Thursday 28 September 2023

RIP Michael Gambon

News has sadly broken of the death of Irish-British actor Michael Gambon at the age of 82. Gambon had a long and distinguished career, and is best-known for his work with Dennis Potter on The Singing Detective and in the Harry Potter film series.

Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1940, Gambon moved to London when he was five years old, later moving to Kent with his family. His father ensured he became a British citizen, but Gambon had an unhappy time at school, quitting at 15 to become an apprentice toolmaker. He was an avid cinema-goer but had little interest in pursuing acting until his early 20s. Lacking any experience, he wrote a fake resume and managed to blag his way into a series of acting roles on stage in Dublin. Success there led to several roles on the London stage, where he met Laurence Olivier. Olivier gave Gambon some excellent advice, leading to Gambon picking up leading roles on stage through the late 1960s. Olivier also cast Gambon in his 1965 film version of Othello, giving Gambon his first screen break.

In 1970, rather improbably, Gambon was asked to audition for the role of James Bond to replace George Lazenby. Gambon did not consider himself a good fit for the role and declined. Further film and television roles followed through the rest of the decade, but Gambon's first love remained the theatre.

Gambon gained his first slice of widespread fame by playing the role of Gavin Ker in 26 episodes of historical drama The Borderers, from 1968 to 1970. He kept up a steady stream of roles on screen and on stage, but his next big break came in 1986 when he joined forces with renowned, legendary British screenwriter Dennis Potter for his TV drama The Singing Detective. Gambon's portrayal of a writer crippled by illness and escaping into a fantasy world to avoid his pain was met with critical acclaim. The drama was hugely praised by American screenwriter Steven Bochco, and inspired the name of the British band Elbow.

Gambon's star correspondingly rose and he picked up higher-profile roles on both television and film, such as The Rachel Papers and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover

In 2004 Gambon finally got the role that would secure his fame with a new generation, when he was cast in the third Harry Potter film, The Prisoner of Azkaban. Gambon played Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School, replacing his friend Richard Harris who had passed away after making the second film in the series. Gambon played the role in six films in total. He also picked up additional high-profile roles in Paddington and its sequel, The King's Speech and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Gambon was also an enthusiastic driver and classic car collector. During a 2002 appearance on Top Gear in the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" feature, he took a corner at the Top Gear test track on two wheels, impressing the presenters so much they named the corner for him in perpetuity.

Gambon effectively retired from stage acting in 2015 after deciding his hearing had become too poor to pick up cues well. He continued acting on screen for a little longer, but effectively retired from that as well in 2018.

Gambon won four BAFTAs and three Oliviers, and was nominated for a Tony and two Emmys. He was a hugely respected actor for his work, with an intense, authoritative presence that could become surprisingly vulnerable on the spin of a dime.

1 comment:

VacuousWastrel said...

One thing that leaps off the page when thinking about him is the way he was consistently chosen by great writers and directors, on both sides of the Atlantic - Tim Burton (*Sleepy Hollow*), John Frankenheimer (*Path to War*), Michael Mann (*The Insider*), Mike Nicholls (*Angels in America*), Robert Altmann (*Gosford Park*) and Wes Anderson (*Fantastic Mr Fox*, *The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou*), but also Stephen Frears (*Mary Reilly*), Andrew Davies (*Wives and Daughters*), Stephen Poliakoff (*Perfect Strangers*), Dennis Potter (*The Singing Detective*) and David Hare (*Page Eight*). In particular, when you have won BAFTAs for *leading* roles for Davies, Poliakoff and Potter, that really says something about how trusted you are to bring the words to life - that's a sort of triple crown of British acting!

He was also Badger in that 1990s adaptation of The Wind in the Willows (with Rik Mayall and Michael Palin). And on the genre side, there's Doctor Who, Elder Scrolls Online, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow...

But to be honest I think what I primarily associate with him is the role that brought him the fourth BAFTA: Longitude. He took a story that should have been incredibly dull - an 18th century clockmaker spends several decades making a better clock - and made it magnetic.