With good actors being true chameleons when it comes to accents, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with which Hollywood actors are American - and which originally came from the UK. Did you know that Kate Winslet comes from Reading? That Anthony Hopkins is Welsh? Find out more about these talented British actors and actresses here.
Dame Judi Dench
She was born in Yorkshire; both of Judi Dench’s parents were indirectly involved in the theatre.
Her first acting jobs were in productions of Shakespeare, first at the Old Vic, then as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Her first film roles were Miss Humphries in The Third Secret (1964) and Sally Young in A Study in Terror where Sherlock Holmes attempts to solve the Jack the Ripper murders.
In the 1970s she acted in several BBC dramas, while continuing with the Royal Shakespeare Company and even doing a few musicals - Cabaret in 1968, and much later Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in 1995.
Her big breakthrough in film came from the 1997 BBC teleplay Mrs. Brown, which was bought up by Miramax and distributed internationally. Starring Judi Dench as Queen Victoria and Billy Connolly as her manservant John Brown, Mrs. Brown shows off Dench’s poise and dry wit admirably.
However, although Mrs. Brown may have convinced Hollywood of Dench’s acting talent and range, it was the James Bond franchise that made her a favourite with the viewers. In the 1995 reboot starring Pierce Brosnan, the role of MI6 head “M” was given to a woman - Dench.
She has played M in every James Bond movie since until her character was killed off in Skyfall (though she has a flashback cameo in Spectre).
Shakespeare in Love
The 1998 historical comedy Shakespeare in Love includes Joseph Fiennes as Shakespeare, Gwyneth Paltrow as love interest Viola, Geoffrey Rush as Philip Henslowe, Colin Firth as Lord Wessex and, for all of eight minutes, Judi Dench as Queen Elizabeth I. This short performance was so intense, however, that it earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
The 2000s and 2010s
In the 2000s she has starred in a variety of classical adaptations and dramas, including Iris (2001), Ladies in Lavender (2004) and Notes on a Scandal (2006).
Her most recent hits are comedies The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel, a fun romp about a group of retirees living in a hotel (2011 and 2015). She has also recently starred in a BBC One screenplay of Esio Trot, a children’s book by Roald Dahl, and as the Duchess of York in the historical series The Hollow Crown.
Read more about Judi Dench.
Sir Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins was born in Port Talbot, Wales and entered the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff at the age of 16. After doing his military service he continued to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
His first job was at the Palace Theatre in Swansea where he stayed for five years until Laurence Olivier invited him to become his understudy in the Royal National Theatre.
His film breakthrough was as Richard I the Lionheart in the 1968 movie The Lion in Winter. In The Elephant Man (1980), he played opposite John Hurt as Doctor Treves.
Doctor Hannibal Lecter
Hopkin’s most iconic role was as a genius profiler and serial killer Hannibal Lecter in the 1991 thriller Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster as trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling who must convince Lecter, incarcerated in a mental institution, to help her catch another serial killer.
Hopkins reprised his role in the sequel, Hannibal (2001), and the prequel, Red Dragon (2002).
More recent films with Sir Anthony Hopkins include an older Zorro in The Mask of Zorro (1998) and co-starring beside Brad Pitt in the drama Meet Joe Black, as well as a role as an exorcist priest in The Rite (2011).
He also starred as the god Odin, lord of Valahalla, in the Marvel comic films Thor (2011), The Dark World (2013) and Ragnarok (2017).
He is currently one of the stars of HBO series Westworld.
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Charm and Grace: British Actress Kate Winslet
Born in Reading, Berkshire, Kate Winslet had acting in her blood: two grandparents and both sisters became actors. She studied acting at the Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead, which helped her get roles on stage and in advertising.
Her first on-screen role was as Reet in BBC One’s Dark Season in 1991.
Her breakthrough film was Heavenly Creatures in 1994, where she played a teenager who helped her friend commit murder.
Oddly enough, her intense performance in Heavenly Creatures almost cost her the part of Marianne in Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility, but she was able to convince director Ang Lee in a single reading.
Before her most famous and iconic role, Winslet played in two more period dramas, Jude and Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, both of which came out in 1996. In Hamlet she played the difficult role of Ophelia to good reviews.
Once more, Kate Winslet fought for a role: that of Rose, a rich girl caught in the constraints of early 20th-century upper-class society, who meets a poor young artist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) on board the cruise ship Titanic. Caught in a whirlwind romance, she refuses her place on a lifeboat to stay with Jack. Though she manages to survive, Jack does not; but she dedicates her life to him, learning to fly a plane and seeing the world.
Indie Films and Drama
After the pressure of stardom in Titanic, which was the highest-grossing film of all time when it came out, Winslet turned to smaller indie productions, refusing offers for roles in more mainstream films. She came back to slightly more established roles in the thriller Enigma in 2001 and playing a young novelist Iris Murdoch in Iris, sharing the role with Judi Dench.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, widely hailed as one of the best movies of the 21st century, starred Winslet as a woman who erased all memories of her ex-boyfriend before meeting him again a few years later.
Among her more recent films, the most controversial thus far has been The Reader in 2009, in which Winslet plays an illiterate concentration camp guard who has a younger Jewish boy come in to read to her - and falls in love with him.
After a hiatus to focus on her children, she came back to star in the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce as a Depression-era single mother.
In 2015 she played Apple’s marketing chief Joanna Hoffman opposite Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs.
One of her most recent releases is The Mountain Between Us in 2017, about a group of people stranded in the mountains after a plane crash.
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Gary Oldman: British Actor and Chameleon
Born in London in 1958, Gary Oldman studied at the Young People’s Theatre in Greenwich and graduated the Rose Bruford College in 1979.
He worked for some years at the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow; his first film role was in the 1982 multiple-plotline Navy film Remembrance. He then went on to play a skinhead in Meantime, but it was his acting in a revival of Edward Bond’s play Saved that truly kickstarted his career.
His performance earned him a place at the Royal Court Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. After seeing him in The Pope’s Wedding at the Royal Court, Alex Cox offered him a starring role in his film Sid and Nancy about the lead singer of the Sex Pistols punk rock band.
His first Hollywood film was State of Grace in 1990; in 1991 he took on the role of Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK, which opened the doors for a series of roles as villains:
- Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola
- A sadistic pimp in True Romance 1993
- Bent DEA officer Norman Stansfield in Léon the Professional in 1994
- A cruel prison warden in Murder in the First 1995
- Tyrannical corporate magnate Zorg in The Fifth Element 1997
- A Russian terrorist in Air Force One 1997
- Dr. Zachary Smith in Lost in Space 1998
- Mason Verger in Hannibal, (opposite Anthony Hopkins) 2001
A Man of Two Franchises
When the Harry Potter book series was filmed, Gary Oldman was cast as young Harry’s godfather Sirius Black, on the lam from wizard prison in the third instalment, The Prisoner of Azkaban, and subsequent films.
After a slight hiatus, Christopher Nolan revived the character of Batman on the big screen in 2005 with his trilogy starring Christian Bale as the Dark Knight, Michael Caine as his loyal butler Alfred and Gary Oldman as the superhero’s liaison with the Law, Police Commissioner Gordon.
In subsequent years, Oldman’s best-known films include The Book of Eli, a post-apocalyptic film co-starring Denzel Washington (2010), John Le Carré adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (in the role of George Smiley) in 2011 and 2017 biopic Darkest Hour, for which he won an Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA for his depiction of Winston Churchill.
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