Michael Gambon

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Michael Gambon : biography

19 October 1940 –

Radio

Date Title Role Director Station
format=dmy|1990-10-09}} Betrayal Jerry Ned Chaillet BBC Radio 3
format=dmy|2006}} Embers Henry Stephen Rea BBC Radio 3 Drama on 3
format=dmy|2007-03-18}} The Homecoming Sam Thea Sharrock BBC Radio 3 Drama on 3

Video games

  • Ghosthunter (2003) – Lord William Hawksmoor
  • The Elder Scrolls Onlinehttp://multiplayerblog.mtv.com/2012/05/04/bethesda-teases-us-with-a-trailer-for-the-elder-scrolls-online/ (2013) – Narrator

CDs

  • Vivaldi – The Four Seasons – Music and Sonnetts (2011) – Michael Gambon, Robert Atchison and the Altamira Chamber Orchestra

Early work

At the age of 18, Gambon began drama school at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, where he studied Classical acting for three years, eventually receiving a BA in Classical Acting. Whilst at RADA, Gambon acted in plays by William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov and many others. Aged 19, while at RADA, he joined the Unity Theatre in King’s Cross. Five years later he wrote a letter to Michael MacLiammoir, the Irish theatre impresario who ran Dublin’s Gate Theatre. It was accompanied by a CV describing a rich and wholly imaginary theatre career — and he was taken on.

Gambon made his professional stage début in the Gate Theatre Dublin’s 1962 production of Othello, playing "Second Gentleman", followed by a European tour. A year later, cheekily auditioning with the opening soliloquy from Richard III, he caught the eye of star-maker Laurence Olivier who was recruiting promising spear carriers for his new National Theatre Company. Gambon, along with Robert Stephens, Derek Jacobi and Frank Finlay, was hired as one of the "to be renowned" and played any number of small roles, appearing on cast lists as "Mike Gambon". The company initially performed at the Old Vic, their first production being Hamlet, directed by Olivier and starring Peter O’Toole. Gambon played for four years in many NT productions, including named roles in The Recruiting Officer and The Royal Hunt of the Sun, working with directors William Gaskill and John Dexter.

Theatre

After three years at the Old Vic, Olivier advised Gambon to gain experience in provincial rep. In 1967, he left the NT for the Birmingham Repertory Company, which was to give him his first crack at the title roles in Othello (his favourite), Macbeth and Coriolanus. Gambon was suggested for the role of James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), although he was dismissed for being even less known than George Lazenby who was cast

His rise to stardom began in 1974 when Eric Thompson cast him as the melancholy vet in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests at Greenwich. A speedy transfer to the West End established him as a brilliant comic actor, squatting at a crowded dining table on a tiny chair and sublimely agonising over a choice between black or white coffee.

Back at the National, now on the South Bank, his next turning point was Peter Hall’s premiere staging of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, an unexpectedly subtle performance – a production photograph shows him embracing Penelope Wilton with sensitive hands and long slim fingers (the touch of a master clock-maker).

He is also one of the few actors to have mastered the harsh demands of the vast Olivier Theatre. As Simon Callow once said: "Gambon’s iron lungs and overwhelming charisma are able to command a sort of operatic full-throatedness which triumphs over hard walls and long distances".

This was to serve him in good stead in John Dexter’s masterly staging of The Life of Galileo in 1980, the first Brecht to become a popular success. Hall called him "unsentimental, dangerous and immensely powerful", even The Sunday Times’ curmudgeonly critic of the day called his performance "a decisive step in the direction of great tragedy… great acting", while fellow actors paid him the rare compliment of applauding him in the dressing room on the first night.