Derek Jacobi

Derek Jacobi

Jacobi onstage performing A Voyage Round My Father at Wyndham's Theatre, London (December 2006).
Born Derek George Jacobi
(1938-10-22) 22 October 1938
Leytonstone, London, England
Nationality British
Alma mater St. John's College, University of Cambridge
Occupation Actor, director
Years active 1961–present
Partner(s) Richard Clifford (1979–present)

Sir Derek George Jacobi CBE (/ˈækəbi/; born 22 October 1938) is an English actor and stage director.

A "forceful, commanding stage presence",[1] Jacobi has enjoyed a successful stage career, appearing in such stage productions as Hamlet,[2] Uncle Vanya,[3] and Oedipus the King. He has twice been awarded a Laurence Olivier Award, first for his performance of the eponymous hero in Cyrano de Bergerac in 1983 and the second for his Malvolio in Twelfth Night in 2009. He also received a Tony Award for his performance in Much Ado About Nothing in 1984 and a Primetime Emmy Award in 1988 for The Tenth Man. His stage work includes playing Octavius Caesar, Edward II, Richard III[4] and Thomas Becket.

In addition to being a founder member of the Royal National Theatre and winning several prestigious theatre awards, Jacobi has also enjoyed a successful television career, starring in the critically praised[2] adaptation of Robert Graves's I, Claudius (1976), for which he won a BAFTA; in the titular role in the medieval drama series Cadfael (1994–1998),[5] as Stanley Baldwin in The Gathering Storm (2002), as Stuart Bixby in the ITV comedy Vicious (2013–2016) and as Alan Buttershaw in Last Tango in Halifax (2012–present).

Though principally a stage actor, Jacobi has appeared in a number of films, including The Day of the Jackal (1973), Henry V (1989), Dead Again (1991), Gladiator (2000), Gosford Park (2001), The Riddle (2007), The King's Speech (2010), My Week with Marilyn (2011), and Cinderella (2015).

He holds a British knighthood and has been appointed a Knight First Class of the Order of the Dannebrog.[1]

Early life

Jacobi, an only child, was born in Leytonstone, 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 Chingford.[6] His great-grandfather on his father's side had emigrated from Germany to England during the 19th century.[7] His family was working class.[8] Jacobi describes his childhood as happy. In his teens he went to the Leyton Sixth Form College and became an integral part of the drama club, The Players of Leyton.

While in the sixth-form, he starred in a production of Hamlet, which was taken to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and very well regarded.[9] At 18 he won a scholarship to the University of Cambridge, where he read history at St John's College and earned his degree. 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)[10] and Trevor Nunn. During his studies at Cambridge, Jacobi 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, Jacobi was invited to become a member of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre immediately upon his graduation in 1960.


Early work

Jacobi's talent was recognised by Laurence Olivier, who invited the young actor back to London to become one of the founding members of the new National Theatre, even though at the time Jacobi was relatively unknown. He played Laertes in the National Theatre's inaugural production of Hamlet opposite Peter O'Toole in 1963. Olivier cast him as Cassio in the successful National Theatre stage production of Othello, a role that Jacobi repeated in the 1965 film version. He played Andrei in the NT production and film of Three Sisters (1970), both featuring Olivier. On 27 July 1965, Jacobi played Brindsley Miller in the first production of Peter Shaffer's Black Comedy. It was presented by the National Theatre at Chichester and subsequently in London.

After eight years at the National Theatre, Jacobi left in 1971 to pursue different roles. In 1972, he starred in the BBC serial Man of Straw an adaptation of Heinrich Mann's book Der Untertan, directed by Herbert Wise. Most of his theatrical work in the 1970s 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).

Jacobi was increasingly busy with stage and screen acting, but his big breakthrough came in 1976 when he played the title role in the BBC's series I, Claudius. He cemented his reputation with his performance as the stammering, twitching Emperor Claudius, winning much praise. In 1979, thanks to his international popularity, he took Hamlet on a theatrical world tour through England, Egypt, Greece, Sweden, Australia, Japan and China, playing Prince Hamlet. He was invited to perform the role at Kronborg Castle, Denmark, known as Elsinore Castle, the setting of the play. In 1978 he appeared in the BBC Television Shakespeare production of 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 Broadway debut in The Suicide (a run shortened by Jacobi's return home to England due to the death of his mother), and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). From 1982 to 1985 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 End debut in Breaking the Code by Hugh Whitemore, starring in 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 End the title roles of Shakespeare's Richard II and Richard III in repertoire.

He appeared in the television dramas Inside the Third Reich (1982), where he played Hitler; Mr Pye (1985); and Little Dorrit (1987), based on Charles Dickens's novel; The Tenth Man (1988) with Anthony Hopkins and Kristin Scott Thomas. In 1982, he lent his voice to the character of Nicodemus in the animated film, The Secret of NIMH. In 1990, he starred as Daedalus in episode 4 of Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Greek Myths.

Jacobi continued to play Shakespeare roles, 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 Elsinore and as part of a Renaissance repertory season at the Phoenix Theatre in London. The 1990s saw Jacobi keeping on with repertoire stage work in Kean at the Old Vic, Becket in the West End (the Haymarket Theatre) and Macbeth at the RSC in both London and Stratford. In 1993 Jacobi voiced Mr Jeremy Fisher in The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends.

Jacobi as Brother Cadfael in the TV Series Cadfael

He was appointed the joint artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre, 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 played it again in 2000, bringing the Chekhov play to Broadway for a limited run). Jacobi's work during the 1990s included the 13-episode 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, 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, Jacobi 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.


Jacobi has narrated audio book versions of the Iliad, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, Farmer Giles of Ham by J. R. R. Tolkien, 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 Doctor's nemesis 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. Therein he played Martin Bannister, an ageing 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 in the Doctor Who episode "Utopia" (June 2007); he appears as the kindly Professor Yana, who by the end of the episode is revealed to actually be the Master. Jacobi admitted to Doctor Who Confidential he had always wanted to be on the show: "One of my ambitions since the '60s has been to take part in a Doctor Who. The other one is Coronation Street. So I've cracked Doctor Who now. I'm still waiting for Corrie."[11]

In 2004 Jacobi starred in Friedrich Schiller's Don Carlos at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, in an acclaimed production, which transferred to the Gielgud Theatre 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 Chilean 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 Warehouse, a production which then transferred to the West End.

Jacobi signing autographs after his performance in "Twelfth Night", London, 2009

In February 2007, The Riddle, directed by Brendan Foley and starring Jacobi, 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 one hundred 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 (2009) for the Donmar Warehouse at Wyndham's Theatre in London.[12] The role won him the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor.[13] He appears in five 2009 films: Morris: A Life with Bells On, Hippie Hippie Shake, Endgame, Adam Resurrected and Charles Dickens's England. In 2010 he returned to I, Claudius, as Augustus in a radio adaptation. In 2011, he was part of a medieval epic, Ironclad, which also starred James Purefoy and Paul Giamatti, as the ineffectual Reginald de Cornhill, castellan of Rochester castle.

Jacobi starred in Michael Grandage's production of King Lear (London, 2010), giving what The New Yorker called "one of the finest performances of his distinguished career".[14] In May 2011 he reprised this role at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.[15]

In April 2012 he appeared in Titanic: Blood and Steel and in November 2012 he starred in the BBC series Last Tango in Halifax. In 2013 he starred in the second series of Last Tango and in 2014 the third series.

In 2013, Jacobi starred alongside Ian McKellen in the ITV sitcom Vicious as Stuart Bixby, the partner to Freddie Thornhill, played by McKellen. On 23 August 2013 the show was renewed for a six-episode second series which began airing in June 2015.[16] The show ended in December 2016, with a Christmas special.

Shakespeare authorship involvement

Jacobi has been publicly involved in the Shakespeare authorship question. He supports the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship, according to which Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford wrote the works of Shakespeare.[17][18] Jacobi has given an address to the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre promoting de Vere as the Shakespeare author[19] and wrote forewords to two books on the subject in 2004 and 2005.[20][21]

In 2007, Jacobi and fellow Shakespearean actor and director Mark Rylance initiated a "Declaration of Reasonable Doubt" on the authorship of Shakespeare's work, to encourage new research into the question.

In 2011, Jacobi accepted a role in the film Anonymous, about the Oxfordian theory, starring Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave. In the film Jacobi narrates the Prologue and Epilogue, set in modern-day New York, while the film proper is set in Elizabethan England. Jacobi allows that making the film was "a very risky thing to do", and imagines that "the orthodox Stratfordians are going to be apoplectic with rage".[22]

Personal life

Jacobi is openly gay. In March 2006, four months after civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom, Jacobi registered his civil partnership with Richard Clifford.[23] They live in Primrose Hill, North London.[24] He was a Grand Marshal of the 46th New York City Gay Pride March in 2015.[25]






Year Title Role Notes
1965 Othello Cassio
1968 Interlude Paul
1970 Three Sisters Andrei
1973 Blue Blood Gregory
1973 The Day of the Jackal Caron
1974 The Odessa File Klaus Wenzer
1978 The Medusa Touch Townley
1979 The Human Factor Arthur Davis
1981 Charlotte Daberlohn
1982 The Secret of NIMH Nicodemus Voice
1982 Enigma Kurt Limmer
1988 Little Dorrit Arthur Clennam Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor
1989 Henry V Chorus
1990 The Fool Mr. Frederick/Sir John
1991 Dead Again Franklyn Madson Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
1996 Looking for Richard Himself
1996 Breaking the Code Alan Turing Television movie
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
1996 Hamlet Claudius
1998 Basil Father Frederick
1998 Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon Francis Bacon Nominated—Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
1999 Molokai: The Story of Father Damien Father Leonor Fousnel
2000 Up at the Villa Lucky Leadbetter
2000 Gladiator Gracchus Nominated—Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
2001 The Body Father Lavelle
2001 Gosford Park Probert Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cast
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
Satellite Award for Best Cast – Motion Picture
Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated—Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Cast
2001 The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky Nijinsky
2001 Revelation Librarian
2002 Revengers Tragedy The Duke
2002 Two Men Went to War Major Merton
2004 Strings Nezo
2005 Bye Bye Blackbird Lord Dempsey
2005 Nanny McPhee Mr. Wheen
2006 Underworld: Evolution Alexander Corvinus
2007 The Riddle Charles Dickens
2007 Airlock Or How To Say Goodbye In Space President
2007 The Golden Compass Magisterial Emissary
2008 A Bunch of Amateurs Nigel
2009 Morris: A Life with Bells On Quentin Neely
2009 Endgame Rudolf Agnew
2009 Adam Resurrected Dr. Nathan Gross
2009 Charles Dickens's England Himself
2010 Hippie Hippie Shake Judge
2010 There Be Dragons Honorio
2010 Ironclad Cornhill
2010 The King's Speech Cosmo Gordon Lang Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
Nominated—Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
2010 Hereafter Himself
2011 Anonymous Narrator
2011 My Week with Marilyn Sir Owen Morshead
2012 Jail Caesar Sulla
2013 Effie Gray Travers Twiss
2015 Cinderella The King
2016 The History of Love Léo Gursky
2016 Stratton: First into Action Ross Filming
2017 Murder on the Orient Express Edward Masterman Filming


Year Title Role Notes
1972 Man of Straw Diederich Hessling 2 episodes
The Strauss Family Joseph Lanner 2 episodes
1974 The Pallisers Lord Fawn 8 episodes
1976 I, Claudius Claudius 12 episodes
BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
1977 Philby, Burgess and MacLean Guy Burgess Television movie
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
1978 Richard II Richard II
1979 Minder Freddie Fenton Episode: "The Bounty Hunter"
1980 Hamlet Hamlet
1982 Inside the Third Reich Adolf Hitler Television film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
1982 The Hunchback of Notre Dame Frollo
1985 Cyrano de Bergerac Cyrano de Bergerac Television film
1987 The Secret Garden Archibald Craven Television film
1986 Mr Pye Mr. Pye 4 episodes
1988 The Tenth Man The Imposter Television film
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
1990 The Civil War Various 9 episodes
1993 The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends Mr Jeremy Fisher 1 episode
1994–1998 Cadfael Brother Cadfael 13 episodes
2000 The Wyvern Mystery Squire Fairfield Television film
2000 Jason and the Argonauts Phineas Television film
2001 Frasier Jackson Hedley Episode: "The Show Must Go Off"
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
2002 The Jury George Cording QC 6 episodes
The Edwardian Country House The Narrator All episodes
The Gathering Storm Stanley Baldwin Television film
2004 London Tacitus Television film
2004 The Long Firm Lord Edward Thursby 2 episodes
2004 Marple - "The Murder at the Vicarage" Colonel Protheroe
2007 The Old Curiosity Shop Grandfather Television film
2007–2009 Mist: The Tale of a Sheepdog Puppy Narrator 38 episodes
2007 Doctor Who The Master / Professor Yana Episode: "Utopia"
2007–2009 In the Night Garden Narrator 100 episodes
2011 The Borgias Cardinal Orsini 2 episodes
2012 Titanic: Blood and Steel William Pirrie 12 episodes
2012— Last Tango in Halifax Alan Buttershaw 2 series (6+ episodes)
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Leading Actor
2013–2016 Vicious Stuart Bixby 2 series (14 episodes)
2014–2016 The Amazing World of Gumball Narrator, Moon 2 episodes

Theatrical performances

Year Title Role Notes
1980 The Suicide Semyon Semyonovich Podsekalnikov Nominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play
1982–1985 Much Ado About Nothing Signior Benedick of Padua Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play
Nominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play
1983–1985 Cyrano de Bergerac Cyrano de Bergerac Critics Circle Theatre Award Best Actor
Laurence Olivier Award for Actor of the Year in a Revival
Nominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play
1986–1988 Breaking the Code Alan Turing Nominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play
Nominated—Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor
Nominated—Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play
2000 Uncle Vanya Ivan Petrovich Voinitsky Nominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play
2009 Twelfth Night Malvolio Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor
2010 King Lear King Lear

See also


  1. 1 2 "Jacobi, Sir Derek". Encyclopædia Britannica's Guide to Shakespeare. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
  2. 1 2 Wheatley, Jane (18 December 2008). "First knight of nerves for Derek Jacobi and A Bunch of Amateurs". The Times. London. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  3. "Derek Jacobi Credits, Broadway". Internet Broadway Database. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  4. "Derek Jacobi Biography". Retrieved 4 September 2011.
  5. Farndale, Nigel (2 July 2012). "Derek Jacobi: 'I don't mind people having faith. But it ain't for me'". The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  6. "Derek Jacobi Biography (1938–)". filmreference. 2008. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
  7. Rees, Jasper (15 July 2002). "Crown him with many crowns". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
  8. Vincent, Sally (19 September 2006). "I already knew I was a tetchy beast". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 April 2008.
  9. Wheatley, Jane (18 December 2008). "First knight of nerves for Derek Jacobi and A Bunch of Amateurs". The Times.
  10. Steele, Bruce C. (11 December 2001). "The Knight's Crusade: playing the wizard Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings may make Sir Ian McKellen the world's best-known gay man. And he's armed and ready to carry the fight for equality along with him". The Advocate. pp. 36–38, 40–45.
  11. "'Ello, 'Ello, 'Ello". Doctor Who. Season 3. Episode 40. BBC.
  12. Billings, Joshua (9 February 2009). "Star-Crossed". Oxonian Review (8.3).
  13. "Olivier awards 2009: the winners". 9 March 2009. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  14. Lahr, John (3 January 2011). "Crazy Love". The New Yorker: 74–75. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  15. Brantley, Ben (5 May 2011). "Fantasies Aside, Life's Tough At the Top". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 May 2011.
  16. "'Vicious' renewed for second series by ITV, 'Job Lot' moving to ITV2". Digital Spy. 23 August 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  17. Thorpe, Vanessa (9 September 2007). "Who Was Shakespeare? That Is (Still) the Question: Campaign Revives Controversy of Bard's Identity". The Observer.
  18. Horwitz, Jane (9 June 2010). "Backstage: What the Stars Had to Get Over to Get their 'Goat' on at Rep Stage". The Washington Post.
  19. Jacobi, Derek. "Address to the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre at Concordia University". Concordia University (Oregon). Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  20. Malim, Richard, ed. (2004). Foreword. Great Oxford: Essays on the Life and Work of Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, 1550–1604. Parapress Limited. p. 3. ISBN 978-1898594796.
  21. Anderson, Mark (3 August 2006). "Shakespeare" by Another Name: The Life of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the Man Who Was Shakespeare. Gotham Books. pp. xxiii–xxiv. ISBN 978-1592401031. (subscription required (help)).
  22. Horwitz 2010.
  23. "Sir Derek Jacobi: Equal marriage debate a 'squabble over nothing'". Pink News. 3 July 2012. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  24. Farndale, Nigel (2 July 2012). "Derek Jacobi: 'I don't mind people having faith. But it ain't for me'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  25. Itzkoff, Dave (26 June 2015). "Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in a Gay Pride March Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
  26. The London Gazette: no. 53527. p. 2. 30 December 1993. Retrieved 21 November 2007.
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