The Many Faces of Derek Jacobi

Derek Jacobi as Claudius, Stuart and Hamlet
Sir Derek Jacobi's work ranges from Shakespeare to sitcom (and back)

Sir Derek Jacobi has been a star of the stage and screen for nearly five decades! Amie Simon takes a look at some of the distinguished actor’s career highlights in preparation for his Sunday night double act, starting June 29 on KCTS 9 and PBS stations around the country. Last Tango in Halifax season 2 kicks off at 8:00 p.m. and Vicious premieres at 10:30 p.m. In between, catch new episodes of Endeavour at 9:00.

Veteran British actor Sir Derek Jacobi joins forces with Sir Ian McKellen in the sitcom Vicious: the story of longtime partners Freddie (McKellan) and Stuart (Jacobi) who’ve lived together in a small flat for nearly 50 years. Hold UP. Jacobi and McKellen in a British SITCOM? Based on the cast (which also includes Frances “Madame Maxine” de la Tour & Iwan Rheon from Game of Thrones) and the This is Kesha clip below, I’m already sold.

Before we dive into the hilarity of the show on June 29, let’s take a look at some of Jacobi’s standout roles. Unlike previous installments of “Many Faces,” Jacobi is not an actor who undergoes a physical transformation for most of his roles; he’s a classically trained actor who seamlessly transfers back and forth from stage to screen and uses his finely-honed skills to portray a range of memorable characters.

The young Jacobi was singled out by Sir Lawrence Oliver as a favorite during his first years on stage, and invited to become one of the founding members of the new National Theatre in the early 60s. After several successful years of playing some of the Bard’s greatest characters—including Laertes in Hamlet & Cassio in Othello—Derek left the Theatre in 1971 to pursue television roles while touring with the classical Prospect Theatre Company.

His stage roles continued off and on for the duration of his career, and included a world tour as the title character in Hamlet, during which he performed at Kronberg Castle (the setting of the play). And a stint during the mid-80s with the Royal Shakespeare Company where he performed in four demanding roles: Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (Tony winner, Best Actor, 1984), Prospero in The Tempest, and the title roles in Peer Gynt and Cyrano de Bergerac. Jacobi’s attraction to Shakespeare is strong, and he also played Richard II in a 1978 BBC adaptation, and the leading role in BBC’s 1980 Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

His big on-screen breakthrough was in 1976 when he appeared as Claudius in the BBC’s production of I, Claudius, a series well-known and well-loved by Masterpiece fans. His BAFTA-winning turn in the sensational mini-series won him much praise and opened him up to many more Hollywood opportunities. (One of my favorites being the voice of the wise, old rat Nicodemus in the 1982 animated film adaptation of The Secret of NIMH).

A side effect of his great stage and screen work was the formation of the dream team of Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh! The two met when Jacobi directed Branagh in a stage performance of Hamlet and formed a close friendship as well as a professional alliance. Derek joined the cast of Branagh’s directorial debut Henry V in 1989 (as one of the chorus), played an important role in the 1991 noir-throwback Dead Again, and appeared as Claudius in the 1996 version of Hamlet, which was updated to a 19th-century setting.

Though it might seem like his talent is effortless, the prolific actor has talked openly about developing stage fright in the 80s, which kept him off both stage and screen for about two years! Jacobi even appeared in a 2001 episode of Frasier as a popular stage actor trying to make a comeback after suffering from stage fright (“The Show Must Go Off”). That role won him a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series. Thankfully, he managed to overcome his fear so that fans could continue to enjoy his work.

Join us in enjoying his talent once again on Sunday, June 29, for the PBS premiere of Vicious!

Jacobi has earned a long list of awards for his talent! Check out the complete listing on his Wikipedia page.

IMAGE CREDITS

  • Derek Jacobi as Hamlet in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Shakespeare, William. Messina, Cedric (Producer) & Bennett, Rodney (Director). 1980. UK: BBC
  • Derek Jacobi as Claudius in Hamlet. Shakespeare, William (source material); Branagh, Kenneth (screenplay). Barron, David (Producer) & Branagh, Kenneth (Director). 1996. USA: Castle Rock Entertainment; Turner Pictures; Fishmonger Films.
  • Derek Jacobi as Stuart Bixby in Vicious. Janetti, Gary & Ravenhill, Mark. Reich, Gary; Featherstone, Jane; Ravenhill, Mark; Rodgers, Jemma; Tootle, Ian D. (Producers) & Bye, Ed (Director). 2013. UK: ITV Studios; 2014. Germany: RTL Passion.

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06/27/14
Surely another memorable role worth mentioning is Brother Cadfael, PBS Mystery '94-'98
06/26/14
looking forward to season 2 of Last Tango. can anyone tell me if the characters in Mr Selfridge are named after the real-life employees in the store?

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