Biography: Ian McShane

With his portrayals of bad guys, scoundrels and thieves, a lawless saloon owner to the sexiest of beastly British mobsters, award-winning actor Ian McShane has, time and again, captured the public’s attention.

With his portrayals of bad guys, scoundrels and thieves, a lawless saloon owner to the sexiest of beastly British mobsters, award-winning actor Ian McShane has, time and again, captured the public’s attention. People magazine has named him “TV’s Sexiest Villain,” and GQ selected him as one of its Men of theYear, describing his depiction of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen as “infectious” and “darkly irresistible.” Classically trained, with a voice like none other, McShane has a range for rogues and other multifaceted characters on television, on the silver screen, on the boards and as a voice-over artist.

Next spring, McShane will leave his dark side behind to play the good King Brahmwell, opposite Ewan McGregor, in New Line Cinema’s Jack the Giant Killer, directed by Bryan Singer.

Last summer, McShane starred opposite Johnny Depp as the fearsome pirate Blackbeard in Disney’s billion-dollar blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Highlights of his previous film roles can be seen in the darkly perverse 44 Inch Chest, which he also starred in and produced, and Woody Allen’s Scoop. McShane was singled out for his portrayal of the twisted and handsome Teddy Bass in the cult indie hit Sexy Beast, a performance that prompted one London critic to name McShane “the King of Cool.” McShane’s earlier breakout parts include the game-playing Anthony in the 1973 cult favorite The Last of Sheila; as Wolfe Lissner in Villain; as Fred C. Dobbs in Pussycat Pussycat, I Love You; and ladies’ man Charlie Cartwright in 1969’s If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.

In addition to his screen work, McShane has also made his mark as a voice-over artist. His dulcet tones narrated The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and brought life to the eccentric magician Mr. Sergei Alexander Bobinsky in Coraline and the sinister Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda. He also lent his rich, resonant voice to The Golden Compass and to Shrek the Third as the devilish Captain Hook.

McShane has also enjoyed a long and diverse career on both British and American television. Most recently, he appeared in 2010’s Emmy-nominated The Pillars of the Earth as the conniving Waleran Bigod, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television, and in NBC’s Kings as the ruthless King Silas Benjamin. In 2004, McShane exploded onto the small screen as Al Swearengen on HBO’s Deadwood, for which he earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series—Drama. His charismatic and alluring performance also garnered him Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Lead Actor.

Early in his television career, McShane formed McShane Productions and produced the lauded Lovejoy, for the BBC and A&E, in which he starred in the title role as the lovable rogue antiques dealer, and directed several of its episodes. Fans of this beloved series, which originally ran in 1986, spanned the continents and made their voices heard: They successfully brought back Lovejoy by popular demand, and the series aired again from 1991 to 1994. McShane also made strong and memorable appearances in the U.S. on Dallas and in the saga War and Remembrance.

Additionally, McShane played Sejanus in the miniseries A.D.; the eponymous role of Benjamin Disraeli in Masterpiece Theatre’s Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic; and Judas in NBC’s Jesus of Nazareth. He was also featured in the U.S. landmark blockbuster miniseries Roots and brought pathos to the disabled Ken Harrison in Whose Life Is it Anyway? McShane was the smoldering Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and appeared in Harold Pinter’s Emmy Award-winning The Caretaker.

McShane is also an accomplished and award-winning stage actor. In 2008, he celebrated two anniversaries: the 40th-anniversary revival of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming on Broadway and the 40th anniversary of his own Broadway debut. He made his musical debut in the West End production of The Witches of Eastwick as the devilish Darryl Van Horne. In Los Angeles, he starred in a trio of productions at The Matrix Theatre Company: The world premiere of Larry Atlas Yield of the Long Bond, Inadmissible Evidence (for which he received a 1984 Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Circle Award) and Betrayal. His other onstage work includes the role of Hal in the original cast of Joe Orton’s Loot; Crichton in The Admirable Crichton at the Chichester Festival Theatre; Tom in The Glass Menagerie; and Charlie in The Big Knife. In 1967, McShane made his West End debut in The Promise, co-starring with Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen. The play was brought to Broadway in 1968.

Born in Blackburn, Lancashire, England, to parents Irene and Harry McShane, the latter a soccer player for Manchester United, McShane originally planned to follow in his father’s footballer steps until his high-school teacher encouraged him to be an actor. McShane landed a spot at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art; just before his graduation, he got his first break, playing the lead role in the 1962 film The Wild and the Willing. He later revealed that he had told his acting teacher that he had a dentist’s appointment, and ditched class to audition for the role.

This biography/filmography of Ian McShane is courtesy of Universal Pictures, Roth Films and Snow White and the Huntsman

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