Family & Companions
The ultimate late-bloomer, British character player Nigel Hawthorne had nearly 45 years as an actor under his belt when he finally broke through to stardom with his compelling performance in the title role of "The Madness of King George" (1994). On stage, the role earned him an Olivier Award (among other honors), while the film version garnered both a BAFTA Award and a Best Actor Oscar nomination. But were it not for the insistence of playwright Alan Bennett and first-time feature director Nicholas Hytner (who had directed the play "The Madness of George III"), the role probably would have gone to someone with a more prominent Hollywood profile. Hawthorne's ability to be endearing in the part of a pompous, autocratic old bastard moved Bennett to write in the play's preface that "without Nigel's transcendent performance, the King could have just been a gabbling bore and his fate a matter of indifference." Hytner has said of the film: "We wouldn't have been able to do the movie in eight weeks if Nigel hadn't played it."
Having made his London stage debut in a 1951 production of "You Can't Take It with You," Hawthorne knocked about theaters in South Africa and Britain for two decades without much fanfare. When he reached his 40s, however, his face began to show character, revealing new vulnerabilities, and better parts came his way. After acting in his first feature, Richard Attenborough's "Young Winston" (1972), he made his Broadway debut as Touchstone in "As You Like It" (1974), and success in that role coupled with his turn in Simon Gray's "Otherwise Engaged" (1975) led to his much-praised portrayal of Major Giles Flack in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "Privates on Parade" (1977). Hawthorne started to get work in British TV projects like "Madame Curie" (BBC-2, 1977, playing Pierre Curie) and the miniseries "Edward and Mrs. Simpson" (Thames TV, 1978), as well as more international fare (like the 1978 NBC miniseries "Holocaust"), but all were a prelude to his breakthrough screen role as the stiff-lipped, quick-witted civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby in the acclaimed political satire "Yes, Minister" (BBC-2, 1980-83), for which he gained notice on both sides of the Atlantic.
Usually cast as an older dignitary or a man of official status, Hawthorne began turning up more frequently in features, reuniting with Attenborough for "Gandhi" (1982), despite the humbling fact that the director had no recollection of him, and working with actor-director Clint Eastwood on the languid "Firefox" (both 1982), recalling him as "a most delightful man to work with" but having to fight "to get another take out of [him]." TV remained a staple as he appeared in fare like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (CBS, 1982, as a Magistrate), "Pope John Paul II" (CBS, 1984, playing a Cardinal), and "Jenny's War" (syndicated, 1985, as a Colonel) before reprising Sir Humphrey Appleby, now a Cabinet Minister, in the sequel series "Yes, Prime Minister" (BBC, 1986-88). Yet, when his screen career inevitably stalled, it would be stage roles that ultimately took him to the next level. After winning a 1991 Tony Award as author C S Lewis in "Shadowlands" and seeing the film go to Anthony Hopkins, he courted a higher profile in Tinseltown by playing the villain in "Demolition Man" (1993), hoping the added exposure would keep him from losing out in "The Madness of King George" sweepstakes. His experience, however, was far from pleasant: "[Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes] barely acknowledged my presence. It was a very cold greeting, most odd, as if I didn't exist."
Hawthorne's sympathetic, humorous and ultimately compassionate portrayal of the British monarch losing his faculties (temporarily), as well as his American colonies, ultimately brought a flood of offers. There were the feature film adaptations of the Bard ("Richard III" 1995, "Twelfth Night" 1996) and two television projects of unusual quality, Arthur Penn's Showtime political drama "Inside," for which his brutal, career-driven Colonel Kruger served as a living embodiment of the excesses of apartheid, and "The Fragile Heart" (both 1996), which earned him a sixth BAFTA Award. Hawthorne then turned in a fine performance as President Martin Van Buren in Steven Spielberg's historical opus "Amistad" (1997) and reteamed with Hytner to play a gay theater critic in "The Object of My Affection" (1998). After decades of anonymity, he had the luxury of being choosy, turning down the Geoffrey Rush role in "Shakespeare in Love" (1998, "I found the movie very flippant and insignificant"), but suffering no shortage of work. Because of his admiration for David Mamet, who directed and adapted the "old warhorse," Hawthorne accepted the role of the patriarch who nearly drives his family to ruin in order to see his son's name cleared in the remake of "The Winslow Boy" (1999 and crafted yet another crusty figure of authority. Later that year, he lent his plummy vocals to the role of Professor Porter in Disney's animated "Tarzan" before undertaking an unexpected return to the theater in Yukio Ninagawa's staging of "King Lear."
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Moved from Coventry, England to Cape Town, South Africa
Professional stage debut, playing Archie Fellows in a Cape Town production of "The Shop at Sly Corner"
London stage debut, Donald in "You Can't Take It With You"
Returned to South Africa where he enjoyed success as a stage actor
West End debut as Fancy Dan in "Talking to You"
Feature acting debut in Richard Attenborough's "Young Winston"
Broadway debut played Touchstone in "As You Like It"
Performed onstage in London production of Simon Gray's "Otherwise Engaged"
Won much critical praise as star of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "Privates on Parade"
Portrayed Pierre Curie in "Marie Curie" (BBC-2)
Starred opposite Sian Phillips in the Thames Television series "Warrior Queen", playing Roman Procurator Catus Decianus
Voiced the part of Campion for the animated feature "Watership Down"
US TV debut, "Holocaust", an NBC miniseries
Portrayed Permanent Under Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby in the BBC-2 comedy series "Yes, Minister" (aired in USA on The Entertainment Channel and PBS from 1982), earned first two BAFTA Awards in the comedy performance category
Played Stryver in CBS miniseries presentation of "A Tale of Two Cities"
Reteamed with Attenborough for the director's highly acclaimed "Gandhi", starring Ben Kingsley
Reunited with Kingsley in "Turtle Diary", also starring Glenda Jackson
Starred opposite Glenda Jackson in London stage production of "Across From the Garden of Allah"
Acted in London stage production of Tom Stoppard's "Hapgood"
Portrayed author C S Lewis in British stage version of "Shadowlands"
Made Hollywood debut playing the amorally ambiguous potentate in "Demolition Man"
Garnered international acclaim and a Best Actor Oscar nomination reprising his stage role in "The Madness of King George", Hytner's feature directorial debut; also won BAFTA Award
Appeared as Clarence in film "Richard III", executive produced and co-adapted by Ian McKellen
Associate produced and co-starred in "Murder in Mind"
Essayed the role of Malvolio in Trevor Nunn's film adaptation of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"
Earned sixth BAFTA Award for the TV production "The Fragile Heart"
Acted the part of Colonel Kruger in Showtime movie "Inside", directed by Arthur Penn; also starred Eric Stoltz and Louis Gossett Jr
Portrayed President Martin Van Buren in Steven Spielberg's "Amistad"
Executive produced and gave another modulated tour de force as a maddening, aphorism-spouting uncle residing "At Satchem Farm", a bit of New Age malarkey out of step with both indie and commercial themes
Reteamed with Hytner for "The Object of My Affection", playing a gay theater critic
Acted in David Mamet's "The Winslow Boy", adapted by the director from the Terrence Rattigan play
Had a grand old time as a dirty old man in George Hickenlooper's "The Big Brass Ring", based on a screenplay by Orson Welles (published after his death), the original script was interesting as a companion piece to "Citizen Kane" for its preoccupation with self-destructive prominent men as well as its explicit political themes; shown at various film festivals before debuting on Showtime in the fall
Voiced the character of Professor Porter in Disney's animated "Tarzan"
Returned to the stage to play the title role in RSC production of "King Lear", staged by Yukio Ninagawa; opened in Japan in August before moving to London's West End in October
Appeared as Lord Melbourne in the biographical miniseries "Victoria and Albert" (aired in USA on A&E)
Portrayed Santa Claus in the TNT original "Call Me Claus", co-starring Whoppi Goldberg