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British actor Ian McShane had a long, venerable career, though for most of it he remained unknown to American audiences, despite frequent appearances on television and in movies. One of his better known roles - as the smooth-talking criminal mastermind Teddy Bass in Jonathan Glazer's stylish crime thriller, "Sexy Beast" (2001) - allowed McShane a proper introduction. Though most of the accolades went to fellow Englishman Ben Kingsley for his scathing performance as the barking-mad bank robber Don Logan, McShane received his share of good notices for his portrayal of the sinister financier of a heist that eventually goes bad. But his most recognized and rewarded role came 42 years after his first onscreen performance. Playing the beguiling Al Swearengen, a cruel, calculating saloon owner on the acclaimed Western revival, "Deadwood" (HBO, 2003-06), McShane had the chance to play what the actor called "the best role I ever had," while finally making himself a household name.Born on Sept. 29, 1942 in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, McShane was enamored with cowboys and Indians as a child - a fascination that later paid off when he turned actor. His father, Harry McShane, played football for Manchester...
British actor Ian McShane had a long, venerable career, though for most of it he remained unknown to American audiences, despite frequent appearances on television and in movies. One of his better known roles - as the smooth-talking criminal mastermind Teddy Bass in Jonathan Glazer's stylish crime thriller, "Sexy Beast" (2001) - allowed McShane a proper introduction. Though most of the accolades went to fellow Englishman Ben Kingsley for his scathing performance as the barking-mad bank robber Don Logan, McShane received his share of good notices for his portrayal of the sinister financier of a heist that eventually goes bad. But his most recognized and rewarded role came 42 years after his first onscreen performance. Playing the beguiling Al Swearengen, a cruel, calculating saloon owner on the acclaimed Western revival, "Deadwood" (HBO, 2003-06), McShane had the chance to play what the actor called "the best role I ever had," while finally making himself a household name.
Born on Sept. 29, 1942 in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, McShane was enamored with cowboys and Indians as a child - a fascination that later paid off when he turned actor. His father, Harry McShane, played football for Manchester United, and though his son was a fair player, he never harbored any ambitions of becoming a professional footballer. McShane got into acting as a student in secondary school when a teacher recognized his talent and asked him to perform in a play. He did and felt comfortable with the experience. The same teacher later helped McShane get into the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where the lad honed his craft until 1962 when he left the academy a semester shy of graduation to appear in his first motion picture, "The Wild and the Willing" (1962). In this low-key drama, McShane played a troublemaker prone to drinking and lashing out at his elitist professors. Though not a commercial or critical hit, the movie did offer McShane a spotlight to display his nascent talents.
McShane spent the next couple of decades amassing an impressive array of film, television and theater credits. After playing a handsome gypsy who woos a traumatized rural woman - much to the chagrin of her parents - in "Gypsy Girl" (1966), McShane starred alongside such notable British actors as Michael Caine, Trevor Howard and Harry Andrews in Guy Hamilton's World War II epic, "The Battle of Britain" (1969). Between the two film projects, he appeared onstage in the original version of "Loot" (1965) by playwright Joe Orton, one of McShane's good drinking buddies, then made his Broadway debut in a production of "The Promise" (1967). He returned to film alongside another drinking buddy, Richard Burton, for "Villain" (1971), in which he played a petty thief and bisexual lover of a gang leader (Burton) who gets involved in blackmailing sexually deviant members of Parliament. In 1973, he joined another all-star cast for the suspenseful murder-mystery, "The Last of Sheila," co-starring James Mason, James Coburn and Raquel Welch.
During the mid-1970s, McShane appeared in several high-profile miniseries, including David Wolper's seminal work, "Roots" (ABC, 1977), and "Jesus of Nazareth" (CBS, 1977), in which he played Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Numerous other projects small and large attracted McShane: he played Ali Ben Yousef in the sprawling historical drama, "Marco Polo" (NBC, 1982), then in "Grace Kelly" (ABC, 1983) he was Prince Rainier of Monaco, who marries the elegant Oscar-winning actress. Next he was the son of a prosperous Fifth Avenue family who has an affair with the wife (Lesley Ann Warren) of a wealthy entrepreneur (Armand Assante) in the three-part miniseries, "Evergreen" (NBC, 1985). In "A.D." (NBC, 1985), an historical drama that picked up where "Jesus of Nazareth" left off, McShane played Sejanus, a powerful member of the Praetorian Guard during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius who was later responsible for dating the death of Jesus. After a supporting role as Philip Rule in the epic 12-part miniseries "War and Remembrance" (ABC, 1988), McShane then appeared as Roger Bushell in "The Great Escape II: The Untold Story" (NBC, 1988), a two-part miniseries based upon the final section of the novel that inspired the classic World War II film, "The Great Escape" (1963).
In the late 1980s, the actor formed McShane Productions, which produced the beloved BBC series, "Lovejoy" (BBC, 1986-1994; A&E, 1991-96). McShane produced and directed episodes while starring as the title character, a loveable rogue who cannot avoid living hand-to-mouth while running an antiques store. Despite the show's popularity and success, McShane kept a low profile for much of the 1990s, popping up now and then in episodes of "Babylon 5" (syndicated, 1993-99), "The Naked Truth" (NBC/ABC, 1995-98), and "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006). The impact of "Sexy Beast," which took many by surprise, helped reinvigorate his film career. He appeared soon after in the spy comedy, "Agent Cody Banks" (2003), starring Frankie Muniz.
With his role in "Deadwood," as the fictionalized version of the real-life Swearengen - a violent, but pragmatic capitalist who ran the 1870s mining camp with an iron fist - McShane essayed the role that many considered one of the most compelling villains to grace the small screen in decades. Cynical, amoral and unflinchingly violent, McShane's Swearengen stopped at nothing to serve his business interests, even if it meant butting heads with ruthless gold-mining magnate George Hearst (Gerald McRaney). For his riveting portrayal, McShane won a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series - Drama, and earned nominations for an Emmy Award in 2005 and a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2006. Meanwhile, he was part of a strong ensemble cast in Rodrigo Garcia's "Nine Lives" (2005), an episodic drama centered around nine different women thematically connected through their various travails. McShane played a disabled man whose daughter (Amanda Seyfried) refuses to attend an elite eastern college in order to mediate the failing marriage between him and his long suffering wife (Sissy Spacek).
While the third season of "Deadwood" was in full swing, McShane took a ninety-degree turn into comedy with "Scoop" (2006), playing an acclaimed journalist stuck in limbo after being killed and who contacts a naïve journalism student (Scarlett Johansson) and a mediocre magician (Woody Allen) in order to find the identity of the infamous Tarot Card Killer. Meanwhile, McShane's days as the indelible Swearengen came to an end when HBO suddenly released all the actors of "Deadwood" from their contracts, effectively canceling the beloved series. Though an agreement between the network and creator David Milch was reached to conclude the interrupted series with two feature-length episodes, all parties were resigned to going their separate ways.
Returning to film, McShane played the grieving father of a football player killed in a plane crash in "We Are Marshall" (2006), starring Matthew McConaughey as an outsider who rebuilds the school's spirit after its team is decimated in the accident. McShane made his first foray into animated features in "The Golden Compass" (2007), giving voice to Ragnar Sturlsson and the previously silent Captain Hook in "Shrek the Third" (2007). After a supporting role in the lighthearted sports comedy, "Hot Rod" (2007), McShane voiced the evil snow leopard Tai Lung in the animated hit "Kung Fu Panda" (2008), before appearing in "Death Race" (2008), a futuristic thriller about a group of prisoners-turned-drivers using heavily armed vehicles in a violent race. Meanwhile, back on Broadway, McShane played Max in a 40th anniversary revival of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming." Following another voiceover role in the charming but edgy animated feature "Coraline" (2009), McShane was wooed back to primetime to star in "Kings" (NBC, 2009-), a daring drama set in a modern day kingdom where McShane starred as a King David-based ruler whose future is uncertain. The same year, McShane co-starred alongside Renee Zellweger in the psychological thriller "Case 39" (2009) and headed back to his homeland to appear in "44-inch Chest" (2009), a drama in which he starred as a man who discovers his wife is having an affair and whose thuggish friends step in to kidnap the "other man."
McShane returned to the small screen for the epic historical miniseries, "The Pillars of the Earth" (Starz, 2010), which was set in 12th century England in the fictitious town of Kingsbridge and followed the lives of three men amidst the building of a cathedral while they grapple with politics, war, romance and personal ambition. Recalling his days as Al Swearengen, McShane cast an evil pall as the cleric Waleran Bigod, who uses any deplorable means to realize his ambition to become bishop. McShane's performance was honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.
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"[U]p until the middle of the 1980's, I wasn't that bothered about the career, as long as I was making money and have a great time. And I did have a great f***ing time. There are some jobs that I don't even remember doing, in the blizzard of alcohol and drugs."---McShane to The Sunday Herald, September 19, 2004.
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