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Named by Empire Magazine in 1995 as one of the 100 Sexiest Film Stars of All Time, British actor Terence Stamp typically found himself cast as urbane, sophisticated bad guys throughout his career. Breaking into show business in the early 1960s, Stamp landed his first leading role at the age of 23 in "Billy Budd" (1962), the acclaimed adaptation of Herman Melville's dense novella. An icon of British cinema's wave of "angry young men," Stamp's portrayals - like those of his contemporaries Oliver Reed, Michael Caine and Albert Finney - inhabited shades of gray, walking the line between traditional protagonists and flawed anti-heroes. After his breathtaking early success, however, Stamp's career entered into a significant slump in the late 60s. But later Stamp emerged after a nearly decade-long sabbatical to play the megalomaniacal super-villain General Zod in "Superman: The Movie" (1978) and its sequel, "Superman II" (1980). Ever since, Stamp managed to turn himself into a respected character actor, consistently remaining busy at an age when most actors contemplate retirement.Born in Stepney, London, England on July 22, 1939, Terence Henry Stamp was the eldest of five children. His father, Thomas,...
Named by Empire Magazine in 1995 as one of the 100 Sexiest Film Stars of All Time, British actor Terence Stamp typically found himself cast as urbane, sophisticated bad guys throughout his career. Breaking into show business in the early 1960s, Stamp landed his first leading role at the age of 23 in "Billy Budd" (1962), the acclaimed adaptation of Herman Melville's dense novella. An icon of British cinema's wave of "angry young men," Stamp's portrayals - like those of his contemporaries Oliver Reed, Michael Caine and Albert Finney - inhabited shades of gray, walking the line between traditional protagonists and flawed anti-heroes. After his breathtaking early success, however, Stamp's career entered into a significant slump in the late 60s. But later Stamp emerged after a nearly decade-long sabbatical to play the megalomaniacal super-villain General Zod in "Superman: The Movie" (1978) and its sequel, "Superman II" (1980). Ever since, Stamp managed to turn himself into a respected character actor, consistently remaining busy at an age when most actors contemplate retirement.
Born in Stepney, London, England on July 22, 1939, Terence Henry Stamp was the eldest of five children. His father, Thomas, a tugboat captain, was often absent during Stamp's childhood - his job with the Royal merchant marines kept him away from home for long stretches of time, resulting in young Terence being raised primarily by his mother, Ethel. To escape the boredom of home life, Stamp found refuge in movies. Profoundly affected by Gary Cooper after seeing him in the classic French Foreign Legion epic "Beau Geste" (1939), Stamp made the decision to become a professional actor. He went on to train at London's famed Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts on scholarship in the late 1950s, honing his craft on stage and quickly gaining a reputation as a formidable talent.
In 1962, Stamp firmly established himself when he was tapped by actor-director Peter Ustinov for the lead role in his adaptation of "Billy Budd." Honored by the Hollywood Foreign Press with a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year in 1963, Stamp soon became one in a long line of working-class "it-boys" whose cinematic presence became all the rage during the newly egalitarian 1960s. In 1965, Stamp won even more critical acclaim with his chilling portrayal as Frederick Clegg, the obsessive psychopath in director William Wyler's tense thriller "The Collector." Though comparatively mild by today's standards, "The Collector" was considered controversial for its time and became notorious for its violent themes. The story of a socially awkward loner (Stamp) who kidnaps and imprisons a beautiful woman (Samantha Eggar), "The Collector" illustrated the passionate terrorism of stalking before there was a term for it.
In contrast to his character Frederick Clegg in "The Collector," the dashingly handsome Stamp suffered no such problems off-screen when it came to relations with the opposite sex. A notorious ladies man, Stamp entered a well-publicized relationship with actress Julie Christie in the late 1960s. Following their breakup, Stamp rebounded with another gorgeous starlet, English supermodel Jean Shrimpton. Devastated by the dissolution of their affair in late 1969, Stamp abruptly quit acting and vanished from the spotlight. Moving to India, he spent the next several years seeking enlightenment at an ashram, or Hindu commune, where Stamp grew his hair to his waist and wore long, flowing robes. Still highly in-demand as an actor, Stamp continued to receive a steady stream of offers from major studios, most of which he rejected, however, preferring instead to stay abroad. Stamp did act a couple more times over the decade, starring in a handful of European films - mostly Italian - over the years. For the most part, Stamp considered himself retired.
In 1978, Stamp made a triumphant return to the big screen as the despotic General Zod in the first two "Superman" features. Introduced fleetingly in the opening minutes of "Superman: The Movie," Zod - along with his fellow Phantom Zone inmates, Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O'Halloran) - got relatively little screen time in the first installment, but returned to take center stage as the central villain in the hugely successful "Superman II." Stamp's knack for oozing icy menace served the character extraordinarily well - over the top, but never campy, Stamp's Zod provided a welcome counterpart to Gene Hackman's comically hammy Lex Luthor. Chewing up the scenery in the tradition of the best comic-book villains, Stamp immortalized the malevolent sadism of Zod with a handful of great lines, most notably: "Come to me, son of Jor-El! Kneel before Zod. Kneel! "
During the 1980s, Stamp continued to maintain a steady presence on the big screen. In 1986, Stamp co-starred opposite Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah in "Legal Eagles," a tepidly predictable courtroom comedy-drama, as well as the Oliver Stone-directed "Wall Street" (1987). He did a character about-face in "Young Guns" (1988), playing the a cattle ranch owner who employs wayward youth to watch over his property while teaching them to read and become better men. But when a ruthless businessman (Jack Palance) has him killed, a group of his boys led by Billy the Kid (Emilio Estevez) seek revenge only to become outlaws. Later that summer, Stamp went back to doing what he did best, playing cold, reptilian bad-guys - in this case, quite literally - in the underrated sci-fi thriller "Alien Nation" (1988).
The 1990s saw Stamp completing his transition from former matinee idol to respected character actor. In 1994 - after a lifetime of being one of British cinema's staunchest symbols of masculinity - Stamp unexpectedly became an icon of the gay community, playing an aging transsexual in the award-winning Australian comedy, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." A beloved art house hit and enduring camp cult classic, "Priscilla" explored gay stereotypes without pretentious moralizing or resorting to cheap jokes. As the lonely, middle-aged drag queen Ralph (a.k.a. Bernadette), Stamp gave perhaps his most endearing performance of his career. "Priscilla" later inspired an American movie with a similar storyline, "To Wong Foo, With Love, Julie Newmar," starring Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo and Wesley Snipes.
In the late 1990s, Stamp landed another high-profile genre gig as Supreme Chancellor Valorum in "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" (1999). No more than a glorified cameo, the role required little of Stamp and relied mainly on the actor's trademark brooding presence. While Stamp would reprise his role for the marginally superior sequel "Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones" (2002), the routine of acting in front of a green screen opposite CGI co-stars for weeks at a time quickly lost its novelty for the veteran actor. Consequently, he chose not to appear in the third and final installment, "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" (2005).
Coming to terms with his artistic past, Stamp starred opposite a much younger version of himself in director Steven Soderbergh's superbly crafted crime thriller "The Limey" (2000). Though intended to be a stand-alone drama, "The Limey" was constructed as a quasi-sequel to the bleak Ken Loach drama "Poor Cow" (1967). The story of a recently sprung ex-con who comes to Los Angeles in search of his daughter's killers, "The Limey" incorporated clips from "Poor Cow" in a series of flashbacks. Ingeniously devised, the plot device allowed Soderbergh to flesh out the ex-con's background while allowing audiences to see him at two different points of his life. The notion of showing the world-weary middle-aged Stamp alongside scenes of him as a cocksure 30-year-old proved to be a stroke of genius. Moody, passionate and firmly anti-establishment, "The Limey" earned rave reviews and introduced Stamp to a new generation.
Back on familiar ground, Stamp made a much-welcomed return to the Superman mythos with a recurring voice-only role on the popular series "Smallville" (CW, 2001- ). In an ironic twist, Stamp provided of voice of Jor-El - Superman's biological father from the planet Krypton and General Zod's sworn enemy in the "Superman" movies. Returning to features, Stamp was the demanding boss of a publishing house executive (Ashton Kutcher) trying to win the heart of his attractive daughter (Tara Reid) - a dud both with audiences and critics alike. He continued to appear in significant costarring roles in major studio films that failed to please, playing the ghastly butler of a haunted house in "The Haunted Mansion" (2003) and a blind martial arts master coming to the aid of a deadly female ninja (Jennifer Garner) in the awful comic book knockoff "Elektra" (2005).
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