How many great Welsh actors can you name? Quite a few if this top 10 is anything to go by. Nia Jones takes a look at some of the finest actors and actresses to emerge from Wales…
10. Margaret Lacey (1910 – 1989)
Ballet dancer and character actress Margaret Lacey appeared in over 30 films between 1957 and 1985. Lacey’s roles were mostly playing sweet and motherly old ladies; she is best remembered for Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), Billy Liar (1963) and James Bond’s Diamonds Are Forever (1971), in which she played a seemingly meek Christian school teacher who smuggles diamonds in her bible for Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint – she meets an untimely end in an Amsterdam canal. She lived out her retirement in the Snowdonia village of Rowen, Conwy county, North Wales.
9. Ivor Novello (David Ivor Davies) (1894-1951)
Perhaps the most popular entertainers of the early 20th century, Ivor Novello was born and raised in Cardiff, South Wales. He was a composer, singer, playwright and actor. Novello made his American film debut in D. W. Griffith’s The White Rose (1923); his other films included Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger and Downhill, both in 1927. His first big song writing hit was “Keep the Home Fires Burning“, which was very popular during the First World War. The “Ivor Novello Awards” was named after him in 1955 to celebrate the best work in songwriting and music composition.
8. Christian Bale (1974-)
Starting life in the town Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire in South Wales, Christian Bale began his acting career at the age of 13 appearing in Empire of the Sun (1987), playing an English boy separated from his family during Japanese occupation in WWII. More recently he starred as Irving Rosenfeld American Hustle (2013) and has given wonderful performances in American Psycho (2000), Equilibrium (2002), The Machinist (2004) and The Prestige (2006). He is now probably best remembered as Christopher Nolan’s first reincarnation of Batman for his reboot trilogy Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
7. Michael Sheen (1969- )
Versatile character actor Michael Sheen was born in Newport, South Wales and became a member of the National Youth Theatre of Wales, he then went on to study acting at RADA in London. His first film role was Robbie Ross, a personal friend of the writer Oscar Wilde in Wilde (1997). Perhaps his biggest challenges came with starring in Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon (2009) and his portrayal of troubled comic actor Kenneth Williams in BBC 4’s Fantabulosa! (2005). He also gave outstanding performances as Tony Blair in The Queen (2006) and as Brian Clough in The Damned United (2009)
6. Jonathan Pryce (1947- )
Jonathan Pryce hails from the village of Carmel, near Holywell in North Wales. A multi-award winning actor both in film and on the stage, he began film acting in 1976 playing Joseph Manasse alongside Faye Dunaway in Voyage of The Damned. But his true breakthrough role came as Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985); he also won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995 for his portrayal of writer Lytton Strachey in Carrington. He has also starred in Evita (1996), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (2003, 2006, 2007)
5. Siân Phillips (1933- )
Veteran actress Siân Phillips was born in the small village of Bettws near Gwaun Cae Gurwen, Carmarthenshire in South Wales. Welsh being her primary language as a child, she taught herself English by listening to the radio. Phillips has played a varied range of roles during her career. Once married to Peter O’Toole she appeared opposite her then-husband in Becket (1964); and again with O’Toole in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969), Murphy’s War (1971) and Under Milk Wood (1972). She’s also had roles in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979), Smiley’s People (1982) and appeared as the Reverend Mother in Dune (1984).
4. Rhys Ifans (1967- )
Born in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, but raised in Ruthin, Denbighshire, North Wales, a Welsh-speaker Ifans starred in many Welsh language dramas, comedies and entertainment programmes for the Welsh-language channel S4C before embarking upon his film career. Once a member of the band Super Furry Animals; his breakthrough on the big screen came in Twin Town (1997) and his other films have included Dancing at Lughnasa (1998), Notting Hill (1999), The Replacements (2000), Vanity Fair (2004), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007), Hannibal Rising (2007), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) and The Amazing Spider-Man (2012).
3. Anthony Hopkins (1937- )
One of the biggest stars in Hollywood Anthony Hopkins was born in Margam, Port Talbot in South Wales. His first big screen film role was The Lion in Winter (1968), he then went on to star in A Bridge Too Far (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Desperate Hours (1990), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), Nixon (1995), Surviving Picasso (1996), Amistad (1997), Meet Joe Black (1998) and Instinct (1999). He won an Oscar and a B.A.F.T.A for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and he has since been nominated for four other acting performances.
2. Hugh Griffith (1912-1980)
Larger than life character actor Hugh Griffith was born and raised in Marianglas in Anglesey, North Wales. Griffith’s first career was in finance, but he soon left the world of banking after winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. His first films were Belongs to Me (1948) and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Sheik Ilderim in Ben-Hur (1959) and used his statuette to fire matches to light his cigarettes; he also starred in Tom Jones (1963), Oliver! (1968) and Grand Slam (1978).
1. Richard Burton (1925-1984)
A celebrated actor of both stage and screen, welsh-speaker Richard Burton was born in Pontrhydyfen near Port Talbot, South Wales. His first films were The Last Days of Dolwyn (1949) and Waterfront (1950), but he came into his own from then onwards in The Robe (1953), Look Back in Anger (1959), The Longest Day (1962), Cleopatra (1963), Becket (1964), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). He was famed for his personal life as much as his professional endeavours; he was twice married to Elizabeth Taylor and struggled with alcoholism.