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A celebrated performer in film and on stages in America and his native England, Jonathan Pryce brought quiet intensity to such features as "Brazil" (1985), "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997), "Ronin" (1998) and all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. Blessed with a piercing gaze and a sonorous voice, he was frequently cast as cerebral heavies, but he was best used as sympathetic everymen, as evidenced by "The Ploughman's Lunch" (1983), "Carrington" (1995) and Keira Knightley's worried father in the "Pirates" franchise. Pryce surprised many when he transformed himself into a song and dance man for such lavish musicals as "Miss Saigon," "Oliver!" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," though he was equally adept at straight drama. The recipient of numerous film and stage awards, including two Tonys for "The Comedians" and "Miss Saigon," his breadth of talent in so many mediums made him one of the most versatile performers of his time.Born John Price in Holywell, Wales on June 1, 1947, he was the son of Isaac Price, a coal miner and shopkeeper, and Margaret Ellen Williams, a retail cashier. His early years were marked by a strained relationship with his father, a heavy drinker who was often away from home at the...
A celebrated performer in film and on stages in America and his native England, Jonathan Pryce brought quiet intensity to such features as "Brazil" (1985), "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997), "Ronin" (1998) and all three "Pirates of the Caribbean" films. Blessed with a piercing gaze and a sonorous voice, he was frequently cast as cerebral heavies, but he was best used as sympathetic everymen, as evidenced by "The Ploughman's Lunch" (1983), "Carrington" (1995) and Keira Knightley's worried father in the "Pirates" franchise. Pryce surprised many when he transformed himself into a song and dance man for such lavish musicals as "Miss Saigon," "Oliver!" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," though he was equally adept at straight drama. The recipient of numerous film and stage awards, including two Tonys for "The Comedians" and "Miss Saigon," his breadth of talent in so many mediums made him one of the most versatile performers of his time.
Born John Price in Holywell, Wales on June 1, 1947, he was the son of Isaac Price, a coal miner and shopkeeper, and Margaret Ellen Williams, a retail cashier. His early years were marked by a strained relationship with his father, a heavy drinker who was often away from home at the pub. As a boy, he flirted with the idea of becoming a pop singer, but after attending Holywell Grammar School, he went to Edge Hill College with the intention of becoming a teacher. A performance in a school production so impressed a friend of his that he got Pryce an application to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). Pryce won a scholarship to the prestigious drama school, where his classmates including Kenneth Branagh, Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson.
His tenure at RADA was marked by clashes with the faculty - a tutor reportedly told him that he would never play anything except villains on the popular but lowbrow police drama "Z Cars" (BBC, 1962-1978) - and an overall dislike for the school's stuffy veneer. But he graduated and went on to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Nottingham Playhouse before joining the Liverpool Everyman Theatre Company. He soon established himself as a formidable figure on the London stage scene of the 1970s and 1980s, with the 1975 production of Trevor Griffith's "Comedians" earning him a Tony when the play traveled to Broadway in 1976. Four years later, he won the Olivier Award for his turn as Hamlet, which was credited by many critics as one of the definitive portrayals of all time.
He made his onscreen debut as a police constable in a 1972 episode of the science fiction series "Doomwatch" (BBC, 1970-72), with his first movie role coming four years later in "Voyage of the Damned" (1976). Pryce would go on to appear in television productions and the occasional film - most notably the acclaimed music business drama "Breaking Glass" (1980), for which Pryce learned how to play saxophone for his role as a drug-addicted horn player - but would not achieve widespread fame until 1983, when Walt Disney Pictures cast him as the malevolent Mr. Dark in the long-gestating production of Ray Bradbury's fantasy classic, "Something Wicked This Way Comes." Though the film, directed by Jack Clayton, was an expensive failure, his performance as Dark, a supernatural being who collects the souls of curious visitors to his traveling carnival, was praised by critics, and led to Pryce's typecasting as cold-hearted heels of all stripes.
The British film and TV industry saw more in Pryce than just the villain of the week, as demonstrated by his deeply thoughtful turns in "The Ploughman's Lunch" (1983) as a TV reporter caught up in a love triangle with a fellow journalist and her mother (Rosemary Harris). Director Terry Gilliam noticed Pryce's soulful qualities as well, bringing him to a cult audience with his astonishing dystopian fantasy, "Brazil" (1985). Pryce played Sam Lowry, a put-upon paper pusher whose heroic daydreams run contrary to the reality of his life under a complex, totalitarian government. Despite the film's torturous production and post-production issues, it was widely recognized as a visionary project that served as the high point of Gilliam's directorial career. Its reputation also gave Pryce a boost, though it would be several years before he would transition to major films.
While maintaining an active and celebrated career on stage - most notably in a 1985 production of "The Seagull" and the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "Macbeth" in 1986 and 1987 - Pryce dabbled in American films while keeping a foot in homegrown product. His stateside work was largely forgettable - dreary comedies like "Haunted Honeymoon" (1986) and "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (1987) - while his UK movies were offbeat works like "Consuming Passions" (1988), about a chocolate factory that becomes a success after a worker falls into the candy, or Gilliam's disastrous "The Adventures of Baron Munchasen" (1988).
By the early 1990s, the hard work paid off with more noteworthy roles, especially his meek bar patron bowled over by Al Pacino's hotshot salesman in "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992), and the real-life investor Henry R. Kravis, whose involvement in the storied purchase of RJR Nabisco was dramatized by Larry Gelbart in "Barbarians at the Gate" (HBO, 1993), which earned Pryce Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. That same year, he co-starred with Judy Davis in the experimental drama "Dark Blood," which went unfinished due to the premature death of its lead, River Ph nix in 1993. He also began a yearlong tenure as the spokesperson for the Infiniti line of cars, which were widely decried and parodied for their elitist tone.
During this period, Pryce attended the original London production of "Les Miserables," and was bowled over by the reaction that the audience gave to its performers. He decided to become a musical performer, and launched his career in that genre in earnest with a bonafide spectacle: "Miss Saigon," the story of a Vietnamese girl searching for her American military lover in the wake of the Vietnam War. Pryce played the Engineer, a sleazy but charismatic French-Vietnamese pimp who, like all of the play's characters, has dreams of immigrating to America. The massive production, which featured a life-sized helicopter which dropped to the stage during one scene, was a runaway smash in London, earning Pryce a Drama Desk Award in 1991 and inclusion in the Broadway version. However, Actors' Equity Association (AEA) protested his casting, citing that a white actor in an Asian role was equivalent to a minstrel show, and refused to allow him to appear in the New York version. Response to the statement by British Equity and members of the acting community was swift and heated, with producer Cameron Mackintosh threatening to cancel the entire production, despite massive advance ticket sales. Eventually, the AEA relented, citing their concern that the boycott would result in lost income for performers and stage technicians. Pryce joined the company, and won a Tony Award in 1991 for his work. He would return to the musical stage on numerous occasions throughout the '90s, including "Nine" in 1992 and as Fagin in "Oliver!" in 1994.
In 2001, Pryce made headlines for his turn as Professor Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady" - not so much for his performance, which was critically praised, but for his handling of a backstage conflict with former pop singer and soap star Martine McCutcheon, who was his Eliza Doolittle. McCutcheon missed the majority of her contracted appearances in the show, forcing Pryce to appear with no less than four alternate Elizas during its 140-month run. At one point, he cheekily offered the role to anyone in the audience. His televised reaction to McCutcheon's Olivier award for her performance - Pryce was nominated in his category but did not win - was reportedly shown in drama schools as the proper way to handle a crushing defeat on camera.
Pryce's interest in musicals briefly crossed over to his film career. In 1995, he was Juan Peron to Madonna's "Evita" in the big-screen adaptation of the popular Andrew Lloyd Webber stage show. The project was not well received, and marked the beginning of a lengthy stint of failed features including the horror film "Stigma" (1999), "The Affair of the Necklace" (2001), and P.J. Hogan's offbeat "Unconditional Love" (2001), which cast Pryce as a lounge singer opposite Barry Manilow and Kathy Bates. The Cole Porter biopic "De-Lovely" (2004) also tanked, though it afforded Pryce - as the archangel Gabriel - a moment to sing Porter's "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" with star Kevin Kline. And his third feature with Terry Gilliam, "The Brothers Grimm" (2005), was as troubled as his previous collaborations with the director, although it showed a profit once the worldwide grosses were tallied.
Despite the laundry list of flops, Pryce did score some substantial hits during the late 1990s and early 2000s, including one blockbuster franchise that provided him with some of the greatest exposure of his career. The James Bond actioner "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997) gave him one of his juiciest bad guy roles as Elliot Carver, a diabolical media mogul (reportedly based on Rupert Murdoch) who creates the global tragedies that his network covers, while John Frankenheimer's nail-biting thriller "Ronin" (1998) cast him as a ruthless Irish Republican Army soldier who contracts Robert De Niro's gang of mercenaries to retrieve a mysterious suitcase. However, both were trumped several times over by the global success of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise - "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" (2003); "Dead Man's Chest" (2006) and "At World's End" (2007 - based on the popular Disney theme park attraction. Pryce played Governor Weatherby Swann, the very English, somewhat weak-willed father of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), the franchise's heroine. Called upon to do little more than seem outraged by the film's parade of colorful characters, Pryce was still able to convey a genuine love for his daughter, as well as a heartfelt melancholy in his final scene, where he meets his daughter in the afterlife.
While the "Pirates" franchise was cleaning up at the box office, Pryce was busy treading the boards in London. In 2003, he returned to straight drama with the powerful "A Reckoning," about a woman who confronts her father with disturbing allegations from her childhood, then earned another Olivier nomination for the lead in "The Goat or Who is Sylvia," Edward Albee's meta-drama about a troubled marriage that falls even further into ruin after the husband is revealed to be in love with a goat. Pryce co-starred with his real-life spouse, Kate Fahey, in the 2004 London production. From 2007 to 2008, he replaced John Lithgow as the lead in the Tony-winning musical adaptation of "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," before transitioning back to the West End to play the doomed salesman Shelley Levene in a 2008 production of "Glengarry Glen Ross." In 2010, he played the mysterious old man, Davies, in a production of Samuel Beckett's "The Caretaker."
Pryce's film output was fairly limited in the post-"Pirates" years; he was the narrator of the Adam Sandler hit "Bedtime Stories" in 2009, and turned up, briefly and rather improbably, as the President of the United States in "G.I. J : The Rise of Cobra" (2009). UK television gave him more worthy showcases for his talents; "My Zinc Bed" (HBO/BBC, 2008) cast him as a wealthy industrialist interviewed by a journalist (Paddy Considine) and recovering alcoholic who finds himself obsessed with Pryce's wife (Uma Thurman), also in recovery. And in 2010, he received an Emmy nomination as industrialist Mr. Buxton, whose thorny exterior hides a heart wounded by the loss of his wife, in "Return to Cranston" (BBC 1, 2009).
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CAST: (feature film)
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"I'm not a plotter as an actor--I mean, there are people who can plot and chart their roles--but what I do is instinctive. Things feel right and the instinct kicks in. But there also has to be an element of surprise--what you discover about the character, what you discover about yourself." --Jonathan Pryce quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, November 5, 1995
"I was playing an elf in the school play, 'Fairy Gold.' I had one line, 'Come, brothers, for it is cold,' and this line was taken away from me. If I was lying on a couch, a psychiatrist would say, 'this is why you're an actor. You've been trying to get your fucking line back'." --Pryce to PREMIERE, December 1995
"I find it interesting to choose the character who's the outsider, who creates his own world and has his own identity. I'm not very good at being part of a group." --Jonathan Pryce in NEW YORK, March 11, 1991
"There are clues that he doesn't exorcise all his demons onstage. Pryce is a chronic insomniac, and he can have a fierce temper." --Chris Smith writing in NEW YORK, March 11, 1991
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