Bryan Brown

Bryan Brown Headshot

Actor

Birth Name: Bryan Neathway Brown

Birth Date: June 23, 1947

Age: 76 years old

Birth Place: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Spouses: Rachel Ward

The virile yet thoughtful lead of numerous Australian features in the 1970s and 1980s, including such landmark films as "Breaker Morant" (1980) and "Stir" (1980), Bryan Brown's sturdy performances brought him to Hollywood in the 1980s, where he essayed largely one-dimensional figures in "F/X" (1986) and "Cocktail" (1988). He was better served in more independent-minded fare, where his ability to root out and examine the flaws of these stoic figures was put to better use; Brown would later give more nuanced turns in Australian-made fare like "Two Hands" (1999), with Heath Ledger, and "Dirty Deeds" (2002). A leading figure in that country's film and television career for over three decades, Brown's body of work commanded and received the respect due to a versatile performer who favored quality over box office returns.

The son of Molly Brown, a former pianist for the Langshaw School of Ballet, and her salesman husband John, Bryan Neathway Brown was born on June 23, 1947 in Sydney, Australia. Raised in the suburb of Bankstown, he discovered acting while working as an actuary. Performances in local amateur theater convinced the 25-year-old to change careers, so he headed to England to further his studies. There, he honed his craft through small parts at the legendary Old Vic before returning to his native country and joining the Queensland Theatre Company. In 1977, he made his feature film debut in "The Love Letters from Teralba Road," an award-winning short starring Brown as an abusive husband who attempted to win back his estranged wife through a series of heartfelt letters. The combination of rough-hewn physicality and emotional depth found in his performance would be his calling card throughout his career.

The success of "Teralba Road" made Brown a popular player in Australian film during the country's moviemaking boom in the late 1970s and 1980s. He appeared in no less than eight films between 1978 and 1980, among them the box office and critical hits "The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith" (1978); "Newsfront" (1978), as a newspaper editor working with a pair of competitive photographers and brothers; and "The Odd Angry Shot" (1980), in which he portrayed an Australian serviceman in Vietnam. He gradually worked his way up to leads, first in the harrowing prison drama "Stir" (1980), as a hardened con trying to stay out of trouble during a return to a violent prison, and later, in the Golden Globe-nominated "Breaker Morant" (1980) as an Australian soldier court-martialed and executed during the Boer War in South African for allegedly murdering prisoners of war. A critical hit around the globe, it brought Brown to international attention, and earned him the Best Supporting Actor award from the Australian Film Institute.

The following year, he gained a wider audience in American through PBS broadcasts of "A Town Like Alice" (1981), a television adaptation of Nevil Shute's novel of a young Scottish woman's experiences in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and her reunion in Australia with the solder (Brown) who nearly sacrificed his life to save her. Two years later, he earned an Emmy nomination as the callow but manly Luke O'Neil, single-minded husband to Rachel Ward's Meggie, who leaves him for Richard Chamberlain's Father Ralph, in the phenomenally successful American miniseries, "The Thorn Birds" (ABC, 1983). Though he lost the award to Chamberlain, he did fall in love and marry Ward, with whom he had three children. In fact, Ward - an exquisite actress on the cusp of major fame - essentially gave up her career to move Down Under and become Mrs. Brown.

For a brief period in the mid- to late-1980s, Hollywood attempted to mold Brown into a leading man in American features. The results were decidedly mixed: "F/X" (1985) was a modest thriller about a special effects artist (Brown) recruited to fake a murder and then is framed for the actual killing, but its sequel, "F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion" (1991), which marked Brown's debut as a producer, was largely forgotten. The sprawling historical epic "Tai-Pan" (1986), with Brown as a British merchant who vied for control of the 19th century Chinese market with a determined rival, fared poorly at the box office and largely ended Brown's stint as a leading man in the West. He found stronger roles in support of major leads like Tom Cruise in "Cocktail" (1988), where his faded good-time bartender lent the otherwise fluffy picture a hint of gravitas. That same year, he played National Geographic photographer Bob Campbell, whose love for naturalist Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) cannot compete with her obsession for African mountain gorillas in "Gorillas in the Mist."

Throughout the following decade, Brown worked largely in American television while maintaining a hand in Australian features. His Stateside work relied largely on his physicality, most notably in an Australian-lensed miniseries take on "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (ABC, 1997), with Michael Caine as Captain Nemo and Brown as the harpooner, Ned Land. In his native country, he served as producer and narrator of "Twisted Tales" (Nine Network, 1996), a suspense anthology series that hinged on its surprise endings, as well as its follow-up, "Two Twisted" (Nine Network, 2006), which drew its writers and directors from open submissions. In 1999, he won his second Australian Film Institute Award as a vicious gangster who made life difficult for a young Heath Ledger in "Two Hands" (1999). He later played a more sympathetic hood in "Dirty Deeds" (2002), a period drama about an Australian gambling boss who tangled with the Mafia over control of Sydney. The hyper-stylized drama was a minor hit in Australia. In 2000, he co-starred with his wife in a Golden Globe-nominated remake of "On the Beach" (Showtime), with Ward as an Australian woman awaiting her own death after a nuclear attack and Brown as her ex-boyfriend, a cynical, self-pitying scientist. The project was only the couple's second joint acting effort.

Brown worked steadily in Australia in the new millennium, most notably in "Murder in the Outback" (Channel Ten/ITV, 2007), about the harrowing assault of backpacker Joanne Lees in 2001, and the subsequent trial of her kidnapper, with Brown as her attorney, Rex Wild. In 2004, he made a brief return to American moviemaking as a Richard Branson-esque industrialist whose penchant for life-threatening stunts made it impossible for actuary Ben Stiller to insure him in "Along Came Polly" (2004). Four years later, he joined such Australian acting stars as Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, his "Breaker Morant" co-star Jack Thompson and David Gulpilil in Baz Luhrmann's epic "Australia" (2008). Brown played "King" Carney, a villainous cattle baron who attempted to roust English royal Kidman from her adopted cattle station. In 2009, Brown co-starred in Ward's directorial debut, the critically praised "Beautiful Kate," a moving family drama about a family torn apart by incest and premature death. Brown played the family's patriarch, who brought together his troubled children due to his impending death.

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