Jonathan Pryce

Jonathan Pryce

Last updated: 13 July 2010

An award-winning actor of the stage and screen, Jonathan Pryce had his breakthrough in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and has since appeared in a range of critically-acclaimed roles.

He was born John Price in Holywell, Flintshire, on 1 June 1947. The son of a coal miner and shopkeeper, he was educated at Holywell Grammar School.

From the age of 16 Pryce went to art school before training to become a teacher at Edge Hill College in Ormskirk. There he took part in a college theatre production. A friend suggested he apply to Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and he was duly awarded a scholarship to study there.

After graduating from RADA Pryce appeared in productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company and at the Nottingham Playhouse, before joining Liverpool's Everyman Theatre Company where he became Artistic Director. At the Everyman he also met Irish actress Kate Fahy; the pair married in 1974, and had three children together.

Pryce made his first television appearance in 1972, in an episode of the sci-fi programme Doomwatch. However, it wasn't until 1976 that he broke into film acting, playing Joseph Manasse alongside Faye Dunaway in Voyage Of The Damned.

Despite burgeoning success in film, Pryce continued to act on the stage. In 1978 and 1979 he appeared as Petruchio in the RSC's production of The Taming Of The Shrew, and as Octavius Caesar in Antony And Cleopatra.

In 1980 Pryce won an Olivier Award for his performance in the title role of Hamlet at the Royal Court Theatre. In the same year he starred in Breaking Glass alongside Hazel O'Connor and Phil Daniels, and appeared as Zarniwoop in the radio series The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

His big screen breakthrough came in 1985 after being cast as the protagonist Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam's Brazil. The film won two BAFTA awards and two Academy Awards nominations.

Following Brazil, Pryce had roles in The Doctor And The Devils and Haunted Honeymoon, and continued to perform on stage. He was acclaimed for his role as Trigorin in Chekhov's The Seagull in 1985, and for his 1986-7 performance as Macbeth for the RSC.

Pryce teamed up once more with Terry Gilliam in 1988's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which cost more than twice its original budget of $23.5 million and was a notorious box office failure.

In the 1990s Pryce took the role of The Engineer in the West End musical Miss Saigon, but was initially unable to appear in its transfer to Broadway as the Actors' Equity Association decreed that "the casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community". When producer Cameron Mackintosh threatened to cancel the production the AEA backed down. Pryce subsequently won a Tony Award for his performance.

Pryce's role in the BBC series Mr Wroe's Virgins was highly acclaimed in 1993, the same year he was nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe awards for his performance as Henry Kravis in the HBO production Barbarians At The Gate.

The following year he took the role of Fagin in a production of the musical Oliver!, and in 1995 won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his portrayal of gay writer Lytton Strachey in the film Carrington.

In 1996 Pryce appeared in Evita, in which he played Juan Perón alongside Madonna and Antonio Banderas. Roles as villains in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Ronin (1998) and Stigmata (1999).

The early 21st century brought mixed fortunes, with Pryce taking roles in a number of box office flops. His 2001 performance as Henry Higgins in the West End stage production of My Fair Lady was critically acclaimed, and the show was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards.

In 2003 he landed the role in Jamaican governor Weatherby Swann in Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, and reprised his part in the subsequent sequels. Pryce continued to act in a range of stage and film productions, and in 2005 was nominated for another Olivier Award for the previous year's stage production The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?

August 2009 saw Hollywood blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra released in UK cinemas, in which he plays the president of the United States of America.

Recent stage performances include playing Davies in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker, which began its run at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse Theatre before moving on for a spell in the West End.

In July 2010 he received an Emmy Award nomination for his role as Mr Buxton in BBC drama Return To Cranford.

His varied career shows little sign of slowing down, and critical acclaim continues to follow where he leads.

Selected film roles

  • 1985: Sam Lowry, Brazil
  • 1988: Horatio Jackson, The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen
  • 1992: James Lingk, Glengarry Glen Ross
  • 1995: Lytton Strachey, Carrington
  • 1996: Juan Perón, Evita
  • 1997: Elliot Carver, Tomorrow Never Dies
  • 1998: Seamus O'Rourke, Ronin
  • 1999: Cardinal Houseman, Stigmata
  • 2003, 2006, 2007: Weatherby Swann, Pirates Of The Caribbean
  • 2003: Alistair Payne, What A Girl Wants
  • 2004: Gabe, De-Lovely

Selected stage roles

  • 1980: Hamlet
  • 1989: Astrov, Uncle Vanya
  • 1989: The Engineer, Miss Saigon
  • 1994: Fagin, Oliver!
  • 2001: Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady
  • 2006: Lawrence Jameson, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
  • 2007: Shelly Levene, Glengarry Glen Ross
  • 2009/10: Davies, The Caretaker

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.