A "forceful, commanding stage presence", Jacobi has enjoyed a successful stage career, appearing in such stage productions as Hamlet, Uncle Vanya, 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 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 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), 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). Jacobi also portrayed a version of The Master in the long running science fiction series Doctor Who.
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), Cinderella (2015); and Murder on the Orient Express (2017).
Jacobi, an only child, was born in Leytonstone, Essex, 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. His patrilineal great-grandfather had emigrated from Germany to England during the 19th century. His family was working class. Jacobi describes his childhood as happy. In his teens he went to Leyton County High School for Boys, now known as the Leyton Sixth Form College, and became an integral part of the drama club, The Players of Leyton. His family is of Huguenot origin.
While in the 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 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) 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.
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.
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.
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 of the era 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."
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.
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. 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. 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". In May 2011 he reprised this role at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
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. The show ended in December 2016, with a Christmas special.
In 2017, Jacobi again portrayed The Master in a box set for Big Finish Productions, entitled "The War Master"
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. Jacobi has given an address to the Shakespeare Authorship Research Centre promoting de Vere as the Shakespeare author and wrote forewords to two books on the subject in 2004 and 2005.
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".
In March 2006, four months after civil partnerships were introduced in the United Kingdom, Jacobi registered his civil partnership with Richard Clifford. They live in Primrose Hill, North London. He was a Grand Marshal of the 46th New York City Gay Pride March in 2015.
|1980||The Suicide||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play||Nominated|
|1983||Cyrano de Bergerac||Laurence Olivier Award for Actor of the Year in a Revival||Won|
|1983||Cyrano de Bergerac and Much Ado About Nothing||Critics Circle Theatre Award Best Actor||Won|
|1983||Much Ado About Nothing||Evening Standard Award||Won|
|1984||Much Ado About Nothing||Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play||Won|
|1985||Cyrano de Bergerac and Much Ado About Nothing||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play||Nominated|
|1986||Breaking the Code||Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor||Nominated|
|1988||Breaking the Code||Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play||Nominated|
|1988||Breaking the Code||Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play||Nominated|
|2009||Twelfth Night||Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor||Won|
|1976||I, Claudius||British Academy Television Award for Best Actor||Won|
|1977||Philby, Burgess and MacLean||British Academy Television Award for Best Actor||Nominated|
|1982||Inside the Third Reich||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie||Nominated|
|1989||The Tenth Man||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie||Won|
|1996||Breaking the Code||British Academy Television Award for Best Actor||Nominated|
|2001||Frasier||Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series||Won|
|2012||Last Tango in Halifax||British Academy Television Award for Best Actor||Nominated|
|1987||Little Dorrit||Evening Standard British Film Awards, Best Actor||Won|
|1991||Dead Again||BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role||Nominated|
|1998||Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon||Satellite Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama||Nominated|
|1998||Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon||Edinburgh International Film Festival Award, Best Actor||Won|
|1999||Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon||Evening Standard British Film Awards, Best Actor||Won|
|2001||Gosford Park||Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture||Won|
|2001||Gosford Park||Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Cast||Won|
|2002||Gosford Park||Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Acting Ensemble||Won|
|2002||Gosford Park||Online Film Critics Society Award, Best Ensemble||Won|
|2002||Gosford Park||Satellite Award for Best Cast – Motion Picture||Won|
|2010||The King's Speech||Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture||Won|
|2008||Lifetime Achievement||Helen Hayes Award||Won|
|1973||The Day of the Jackal||Caron|
|1974||The Odessa File||Klaus Wenzer|
|1978||The Medusa Touch||Townley|
|1979||The Human Factor||Arthur Davis|
|1982||The Secret of NIMH||Nicodemus||Voice|
|1988||Little Dorrit||Arthur Clennam||Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor|
|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|
|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|
|2002||Revengers Tragedy||The Duke|
|2002||Two Men Went to War||Major Merton|
|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||Adam Resurrected||Dr. Nathan Gross|
|2009||Charles Dickens's England||Himself|
|2010||Hippie Hippie Shake||Judge|
|2010||There Be Dragons||Honorio|
|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
|2011||My Week with Marilyn||Sir Owen Morshead|
|2013||Effie Gray||Travers Twiss|
|2016||The History of Love||Léo Gursky|
|2017||Murder on the Orient Express||Edward Masterman|
|2018||Tomb Raider||Mr. Yaffe|
|2018||Swords and Sceptres||Lord Palmerston||Post-production|
|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 film
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
|1978||Richard II||Richard II||BBC-TV|
|1979||Minder||Freddie Fenton||Episode: "The Bounty Hunter"|
|1980||Tales of the Unexpected||Drioli||Episode: "Skin" - Series 2, episode 11|
|1982||Inside the Third Reich||Adolf Hitler||Television film
Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
|1982||Tales of the Unexpected||Sir Columbus||Episode: "Stranger in Town" - Series 5, episode 56|
|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|
|1996||Breaking the Code||Alan Turing||Television film
Nominated—BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor
|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||The Long Firm||Lord Edward Thursby||2 episodes|
|2004||Marple||Colonel Protheroe||Episode: "The Murder at the Vicarage"|
|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—present||Last Tango in Halifax||Alan Buttershaw||4 series (20 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|
|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|
|2016||Romeo and Juliet||Mercutio|
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