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Sir Derek George Jacobi, CBE ( ; born 22 October 1938) is an Englishmarker actor and film director. Like Laurence Olivier, he bears the distinction of holding two knighthoods, Danish and British.

Early life

Jacobi, an only child, was born in Leytonstonemarker, London, England, the son of Daisy Gertrude (née Masters), a secretary who worked in a drapery store in Leyton High Road, and Alfred George Jacobi, who ran a sweet shop and was a tobacconist in Chingfordmarker. His great-grandfather emigrated to England from Germany during the 19th century. His family was working class. Although a war baby, he claims a happy childhood. In his teens he went to the Leyton County High School and became an integral part of the drama club, The Players of Leytonmarker.

While in sixth-form, he starred in a production of Hamlet, which was taken to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and very well-regarded. At 18, he won a scholarship to the University of Cambridgemarker, where he read history at St John's Collegemarker and earned his degree. Other younger members of the university at the time included Ian McKellen (who had a crush on him - "a passion that was undeclared and unrequited", as McKellen relates it) and Trevor Nunn. During his stay at Cambridge, he played many parts including Hamlet, which was taken on a tour to Switzerland where he met Richard Burton. As a result of his performance of Edward II at Cambridge, he was invited to become a member of the Birmingham Repertory Theatremarker immediately upon his graduation in 1960.


Early work

Jacobi quickly came to the fore, and his talent was recognised by Laurence Olivier, who invited him back home to London to become one of the founding members of the new National Theatremarker, even though at the time he was relatively unknown. He played Laertes in the National Theatre'smarker inaugural production of Hamlet opposite Peter O'Toole in 1963. Olivier then cast him as Cassio in the successful National Theatre stage production of Othello, a role that Jacobi repeated in the 1965 film version, and of Andrei in the stage version and 1970 film of Three Sisters in 1970. Both these productions also starred Olivier. On July 27, 1965, Jacobi starred as Brindsley Miller in the first production of Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy. It was presented by the National Theatre at Chichester. Subsequently it was presented at the Old Vic Theatre, London.

After eight years at the National Theatre, Jacobi left in 1971 to pursue different roles and mediums of expression. In 1972, he starred in the BBC serial Man of Straw, directed by Herbert Wise. Most of his theatrical work in the 70's was with the touring classical Prospect Theatre Company, with which he undertook many roles, including Ivanov, Pericles, Prince of Tyre and A Month in the Country opposite Dorothy Tutin (1976).

Although Jacobi's name was becoming known and he was increasingly busy with stage and screen acting, his big breakthrough did not come until 1976. It was the title role of the BBC's blockbuster series I, Claudius that finally cemented his increasing reputation with his performance as the stammering, twitching Emperor Claudius winning him many plaudits, but not an Emmy. In 1979, thanks to his international popularity he took Hamlet on an epic theatrical world tour through England, Egyptmarker, Greecemarker, Swedenmarker, Australia, Japanmarker and Chinamarker with himself in the title role. He was then invited to essay the role once more at Kronborg Castlemarker, better known as Elsinore Castle, the setting of the play itself. In 1978 he played in the BBC's production of Shakespeare's Richard II, with Sir John Gielgud and Dame Wendy Hiller.

Later career

In 1980, Jacobi took the leading role in the BBC's Hamlet, made his Broadwaymarker debut in The Suicide (a run shortened by Jacobi's return home to England due to the death of his mother), and then joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) from 1982 to 1985 where he played four demanding roles simultaneously: Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, for which he won a Tony for its Broadway run (1984-1985); Prospero in The Tempest; Peer Gynt; and Cyrano de Bergerac which he brought to the US and played in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing on Broadway and in Washington DC (1984-1985). In 1986, he made his West Endmarker debut in Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore, with the role of Alan Turing which was written with Jacobi specifically in mind. The play was taken to Broadway. In 1988 Jacobi alternated in West Endmarker the title roles of Shakespeare's Richard II and Richard III in repertoire.

His TV career saw him measure with Inside the Third Reich (1982), where he played Hitler; Mr Pye (1985); Little Dorrit (1987), from Charles Dickens's book; The Tenth Man (1988) with Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott Thomas. In 1982, he starred as the voice of Nicodemus in the animated film, The Secret of NIMH.

Jacobi continued to play Shakespeare, notably in Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film of Henry V (as the Chorus) and made his directing debut as Branagh's director for the 1988 Renaissance Theatre Company's touring production of Hamlet, which also played at Elsinoremarker and as part of a Renaissance repertory season at the Phoenix Theatremarker in London. The 1990s saw Jacobi keeping on with repertoire stage work in Kean at the Old Vicmarker, Becket in the West End (the Haymarket Theatremarker) and Macbeth at the RSC in both London and Stratfordmarker.

He was appointed the joint artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatremarker, with the West End impresario Duncan Weldon in 1995 for a three year tenure. As an actor at Chichester, he also starred in four plays, including his first Uncle Vanya in 1996 (he took a second run in 2000, which he brought to Broadway for a limited run). Jacobi's work during the 90's included the 13 episodes series TV adaptation of the novels by Ellis Peters, Cadfael (1994-1998) and a televised version of Breaking the Code (1996). Film appearances included performances in Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again (1991), Branagh's full-text rendition of Hamlet (1996) as King Claudius, in John Maybury's Love is the Devil (1998), a portrait of painter Francis Bacon, as Senator Gracchus in Gladiator (2000) with Russell Crowe and as "The Duke" opposite Christopher Eccleston and Eddie Izzard in a post-apocalyptic version of Thomas Middleton's The Revenger's Tragedy (2002).

In 2001, he won an Emmy Award by mocking his Shakespearean background in the television sitcom Frasier episode "The Show Must Go Off", in which he played the world's worst Shakespearean actor: the hammy, loud, untalented Jackson Hedley. This was his first guest appearance on an American television programme.

Recent work

Jacobi has done the narration for audio book versions of the Iliad, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis and two abridged versions of I, Claudius by Robert Graves. In 2001, he provided the voice of "Duke Theseus" in The Children's Midsummer Night's Dream film. In 2002, Jacobi toured Australia in The Hollow Crown with Sir Donald Sinden, Ian Richardson and Dame Diana Rigg. Jacobi also played the role of Senator Gracchus in Gladiator and starred in the 2002 miniseries The Jury. He is also the narrator for the BBC children's series In the Night Garden.

In 2003, he was involved with Scream of the Shalka, a webcast based on the science fiction series Doctor Who. He played the voice of the Master alongside Richard E. Grant as the Doctor. In the same year, he also appeared in Deadline, an audio drama also based on Doctor Who. In that, he played Martin Bannister, an aging writer who makes up stories about "the Doctor", a character who travels in time and space, the premise being that the series had never made it on to television. Jacobi later followed this up with an appearance on the Doctor Who BBC TV series itself, in the June 2007 episode "Utopia". Jacobi appears as the kindly Professor Yana, who by the end of the episode is revealed to actually be the Doctor's arch-nemesis, the Master.

In 2004, Jacobi starred in Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos at the Crucible Theatremarker in Sheffieldmarker, in an acclaimed production, which transferred to the Gielgud Theatremarker in London in January 2005. The London production of Don Carlos gathered rave reviews. Also in 2004, he starred as Lord Teddy Thursby in the first of the four-part BBC series The Long Firm, based on Jake Arnott's novel of the same name. In Nanny McPhee (2005), he played the role of the colourful Mr. Wheen, an undertaker. He played the role of Alexander Corvinus in the 2006 movie Underworld: Evolution.

In March 2006, BBC Two broadcast Pinochet in Suburbia, a docudrama about former Chileanmarker dictator Augusto Pinochet and the attempts to extradite him from Great Britain; Jacobi played the leading role. In September 2007, it was released in the U.S., retitled Pinochet's Last Stand. In 2006, he appeared in the children's movie Mist, the tale of a sheepdog puppy, he also narrated this movie. In July-August 2006 he played the eponymous role in A Voyage Round My Father at the Donmar Warehousemarker, a production which then transferred to the West End.

In February 2007, his feature film The Riddle, directed by Brendan Foley, in which he stars alongside Vinnie Jones and Vanessa Redgrave, was screened at Berlin EFM. Jacobi plays twin roles, first a present day London tramp and then the ghost of Charles Dickens. In March 2007, the BBC's children's programme In the Night Garden started its run of 100 episodes, with Jacobi as the narrator. He played Nell's grandfather in ITV's Christmas 2007 adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop, and returned to the stage to play Malvolio in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for the Donmar Warehouse at Wyndham's Theatremarker in London. The role won him the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor. He appears in five 2009 films: Morris: A Life With Bells On, Hippie Hippie Shake , Endgame, Adam Resurrected and Charles Dickens's England.

Personal life

Jacobi is openly gay, and in March 2006, after 27 years together, he registered his civil partnership with partner Richard Clifford, four months after civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom. They live in north London.









  1. First knight of nerves for Derek Jacobi and A Bunch of Amateurs

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