James Nesbitt

James Nesbitt Headshot

Actor

Birth Date: January 15, 1965

Age: 59 years old

Birth Place: Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Acclaimed Irish actor James Nesbitt earned a reputation as one of England's finest talents for decades prior to attracting much deserved attention across the Atlantic. After gaining substantial experience on the stages of London and with the occasional screen role in films like "Hear My Song" (BBC, 1991), Nesbitt broke out as one of the leads on the popular romantic comedy series "Cold Feet" (ITV, 1998-2003). More light-hearted turns in such films as "Waking Ned Devine" (1998) eventually gave way to increasingly dramatic fare after the versatile actor impressed audiences and critics with his performance in Paul Greengrass' acclaimed docudrama "Bloody Sunday" (2001). Quickly rising in the ranks as one of Britain's foremost performers, Nesbitt began appearing in works as diverse as Woody Allen's "Match Point" (2005) and the macabre fantasy series "Jekyll" (BBC One, 2007). Other notable efforts included a co-starring role opposite Liam Neeson in the factual-fictional hybrid "Five Minutes of Heaven" (2009) and as the star of the medical drama "Monroe" (ITV, 2011- ). In one of the most high-profile endeavors of his career, Nesbitt joined Peter Jackson for the first of a trilogy of highly-anticipated films based on the Tolkien novel, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012). Equally adept in comedic or dramatic roles, Nesbitt continued to break fresh creative ground and attract new admirers with each project.

Born in Broughshane, County Antrim, in Ireland on Jan. 15, 1965, Nesbitt was the son of an educator and initially planned to follow his father's footsteps into a career as a French teacher. In his early teens, he experimented with acting at the suggestion of another professor, earning his Equity card at age 17. But performing remained only a passing fancy until Nesbitt's college years, when he dropped out of the University of Ulster after devoting too much of his attention to girls and football. His father recommended that he give classes at the acclaimed Central School for Speech and Drama in London a shot. He made his stage debut in a 1987 production of the musical "Up on the Roof," which preceded a 1989 international tour of "Hamlet," in which he played several roles. He also met his wife, Sonia Forbes-Adam, while on the tour; the couple married in 1993 and had two daughters in 1998 and 2002.

The year 1989 also marked his television debut in a bit part for "Virtuoso" (BBC, 1989), a television production about schizophrenic concert pianist John Ogden. Three years later, he won his breakthrough role in "Hear My Song" (1991) as the breezy pal of the film's con man lead (Adrian Dunbar). The role won him critical acclaim and international attention, but Nesbitt failed to parlay this newfound fame into a substantial follow-up; instead, he subsided on a string of supporting parts on television series - including the stateside adventure series "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" (ABC, 1992-93) and the independent feature "Go Now" (1995) for director Michael Winterbottom - who would become one of his strongest advocates by casting him in several features, including "Love Lies Bleeding" (1993) and "Jude" (1996) with Kate Winslet.

At about this time, Nesbitt was cast in the romantic comedy pilot "Cold Feet" (ITV, 1997). The program, which focused on the romantic travails of two relationship-wary Britons, unfortunately received only lukewarm reviews and mediocre ratings. Undaunted, Nesbitt moved on to more television, including a recurring role on the popular drama "Ballykissangel" (BBC One, 1996-2001). He also returned to features with a supporting role in Winterbottom's dark war drama "Welcome to Sarajevo" (1997). Meanwhile, "Cold Feet" had won an award at the prestigious Festival Rose d'Or in Switzerland and a series was quickly commissioned by ITV. "Cold Feet" (ITV, 1998-2003) soon bloomed into one of the most popular shows on U.K. television, netting three British Comedy Awards for Best TV Comedy Drama and one as Best TV Comedy Actor for Nesbitt, as well as the National Television Award in 2003.

Nesbitt's popularity jumped again after he appeared as lovestruck pig farmer "Pig" Finn in "Waking Ned Devine" (1998), a comedy hit from Ireland that earned him and his fellow actors a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast. Nesbitt initially turned down the role due to the impending birth of his daughter, but his wife convinced him to take the part. By 2001, Nesbitt had made the transition to lead, though his first effort, "Lucky Break" (2001) for "Full Monty" (1997) director Peter Cattaneo was a critical and box office flop. He then returned to television on the series "Murphy's Law" (BBC One, 2001-05) as a fast-talking undercover policeman. Initially, the program was envisioned as a dramedy, but the tone changed to a darker and more dramatic program in its later seasons.

Nesbitt took an even deeper dramatic tack with his next project, "Bloody Sunday" (2001), about a 1972 protest by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement, which ended in the deaths of 13 participants at the hands of English troops. In the stark drama, Nesbitt played the movement's leader, Protestant Member of Parliament Ivan Cooper, and won international acclaim for his portrayal, as well as two Best Actor Awards from the British Independent Film Festival and the Stockholm International Film Festival. He also found himself the target of criticism and even violence from fellow Protestants over his participation in the film. Despite the problems, it was clear to the British and international community that Nesbitt had developed into a first-rate dramatic lead.

By 2002, Nesbitt was appearing regularly in both film and on television; he was the host of an offbeat documentary called "James Nesbitt's Blazing Saddles" (BBC Choice, 2002), which dispatched him to Las Vegas to observe the National Rodeo Finals; co-starred with Billie Piper in an updated version of "The Miller's Tale" (BBC One, 2003) for a six-episode series based on The Canterbury Tales; and co-starred in Danny Boyle's charming fantasy "Millions" (2004), which netted several festival awards. He also co-starred as a police detective investigating the involvement of failed tennis player Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in the murder of Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen's clever mystery, "Match Point" (2005). In the midst of all this, the in-demand actor returned to the stage in a much-praised production of "Shoot the Crow" in Westminster, and appeared in a series of humorous ads for the Yellow Pages from 2003-06. The spots earned criticism from pundits for flying in the face of his newly-minted "serious actor" status, but Nesbitt dismissed these comments in particularly colorful language.

Nesbitt next signed on to the six-part series "Jekyll" (BBC One, 2007), which focused on a modern-day doctor who finds himself transforming into a more violent alter ego, and required Nesbitt to undergo an hour of prosthetic makeup for each episode. The series netted mixed reviews from U.K. critics, who did praise Nesbitt's exuberant performance, but found some of the fantastic elements difficult to swallow. Audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, however, found his turn magnetic, leading to nominations for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Made for Television in 2007. Further cementing his growing reputation as the King of the British Miniseries, Nesbitt played Pontius Pilate in the biblical epic "The Passion" (BBC, 2008), followed by a turn as a disgraced former journalist embroiled in a deadly conspiracy in "Midnight Man" (ITV, 2008).

The following year, he co-starred opposite Liam Neeson in the dramatic thriller "Five Minutes of Heaven" (2009). Inspired by true events, it began with the historical murder of a teenage boy in Ireland in the mid-'70s and continued with a fictionalized account of a meeting between the boy's killer (Neeson) and his brother (Nesbitt) more then 30 years later. Back on the telly once more, he played one of three British soldiers who, after a harrowing tour in Iraq, return to the country for varying reasons in the acclaimed miniseries "Occupation" (BBC One, 2009). Nesbitt picked up a pair of back-to-back independent feature film roles the following year; first, as a magic-wielding assassin in the horror film "Outcast" (2010) and then as a roguish Irish sailor in the romantic melodrama "Matching Jack" (2010). Also that year, he found himself trapped with Minnie Driver and Goran Visnjic thousands of feet below the surface of the Arctic Ocean in the miniseries thriller "The Deep" (BBC One, 2010), before appearing alongside Martin Sheen as members of a small group of strangers on a modern-day pilgrimage in "The Way" (2010), written and directed by Sheen's son, Emilio Estevez.

In a widely acclaimed reinterpretation of Shakespeare's tragedy, "Coriolanus" (2011), Nesbitt appeared opposite the film's director Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler as a member of the corrupt Roman Senate, prior to taking on a regular television series role as the titular "Monroe" (ITV, 2011- ), a brilliant but flawed neurosurgeon at a busy U.K. teaching hospital. Fans of both Tolkien and Nesbitt were given a double blessing when it was announced that director Peter Jackson would be returning to the fantasy world of Middle-Earth with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012) and that Nesbitt had been cast as Bofur, one of the Company of Dwarves who join Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) on his first adventure. Adding to the elation and anticipation was the fact that Jackson was not merely dividing the source novel into two, but three feature-length films.

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