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Operatically voiced Welsh character actor John Rhys-Davies endeared himself to a generation of filmgoers and filmmakers with his exuberant performances in two of the biggest movie franchises of the 20th century - "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-03). When not busy with these blockbusters, he was a ubiquitous presence in international television and film, where he essayed numerous military and professorial types, as well as a wide variety of ethnicities. Rhys-Davies also lent his formidable voice to countless animated efforts and video games, making him one of the more well-rounded and revered entertainers from across the pond - but one who was so chameleon-like in all of his projects, he was able to live a comfortable life of relative anonymity off-screen.Born May 5, 1944 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, Rhys-Davies spent much of his formative years in his mother's home town in Ammanford, Wales, while his mechanical engineer father worked in Tanzania. Rhys-Davies and his family later joined his father in Africa, residing there until he was nine, when he was sent back to England for his studies at the Truro School in Cornwall. There, Rhys-Davies...
Operatically voiced Welsh character actor John Rhys-Davies endeared himself to a generation of filmgoers and filmmakers with his exuberant performances in two of the biggest movie franchises of the 20th century - "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001-03). When not busy with these blockbusters, he was a ubiquitous presence in international television and film, where he essayed numerous military and professorial types, as well as a wide variety of ethnicities. Rhys-Davies also lent his formidable voice to countless animated efforts and video games, making him one of the more well-rounded and revered entertainers from across the pond - but one who was so chameleon-like in all of his projects, he was able to live a comfortable life of relative anonymity off-screen.
Born May 5, 1944 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, Rhys-Davies spent much of his formative years in his mother's home town in Ammanford, Wales, while his mechanical engineer father worked in Tanzania. Rhys-Davies and his family later joined his father in Africa, residing there until he was nine, when he was sent back to England for his studies at the Truro School in Cornwall. There, Rhys-Davies saw his first theater shows, and by his teenage years, he was top-billed in school productions of classical plays. After graduating from the University of East Anglia and a brief stint as a schoolteacher, Rhys-Davies decided to devote himself fully to acting, enrolling at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
U.K. television gave him his earliest wide exposure; most notably the crime series "Budgie" (ITV, 1970-72), where he played a gangster with the improbable name of Laughing Spam Fritter. As the 1970s wore on, he graduated to more prestigious television projects, including "The Naked Civil Servant" (1975) and "I, Claudius" (1976), as tough Praetorian guard Macro. Rhys-Davies soon found work in character roles for American television productions, most notably as the Portuguese captain who serves as antagonist to Richard Chamberlain in the NBC miniseries "Shogun" (1980). His performance earned him an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and led to several more high-profile TV roles before joining a gallery of veteran British talent in the supporting cast of Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Though not the biggest role in the film, Rhys-Davies won over audiences as the quick-witted, Gilbert and Sullivan-singing Arab excavator Sallah, making him a must-have for younger film directors who counted "Raiders" among their seminal movie experiences.
After "Raiders," Rhys-Davies tackled a wide variety of character parts in major Hollywood features, many of which called on him to display his knack for playing a wide variety of ethnic parts. He was Julie Andrews' manager in "Victor/Victoria" (1982), played Egyptian President Nasser in the TV biopic "Sadat" (1983), the Indian Babu in a TV-movie version of "Kim" (1984), and a villainous Soviet general in "The Living Daylights" (1985). Rhys-Davies was also the best thing about a number of low-budget genre pictures throughout the years, including "Sahara" (1983), with Brooke Shields; the ill-advised remake of "King Solomon's Mines" (1985) with Richard Chamberlain; and "Firewalker" (1986), a comedy with Chuck Norris. American television continued to offer him some of his best parts, including the miniseries "Noble House" (1988) - based, like "Shogun," on a novel by James Clavell - and "War and Remembrance" (1988), though his first attempt at a series, "The Quest" (ABC, 1982) disappeared without a trace.
In 1989, Rhys-Davies reprised his role as Sallah (and was given more screen time) in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," the second sequel to "Raiders." He continued to bounce between major projects, low budget features and television to varying degrees of success (including the thriller "Tusks," 1990, which marked his debut as screenwriter). In 1992, he began lending his voice to animated series, starting with "Batman" (The WB, 1992-95), and video games, including the "Wing Commander" series. In 1995, he revived Sallah again in a short feature filmed for the Indiana Jones ride at the Disneyland resorts. That same year, he enlivened the science fiction series "Sliders" (Fox/Sci-Fi Channel, 1995-99) as blustery science professor Maximillian Arturo, who traveled through time with three younger companions. Rhys-Davies also penned two episodes of the series before opting out of the show at the end of its third season (Arturo is gunned down by a villain played by Roger Daltrey). A subsequent effort at a series, "You Wish" (ABC, 1997), which cast him as a mentor genie for an apprentice wish-giver, was mercifully short-lived, though he received excellent notices as a holographic Leonardo Da Vinci in several episodes of "Star Trek: Voyager" (UPN, 1995-2001).
Rhys-Davies filled the remainder of the 1990s with television appearances and voice-over work, and that appeared to be the extent of his career until 2001, when, at the insistence of his son, he accepted the role of dwarf hero Gimli in Peter Jackson's ambitious, three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings." Camera trickery and the clever use of doubles gave the illusion that the 6'1" Rhys-Davies was actually shorter than his castmates (he was, in fact, the tallest of the film's Fellowship). And though he struggled with the facial makeup required for the part (which gave him a terrible skin allergy), he was note-perfect for the role, repeating it in all three features, "The Fellowship of the Ring" (2001); "The Two Towers" (2002) and "The Return of the King" (2003). The "Ring" saga gave Rhys-Davies his widest exposure and biggest hit to date since "Raiders." It also brought him a mantle's worth of trophies, including the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award, the National Board of Review Award, and the 2004 Screen Actors Guild Award - all of which he shared with his castmates.
In between "Rings" pictures, Rhys-Davies was busy with animation voice-overs and features, including the Jackie Chan actioner "The Medallion" (2003). In the wake of "Rings," however, he found himself at the center of a political controversy regarding comments he made about the immigrant population of Europe, which he described as the dominant demographic on the Continent. The remarks were immediately seized by both sides of the debate, with the ultra-right-wing British National Party using his star power to bolster their own anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant stance, and the liberal parties condemning him for the narrow-minded tone of the remarks. Though Rhys-Davies was a known member of the British Conservative Party, both sides managed to take his statement out of context; in reality, his concerns were with the fundamentalist side of Islam.
Rhys-Davies remained remarkably busy throughout the first decade of the 21st century. There were countless features, including "The Game of their Lives" (2005), about the U.S. soccer team's defeat of England in 1950; "One Night with the King" (2006), with Peter O'Toole and Omar Sharif in the Biblical story of Esther; and "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Story" (2007), a much-pilloried sword-and-sorcery epic by the notorious Uwe Boll. He also remained busy on television, most notably in the paranormal miniseries "Revelations" (2005), and gave his voice to numerous animated projects, including "The Legend of Sasquatch" (2006), which he also produced. Early reports on the fourth Indiana Jones adventure, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008) had Rhys-Davies once again donning Sallah's fez to join the adventure, but these reports were quelled by the actor himself, who noted that the character had been written out of the film to appeal to a more youthful audience.
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CAST: (feature film)
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Rhys-Davies collects vintage automobiles.
"I think at the time when all my contemporaries were reading it and praising it, I was so deeply involved in reading classic literature that I was a snob and I did not imagine that anything major could possibly be written by a relative contemporary. Having read it now a second and third time, I think it is arguably the greatest work of imaginative fiction in certainly the latter half of the 20th Century."---Rhys-Davies on LOTR EmpireOnline December 2003
"There is nothing to alter my position that this is a masterpiece, created by a fan for fans with the intention of turning those who aren't yet fans into fans. And we succeeded."---Rhys-Davies on LOTR to Empire Magazine, January 2005.
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