Jim Broadbent: “When the industry moved more into character roles, I was already there.”

“The system has changed now, there are more varied roles, partly because there’s so much more television and so much less theatre.” – Jim Broadbent

In a career that stretches back to the early 1970s, Jim Broadbent has appeared in dozens of movies you’ve likely seen — even if you didn’t notice him. That’s because Broadbent is best known for small, character-driven roles like the one in 2001’s Iris, which brought him an Oscar. In The Sense of an Ending, Broadbent appears in one his rare lead roles, and in a discussion with Radio Times he explains why he has devoted his career to character roles and in what ways it has been advantageous.

Broadbent reveals — half-jokingly — that he simply “waited out” the youthful good looks of his fellow actors to level the playing field for roles. He recalls, “As a young actor, I was advised to bide my time. Back then, there weren’t good roles for someone like me. There were handsome leading men and character actors for smaller, supporting roles. But I was told to hang in there, and it was good advice. We’re all character actors now. Even a handsome man is a character actor at my age.”

In addition, Broadbent sees his devotion to character roles as something that eventually became a distinct advantage for him as the industry moved into that direction. He says, “I went from playing the hero’s best friend to the dad and grandad without the romantic lead interlude. The system has changed now, there are more varied roles, partly because there’s so much more television and so much less theatre. So I sort of got a head start by doing lots of different things and not being associated with one particular thing at an early age. When the industry moved more into character roles, I was already there.”

Another area where Broadbent cornered the market in was his almost complete focus on playing British characters — he has rarely appeared in American productions. Again, it is another example of Broadbent playing to his strengths. He points out, “Occasionally I’ve been asked to do American roles, and once or twice I have, but I don’t understand Americans. I don’t have any real feeling for American culture. I do have it with British culture. I understand what makes us tick. To a degree.”