005, his first time on stage in 11 years. He is a patron of numerous charities, including UNICEF, Action Cancer, and Art Wave.
Despite enjoying these acting stints, a career as an actor did not appeal to Nesbitt; he planned to follow his father and sisters into teaching, wanting to specialise in French. He began reading for a degree at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown but dropped out after getting "fed up", saying "I had the necessary in my head, but I just couldn't be bothered. Being 18 is the worst age to expect people to learn things. There are other things to be bothered with, like girls and football." On the suggestion of his father, he moved to England to enroll at the Central School of Speech and Drama. On growing up as a Protestant in Northern Ireland, Nesbitt has spoken of being lost and misrepresented: "[W]hen I first went to the Central School of Speech and Drama ... I either had the whole of London thinking I was a Paddy, or I had drama-school students going, 'God, yeah, Brits out', and I'd be going, 'Well...'."
He lived with fellow actor and friend Jerome Flynn for a few months in the early 1990s, signing fan mail for the successful star of Soldier Soldier, before being cast in as Fintan O'Donnell in Hear My Song. His part was critically praised, but left him unemployed for six months afterwards when his newfound success made him complacent. He has said of that time, "When I did Hear My Song, I disappeared so far up my own arse afterwards. I thought, 'Oh, that's it, I've cracked it.' And I'm glad that happened, because you then find out how expendable actors are." The long-term effects of the role were more positive; his acting impressed both Kirk Jones and Christine Langan enough to cast him in Waking Ned and Cold Feet respectively. The New York Times called his performance "jaunty" and "bemused".
In 1994 he played Damien in Daniel Magee's Paddywack at the Cockpit Theatre, transferring to a production at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut in October. Variety commended his acting of "the play's only fully developed character" as "the one strong, telling performance [of the cast]". While in New Haven he once again felt the same disconnected identity as he did at Central. In the 1990s he featured in several films directed by Michael Winterbottom, including Love Lies Bleeding, Go Now, and the award-winning Jude.
In 1996 he was cast in Granada Television's one-off television romantic comedy Cold Feet after producer Christine Langan saw his performances in Hear My Song and Go Now. The director, Declan Lowney, already knew him through a friend and cast him as Adam Williams, a semi-autobiographical depiction of the writer Mike Bullen. Although Adam was not written as an Irish character, Nesbitt went out of his way to get an audition, eager to play an Irishman unconnected to the Troubles, which he believed was rare in contemporary drama. The programme was not broadcast until 1997, and in the meantime he took other roles.
Cold Feet was broadcast in 1997 and, after winning the Golden Rose of Montreux, was commissioned for a full six-episode series that was filmed in 1998. The programme became one of the most popular shows on British television, though reaction to Nesbitt's performance was mixed; on the BBC 2 arts programme The Late Review, Germaine Greer described his acting in the first episode as "especially awful", while Tony Parsons longed for Nesbitt to have fallen off a scissor lift—that Adam appeared on in one scene—and died. Parsons' comments upset Nesbitt and his wife, and in an interview shortly afterwards he said "I'd rather be me than Tony Parsons; I'd rather have my life than his; I'd rather be content with my lot than be involved with some esoteric heap of s***e". Cold Feet ran for five series, concluding with four 90-minute episodes in 2003 in which Nesbitt's character deals with the death of his wife Rachel (played by Helen Baxendale). Over the six years the programme was on the air, Nesbitt was nominated for three British Comedy Awards (winning the gong for Best TV Comedy Actor at the 2000 ceremony). He won the National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Actor in 2003.
He came to international attention in 1998 when he played amiable pig farmer "Pig" Finn in Kirk Jones's directorial debut feature Waking Ned. The part was offered to him in late 1997 and filming would have commenced at the time his first daughter was born, so he turned down the part. His wife read the script and convinced him to accept the role. The film was well-received worldwide, particularly in the United States where the cast was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture in 1999. Additional roles around this time included John Dolan, the coach of a women's football team, in the first two series of Kay Mellor's Playing the Field (appearing alongside his Cold Feet co-star John Thomson), investigative journalists Ryan and David Laney in Resurrection Man and Touching Evil respectively, and trouble-maker Stanley in Women Talking Dirty.
In 2001 he made his debut as a lead in a feature film playing crooning crook Jimmy Hands, in Peter Cattaneo's Lucky Break. On preparing for the role of a prisoner, Nesbitt said "Short of robbing a bank there wasn't much research I could have done but we did spend a day in Wandsworth Prison and that showed the nightmare monotony of prisoners' lives. I didn't interview any of the inmates because I thought it would be a little patronising as it was research for a comedy and also because we were going home every night in our fancy cars to sleep in our fancy hotels." The film was a critical and commercial failure. The same year he appeared as the title character, DS Tommy Murphy, in Murphy's Law. The role was created for Nesbitt by Colin Bateman, a close friend of Nesbitt's. Bateman had lobbied for Nesbitt to be cast in Divorcing Jack, but he was not a popular enough actor when the film went into production in 1997. In The Guardian Gareth McLean wrote "the likeable James Nesbitt turned in a strong, extremely watchable central performance, though rarely did he look taxed by his efforts, and his chemistry with Harrison was promising and occasionally electric".
A turning point in his career came in 2001 when he was cast as Ivan Cooper in the factual drama Bloody Sunday, directed by Paul Greengrass. The events of Bloody Sunday passed him by when he was young; he was six years old at the time and it did not figure into his education. To prepare for the role he met with Cooper, talking with him for many hours. He described reading the script as "a learning process" that made up his mind whether he should take the part. There was controversy when the film was released; Unionists criticised Nesbitt for saying that Northern Irish Protestants felt "a collective guilt" over the events in Londonderry, his parent's home was vandalised by Protestants, and threats were made on his life. Aside, the film and Nesbitt received critical acclaim, and he won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor, and the Best Actor prize at the Stockholm Film Festival. In an analysis of the film in History & Memory, Aileen Blaney opines that it is Nesbitt's real-life "household name" status that made his portrayal of Cooper such a success, offering the thought that Nesbitt's "celebrity status" mirrors that of Cooper's in the 1970s.
In 2003 he was cast in the BBC anthology series The Canterbury Tales, appearing in an episode based on The Miller's Prologue and Tale alongside Billie Piper and Dennis Waterman. On Newsnight Review, Richard Jobson described his performance as "our version of a kind of actor who brings the same thing to the table, generally speaking, each time. And he can do something which brings a kind of familiarity, so you are looking for it. He is almost like a pop star, in a way, you are looking for him doing the things you like best.
The following year he was cast as Jack Parlabane in the adaptation of Christopher Brookmyre's Quite Ugly One Morning for ITV. ITV had requested Nesbitt play the role over the original choice of Douglas Henshall. Brookmyre called the casting of Nesbitt "perfect" and was "really thrilled". The casting of an Ulsterman in a Scottish role caused some outcry; Scotland on Sunday noted that Nesbitt is "as Scottish as James Doohan". Brookmyer wrote Parlabane with a Glaswegian background and Nesbitt was initially to have worked with an accent coach. The accent was discarded after "a chat" between Nesbitt and the director, and when Nesbitt tried it out on co-star Daniela Nardini.
In 2004 he filmed the part of Detective Banner in Match Point, Woody Allen's first film to be shot outside of America in 30 years. Despite accidentally settling himself into Scarlett Johansson's trailer, Nesbitt enjoyed working with Allen, complementing the director's style of filming.
Following the conclusion of filming on the 2005 series of Murphy's Law, Nesbitt planned to take the remainder of the year off, promising to return to acting only if he was shown a good script. That script came when he was offered the part of Socrates in the Trafalgar Studios' production of Owen McCafferty's Shoot the Crow—his first time on stage in 11 years. His role as one of four tilers gained mixed reviews. In The Independent, Michael Coveney described one performance negatively, suggesting the role did not fit the actor. Coveney rated the whole play one star. In The Daily Telegraph, Charles Spencer described Nesbitt's acting in a performance in the same month as "outstanding".
While Jekyll was being broadcast, Nesbitt filmed Cinderella in Belfast—part of an anthology series commissioned by the BBC from Hat Trick Productions. Nesbitt stars alongside Maxine Peake as Professor Hans M. Prince at a modern-day university. He described the character as needing "padding" due to the prince's minor role in the traditional fairy tale. The programme was broadcast in January 2008. A Guardian writer described the script as "embarrassingly bad" and Nesbitt and Peake's on-screen chemistry as "zero".
In late 2007 he filmed the role of Pontius Pilate in The Passion, a BBC/HBO adaptation of the last week in the life of Jesus. After filming, he described the role of Pilate as "impossible to turn down", despite originally rejecting the script due to other filming commitments. His agent told him to re-read the script before making a final decision, something he was glad he did. Contrary to previous portrayals of Pilate, Nesbitt played the biblical figure as "nice", and—as when playing Jack Parlabane—used his own accent. The serial aired in the UK during Easter week 2008. Shortly after filming The Passion, he filmed the part of journalist Max Raban in the Carnival Films thriller Midnight Man, which was broadcast on ITV in May 2008. He is due to appear in Five Minutes of Heaven, a one-off drama produced by Big Fish Films for broadcast on BBC Two. The film is based on the true story of Alistair Little, a member of the Protestant Ulster Volunteer Force, who was convicted of murder in 1975. Nesbitt will play the brother of the victim.
In September, filming began on Occupation, a three-part BBC/Kudos television serial in which Nesbitt plays Sgt. Mike Swift, one of three British soldiers returning to Northern Ireland after a six-year tour of duty in Basra, Iraq. Occupation will be broadcast in 2009. In 2009, he will also appear in feature films Cherrybomb and Blessed.
An amateur golfer since his teenage years, Nesbitt joined the European team for Sky One's All*Star Cup in 2005, returning in 2006. He signed up to a series of television advertisements for the Yell Group in 2003, playing a hapless character called "James" for the company's Yellow Pages campaign until 2006. While frequently mocked in popular media, and labelled as "costing him some credibility" Nesbitt has said "I'd rather be in the Yellow Pages ads than a lot of the shit films that come out in this country."
In 2004 he joined the supergroup Twisted X to produce "Born in England", an unofficial anthem for the England national football team's entry in the UEFA Euro 2004 tournament. His vocals have also appeared in Lucky Break and an episode of Cold Feet. The song he performed in the latter—"(Love Is) The Tender Trap"—was released on one of the series' soundtrack albums. He also contributed vocals to the Waking Ned soundtrack. A fan of Irish band Ash, he made a cameo in their unreleased film Slashed.
In 2002 a Sunday tabloid published an interview with a legal secretary who claimed to have had a "two-month, cocaine-fuelled affair" with him. Shortly afterwards, another tabloid story revealed an affair with a prostitute, who claimed Nesbitt had boasted of affairs with his Cold Feet co-star Kimberley Joseph, and Amanda Brunker, a former Miss Ireland. Commenting on the publication of details about his personal life, Nesbitt has said he feared that he would lose his marriage, though the exposing of his "dual life" allowed him to "take a long and considered look at" himself. Years later, he described what happened as strengthening his marriage.
Nesbitt is a patron of Wave, a charity set up to support those traumatised by the Troubles. The charity faced closure due to funding problems before Nesbitt encouraged celebrities and artists to become involved. Since 2005 he has been a UNICEF ambassador, working with HIV and Aids sufferers, and former child soldiers in Africa, a role he describes as "a privilege". Writing in The Independent about his visit to Zambia in 2006, Nesbitt concluded that the children he met were owed a social and moral responsibility. The article was described in the Evening Standard as "moving and notably well-crafted". Since 1999 he has been a patron of Action Cancer, a result of both his father's affliction with prostate cancer and a storyline in the second series of Cold Feet, where his character suffered testicular cancer. He has been an honorary patron of Youth Lyric, one of Ireland's largest theatre schools, since 2007. He is a fan of football teams Coleraine F.C. and Manchester United F.C.. In 2003 he made a donation of "thousands of pounds" to Coleraine, after the team came close to bankruptcy. He has called the team "a heartbeat of the town [Coleraine]" and encouraged more people to watch Irish League football. He was a vocal opponent of Malcolm Glazer's 2005 takeover of Manchester United, though after he did television advertisements promoting executive boxes at Old Trafford he was criticised by fans. As a result, he pledged one half of his £10,000 fee to the "Shareholders United" group and the other half to UNICEF.
In June 2003 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Ulster for his contributions to drama. A listing compiled by industry experts for the Radio Times in 2004 named him the sixth most powerful figure in TV drama.
|1987||Up on the Roof||Theatre Royal, Plymouth||Professional stage debut|
|1989||Hamlet||Guildenstern (primary role)||Leicester Haymarket||Later played at Old Vic before a world tour|
|1992||Una Pooka||Aidan||Tricycle Theatre|
|1994||Paddywack||Damien||Cockpit Theatre||Later transferred to Long Wharf Theatre|
|1994||Darwin's Flood||Jesus||Bush Theatre|
|2005||Shoot the Crow||Socrates||Trafalgar Studios|
|Year||Title||Role||Awards and other notes|
|1984||Play for Today: The Cry||B Special (uncredited)||Extra|
|1989||Screen Two: Virtuoso||Bit part in professional television debut|
|1991||Boon||Martin Mulholland||1 episode ("Stamp Duty")|
|1992||The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles||Yuri||1 episode ("Germany, Mid-August 1916")|
|Covington Cross||Humphrey||1 episode ("The Hero")|
|1993||Comedy Playhouse: Sailortown||Skeeball|
|Screenplay: Love Lies Bleeding||Niall||First appearance in a Michael Winterbottom production|
|Lovejoy||Jerry Boyle||1 episode ("The Kakiemon Tiger")|
|1994||Between the Lines||Sean Phellan||1 episode ("Unknown Soldier")|
|1995||Searching||Duncan||2 episodes ("Part 1" and "Part 6")|
|Soldier Soldier||Bryan Casey||1 episode ("Sweet Revenge")|
|1996||Ballykissangel||Leo McGarvey||6 episodes in 1996 and 1998|
|1997||Common as Muck||Priest||1 episode ("Series 2, Episode 2")|
|Comedy Premieres: Cold Feet||Adam Williams||Pilot for Cold Feet|
|Touching Evil||David Laney|
|1998||Playing the Field||John Dolan||2 series (1998–1999)|
|Touching Evil II||David Laney|
|Cold Feet||Adam Williams||5 series (1998–2003)|
Won, British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actor, 2000
Won, TRIC Award for Drama TV Performer of the Year, 2002
Won, National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Performance, 2003
Nominated, British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actor, 1999 and 2001
|2001||Murphy's Law||Tommy Murphy||Pilot for Murphy's Law|
|2002||James Nesbitt's Blazing Saddles||Presenter||Documentary debut|
|Bloody Sunday||Ivan Cooper||Television film with limited theatrical release|
Won, British Independent Film Award for Best Actor, 2002
Won, Stockholm International Film Festival Award for Best Actor
Nominated, BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor, 2002
|2003||Tractor Tom||Matt (voice)||1 series (2003)|
|Murphy's Law||Tommy Murphy||5 series (2003–2007)|
Won, Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actor in a TV Drama, 2003
Nominated, Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actor [in a Lead Role] in Television, 2005 and 2007
Nominated, ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for Best Actor, 2008
|The Canterbury Tales||Nick Zakian||1 episode ("The Miller's Tale")|
Nominated, National Television Award for Most Popular Actor, 2004
|2004||Wall of Silence||Stuart Robe||Nominated, Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actor in a TV Drama, 2004|
|Passer By||Joe Keyes|
|Quite Ugly One Morning||Jack Parlabane|
|2007||Jekyll||Tom Jackman/Hyde||Nominated, Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series...for Television, 2008|
Nominated, Rose d'Or Special Award for Best Entertainer, 2008
|2008||Fairy Tales||Professor Hans M. Prince||1 episode ("Cinderella")|
|The Passion||Pontius Pilate|
|Midnight Man||Max Raban||Nominated, ITV3 Crime Thriller Award for Best Actor, 2008|
|Five Minutes of Heaven||Joe Griffin|
|2009||Occupation||Sgt. Mike Swift||Filming|
|Year||Title||Role||Awards and other notes|
|1991||Hear My Song||Fintan O'Donnell||Film debut|
|1997||Welcome to Sarajevo||Gregg|
|The James Gang||Graham Armstrong|
|This Is the Sea||Constable Hubert Porter|
|1998||Waking Ned||"Pig" Finn||Nominated, Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast, 1999|
|1999||Women Talking Dirty||Stanley|
|2000||The Most Fertile Man in Ireland||Mad Dog Billy Wilson|
|Wild About Harry||Walter Adair|
|Furry Story||Dad (voice)|
|2001||Lucky Break||Jimmy Hands||First lead role in a feature film|
|2005||Match Point||Detective Banner|
|2008||Blessed||Peter||Independent film with limited theatrical release|
Great Break for Lucky Jim; James Nesbitt Has Been a Very Busy Boy Lately. He Took a Break from Filming the Third Series of Cold Feet to Tell THE GUIDE Why He Wants to Come to Belfast Next Week to Host the Local Premiere of His New Movie Lucky Break
Aug 17, 2001; Byline: Lara Bradley JAMES Nesbitt could never be described as conventionally good looking, but sporting a new Hugh Grant hairdo...
James Nesbitt: the day I saw an angry, grey-black tumour cut from a patient's brain ; Star shadows surgeon for TV role
Feb 24, 2011; JAMES Nesbitt has told of his "fascination" at being allowed to scrub up and watch brain surgery in preparation for his latest...