Derek Jacobi



Also Known As
Sir Derek Jacobi, Derek George Jacobi
Birth Place
Leytonstone, England, GB
October 22, 1938


One of the United Kingdom's most revered classical stage actors, Sir Derek Jacobi also enjoyed an astoundingly prolific career as a versatile character performer in both film and television. Handpicked to cofound Britain's National Theatre Company by Sir Laurence Olivier in 1963, he gained notice in Shakespearean classics such as "Hamlet" and "Othello" before segueing to feature films li...

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Jacobi was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

He received the Silver Nymph Award as Best Actor in a Made-for-Television Movie at the 38th Monte Carlo Television Festival in 1998 for 'Breaking the Code".


One of the United Kingdom's most revered classical stage actors, Sir Derek Jacobi also enjoyed an astoundingly prolific career as a versatile character performer in both film and television. Handpicked to cofound Britain's National Theatre Company by Sir Laurence Olivier in 1963, he gained notice in Shakespearean classics such as "Hamlet" and "Othello" before segueing to feature films like "Day of the Jackal" (1973) and "The Odessa File" (1974). Jacobi's profile rose considerably with his career-making turn as "I, Claudius" (PBS, 1977), soon followed by his chilling embodiment of history's most reviled dictator in "Inside the Third Reich" (ABC, 1982). As an actor and public figure, his honors were numerous, including a Tony Award, Emmys, the Laurence Olivier Award, and a British knighthood in 1994. Other notable efforts on television, film and stage included his run as the 12th-century monk detective "Cadfael" (PBS, 1995-99), performing as a member of the award-winning ensemble cast of "The King's Speech" (2010) and what some called the definitive portrayal of "King Lear" on the London stage in 2011. Whether it was redefining another of Shakespeare's iconic characters, portraying a well-known historical figure, or creating a completely original performance for a modern work, Jacobi approached each role armed with classic training, fresh ideas and an indefatigable creative energy.

Sir Derek Jacobi was born on Oct. 22, 1938 in the East-London area of Leytonstone, U.K. Raised in a working-class family during the war, his mother, Daisy, was a secretary and his father, Alfred, worked as a tobacconist and ran a sweet shop. Jacobi's mother, who harbored theatrical ambitions of her own, encouraged her son's early interest in the theater. By age six, Jacobi appeared in his first kindergarten production, performed at the local library. A childhood bout with rheumatic fever cost him the use of his legs temporarily, although strenuous physical rehabilitation and sheer determination soon allowed him to walk the boards once more. Attending Leyton County High School, Jacobi joined an amateur theatre group, where he garnered considerable notice for his portrayal of "Hamlet" with the National Youth Theatre at the 1955 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Soon after, he entered Cambridge University on a scholarship and as a member of the school's drama societies trained and performed regularly with the likes of Ian McKellen. Jacobi's performance in the title role of "Edward II" for the university's Marlowe Society during his senior year earned the aspiring thespian an invitation to join the Birmingham Repertory Theatre immediately after graduation. While there, he played roles ranging from Henry VIII in both Shakespeare's play and Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons," in addition to the character of Ferdinand in "The Tempest."

Not long after a botched audition with the vaunted Royal Shakespeare Company, Jacobi was noticed by Laurence Olivier during a performance at Birmingham in 1963. Impressed, Olivier offered the young actor roles in a pair of productions he was directing for the Chichester Festival. Following the Chichester performances, Olivier asked Jacobi to join the newly formed National Theatre Company, with whom he would spend the next eight years. Things were moving quickly for Jacobi, who made his London stage debut as Laertes in "Hamlet" at the National Theatre for its inaugural production in 1963. The following year, he was Cassio to Olivier's "Othello" in a production that also marked his feature film debut when it was filmed in 1965. Over the next three decades, Jacobi offered distinguished performances in such roles as Touchstone in an all-male version of "As You Like It" in 1967. Other highlights included an Olivier-directed production of Chekhov's "Three Sisters" (1970), which was also released as a film. The harsh London theatre critics were not always kind to Jacobi, however, and after a particularly bad reception to a performance in 1971, he left the National and returned to Birmingham, where he won over audiences with his portrayal of the mad king in a 1972 mounting of "Oedipus Rex."

By the mid-1970s, Jacobi, primarily known for his stage work, gradually began to make headway in film with such roles as a detective's assistant in director Fred Zinnemann's adaptation of Frederick Forsyth's novel "The Day of the Jackal" (1973) and as a printer in a pivotal sequence of "The Odessa File" (1974), based on another Forsyth bestseller. It was, however, on television where Jacobi first gained true international recognition for his brilliant, award-winning turn as the twitching, stuttering, doomed emperor in the British miniseries "I, Claudius" (PBS, 1977). That same year, he earned further acclaim as one third of a trio of British citizens accused of spying for the Soviets in the historical docudrama "Philby, Burgess and Maclean (Granada, 1977), prior to picking up another film role as the victim of a deadly case of mistaken identity in Otto Preminger's interpretation of Graham Greene's "The Human Factor" (1979). Returning to the works of Shakespeare, Jacobi went on to give memorable performances as "Richard II" (PBS, 1979), followed by an indelible turn as "Hamlet" on stage for the second time that same year. Less successful was his first trip to America in 1980, where he made his New York stage debut in the Stalinist-ear comedic drama "The Suicide," which closed within two months.

On American network television, Jacobi gave a mesmerizing portrayal of Adolph Hitler in the ambitious miniseries "Inside the Third Reich" (ABC, 1982), and as the complex anti-hero Archdeacon Frollo opposite Anthony Hopkins in a lavish production of Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (CBS, 1982). Venturing into new mediums, he lent his melodious voice to the role of the wise old rat Nicodemus for the animated feature "The Secret of NIMH" (1982). Having at last joined the revered Royal Shakespeare Company, Jacobi returned to Broadway two years later where he appeared opposite Sinéad Cusack in simultaneous revival productions of "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Much Ado About Nothing" in 1984-85. The latter production earned him the Best Actor Tony Award in 1985. In 1987, he offered a tour-de-force portrayal of Alan Turing, a gay man who cracked the German Enigma code during WWII, in the Broadway production of "Breaking the Code." In a pair of installments from the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" series, Jacobi appeared as Archibald Craven in "The Secret Garden" (CBS, 1987), followed by an Emmy-winning turn as a mysterious stranger posing as a former POW in "Graham Greene's 'The Tenth Man'" (CBS, 1988).

In addition to the many luminaries of the British stage that he had worked with, Jacobi also forged a fruitful working relationship with actor-director Kenneth Branagh. On stage, he directed the young Branagh in "Hamlet" in 1988, and then switched positions when he essayed The Chorus in the Branagh-directed feature adaptation of "Henry V" (1989). Jacobi twice worked with director Christine Edzard; first, in "Little Dorrit" (1988), as the middle-aged bachelor in love with the title character, then in "The Fool" (1990), as a 19th-century clerk leading a double life. In the 1990s, he frequently lent his voice to several documentary projects, including Ken Burns' "The Civil War" (PBS, 1990). As always, Jacobi remained a vital presence on the stages of England throughout the decade, with well-regarded performances in productions of "Kean," "Macbeth" and "Uncle Vanya," to name but a few. The distinguished thespian was given one of his country's highest honors when he became Sir Derek Jacobi after being knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994. On television, he won more loyal fans on both sides of the Atlantic with his portrayal of a 12th-century, mystery-solving Benedictine monk in the series "Cadfael" (PBS, 1995-99), in addition to teaming once more with Branagh for his epic interpretation of "Hamlet" (1996), in which Jacobi portrayed Claudius.

Jacobi landed one of his most intense screen roles playing 1960s artist Francis Bacon in the biopic "Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon" (1998), which co-starred Daniel Craig as Bacon's deeply troubled lover, George Dyer. In cinemas, the actor continued to offer scene-stealing supporting turns, such as the eccentric art aficionado, Lucky Leadbetter, in "Up at the Villa" (2000), a rebellious Roman senator in director Ridley Scott's blood-soaked epic, "Gladiator" (2000), and as Probert, the button-downed valet in the all-star ensemble of Robert Altman's "Gosford Park" (2001). Proving that he did indeed have a sense of humor, Jacobi won another Emmy for his guest appearance as a talentless Shakespearian actor in an episode of the long-running sitcom "Frasier" (NBC, 1993-2004) in 2001. He continued to work steadily onscreen, making appearances in projects like "Nanny McPhee" (2005), "Underworld: Evolution" (2006), "The Golden Compass" (2007), in addition to a memorable portrayal of the Chilean dictator in the made-for-TV docudrama "Pinochet's Last Stand" (HBO, 2007). Jacobi won British theater's coveted Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor with his 2009 performance as the puritanical Malvolio in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," before joining the cast of the Academy Award-winning historical drama "The King's Speech" (2010). Now a de facto elder statesman of English theater, he next took on the daunting task of portraying "King Lear" in a heralded 2011 performance described by one critic as "the finest and most searching" interpretation of Shakespeare's angry old man to date.

By Bryce Coleman



Cast (Feature Film)

Tolkien (2019)
Stratton (2018)
Tomb Raider (2018)
Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
The History of Love (2016)
Grace of Monaco (2015)
Cinderella (2015)
Effie Gray (2015)
StringCaesar (2012)
Ironclad (2011)
There Be Dragons (2011)
Anonymous (2011)
The King¿s Speech (2010)
Hereafter (2010)
Morris: A Life with Bells On (2009)
Charles Dickens's England (2009)
Endgame (2009)
The Riddle (2008)
A Bunch of Amateurs (2008)
Adam Resurrected (2008)
Guantanamero (2007)
The Golden Compass (2007)
Hippie Hippie Shake (2007)
Nanny McPhee (2006)
Underworld: Evolution (2006)
Bye Bye Blackbird (2006)
Strings (2004)
Broadway: The Golden Age (2004)
Two Men Went to War (2003)
Major Merton
The Lonely War (2002)
Stanley Baldwin
Nijinsky (2002)
Voice Of Vaslav Nijinsky
The Gathering Storm (2002)
Stanley Baldwin
The Body (2001)
Father Lavelle
Gosford Park (2001)
Gladiator (2000)
Up At the Villa (2000)
Basil (1998)
Molokai: The Story of Father Damien (1998)
Father Leonor Fousnel
Love Is the Devil (1998)
Francis Bacon
Hamlet (1996)
Looking for Richard (1996)
The Secret Garden (1994)
The Fool (1991)
Sir John/Mr Frederick
Dead Again (1991)
Henry V (1989)
Little Dorrit: Part Two Little Dorrit's Story (1988)
Little Dorrit (1988)
Little Dorrit: Part One Nobody's Fault (1988)
Graham Greene's "The Tenth Man" (1988)
The Secret Garden (1987)
Archibald Craven
Enigma (1983)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982)
The Secret Of Nimh (1982)
Charlotte (1981)
Mannen som gick upp i rok (1980)
Martin Beck
The Human Factor (1980)
Arthur Davis
The Medusa Touch (1978)
Townley--The Publisher
The Odessa File (1974)
Klaus Wenzer
The Day of the Jackal (1973)
Blue Blood (1973)
Interlude (1968)
Othello (1965)

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Broadway: The Golden Age (2004)
The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream (2001)
Looking for Richard (1996)

Cast (Special)

Pinochet's Last Stand (2007)
Chasing the Sun (2001)
David Macaulay: Mill Times (2001)
The Wyvern Mystery (2000)
Cadfael 4 (1999)
Cadfael 3 (1998)
Margaret Sanger (1998)
San Francisco Opera Gala Celebration (1997)
Cadfael 2 (1997)
Breaking the Code (1997)
Daedalus & Icarus (1997)
Thomas Jefferson (1997)
Cadfael (1995)
Sister Wendy: Pains of Glass (1995)
The Crown Jewels (1995)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1994)
Cyrano De Bergerac
City (1994)
Voice Of Marcus Fabricius
Three Tenors: The Impossible Dream (1993)
Carnivore! (1992)
Backstage at Masterpiece Theatre: A 20th Anniversary Special (1991)
The Congress (1989)
Jessye Norman's Christmas Symphony (1987)
Cathedral (1986)
Narration (Animated Sequences)
The Statue of Liberty (1985)
Richard II (1979)

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Jury (2003)
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1994)
David Macaulay: Pyramid (1988)
Inside the Third Reich (1982)
Adolf Hitler

Life Events


Suffered bout of rheumatic fever at age ten; briefly paralyzed (date approximate)


Stage debut as "Hamlet" with the English National Youth Theatre at the Edinburgh Festival, Scotland


Appeared in title role of "Edward II" with the Marlowe Society, Cambridge


Professional stage debut with Birmingham Repertory in "One Way Pendulum"


Founding member of the National Theatre Company with whom he made his London debut with as Laertes in "Hamlet" (1963) and starred in "Othello", "The Three Sisters" and "The Idiot"


Film debut as Cassio in "Othello", starring Laurence Olivier


Appeared in first TV miniseries, "The Strauss Family"


Played title character in the BBC miniseries "I, Claudius"


Broadway debut, "The Suicide"


Appeared on Broadway in repertory with "Cyrano de Bergerac" and "Much Ado About Nothing" opposite Sinead Cusack


Reprised role as Alan Turing on Broadway in Hugh Whitemore's play "Breaking the Code"


Directed Kenneth Branagh in "Hamlet" for Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company


First screen collaboration with Christine Edzard, "Little Dorrit"


Played featured role of the Chorus in Branagh's film directorial debut "Henry V"


Had featured role in Christine Edzard's "The Fool"


Co-starred with Branagh and Emma Thompson in "Dead Again" (directed by Branagh)


Undertook "Macbeth" with less than successful results


Featured as Claudius in Kenneth Branagh's full-length "Hamlet"


Recreated acclaimed performance as Alan Turing in TV presentation of "Breaking the Code"


Portrayed painter Francis Bacon in "Love Is the Devil"


Had supporting role in the Oscar-winning feature "Gladiator"


Co-starred in the British TV drama "The Wyvern Mystery"


Returned to Broadway in staging of Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya"


Reunited with playwright Hugh Whitemore as star of the play "God Only Knows"


Won Emmy Award for memorable guest appearance as a hammy Shakespearean actor on "Frasier"


Acted in Robert Altman's ensemble piece "Gosford Park", played the valet to the owner of the titular home


Cast in "Nanny McPhee," a comedy written by and co-starring Emma Thompson


Starred opposite Kate Beckinsale in Len Wiseman's "Underworld: Evolution"


Movie Clip

Othello (1965) -- (Movie Clip) The Turks Are Drowned In Cyprus, Venetian Iago (Frank Finlay) awaits word of his general (Laurence Olivier, title character), battling Turks at sea, keeping an eye on the wife Desedemona (Maggie Smith) and amorous Cassio (Derek Jacobi), in the film of the National Theatre production of Shakespeare's Othello, 1965.
Day Of The Jackal, The -- (Movie Clip) Do Not Fail French police deputy commissioner Lebel (Michel Lonsdale) gets word that he's being called back into duty to catch an assassin hunting president de Gaulle, consulting with his boss (Timothy West) and assistant Caron (Derek Jacobi), in Fred Zinnemann's The Day Of The Jackal, 1973.
Little Dorrit, Part One (1988) -- (Movie Clip) I've Seen Very Little From credits establishing the milieu of Dickensian 1830's London, the first appearance of Clennam (Derek Jacobi), in a coffee house, accosted by a fellow customer (Christopher Hancock), in Christine Edzard's acclaimed 1988 production, Little Dorrit: Part One.
Little Dorrit, Part One (1988) -- (Movie Clip) He's Not To Be Blamed Lawyer Clennam (Derek Jacobi) fulfills his promise to meet "Little" Dorrit (Sarah Pickering), daughter of an imprisoned debtor he hopes to help, on London's Iron Bridge, in the 1988 production from the Dickens novel, Little Dorrit: Part One.
Little Dorrit, Part One (1988) -- (Movie Clip) Nobody's Fault Fredrick Dorrit (Cyril Cusack) escorts lawyer Clennam (Derek Jacobi) to meet his inmate brother William (Alec Guinness, his first scene) at the Marshalsea prison, where the author Charles Dickens' father spent some time, in Little Dorrit: Part One, 1988, Sarah Pickering the title character.



Alfred George Jacobi
Store manager.
Daisy Gertrude Jacobi



Jacobi was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

He received the Silver Nymph Award as Best Actor in a Made-for-Television Movie at the 38th Monte Carlo Television Festival in 1998 for 'Breaking the Code".

"The older I get and the more I do, the more nervous I become. It seems such a silly way to earn a living. I keep thinking 'why put yourself through these terrors?" --Sir Derek Jacobi on acting, quoted in Birmingham Post, August 24, 2000