Top 10 Actors You Didn’t Know Were Shakespearean Trained

For this list, WatchMojo looks at famous actors who you may not have realised were classically trained, studying and performing Shakespeare on the stage before making their big breaks.

#10: Sean Bean

On the big screen he claimed his place in pop culture history as Boromir in “The Lord of the Rings”, and TV audiences know him as Ned Stark from “Game of Thrones” – but Sean Bean cut his teeth in the theatre. He made his professional debut in 1983, in a stage production of “Romeo and Juliet” at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre, having previously trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. And, like most on today’s list, Bean has also been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

#9: Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes (yes, that is his full name) is another graduate of RADA, with training which included significant swathes of Shakespearean acting. He first rose to prominence in the National Theatre, and later with the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he won widespread praise. Of course, Fiennes gained global fame for his work in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”, and has since worked under some of film’s finest directors. But he returned to Shakespeare for his directorial debut, masterminding the 2011 adaptation, “Coriolanus”.

#8: Clive Owen

To yet another RADA alumnus, Clive Owen played the Young Vic after graduating from the Royal Academy, where he’d regularly perform Shakespeare. He garnered critical acclaim and a mainstream following after breaking through with various TV roles in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and is now a familiar face to moviegoers the world over. Thanks in part to his classical beginnings, Owen’s one of the UK’s most versatile talents, boasting diverse roles in films like “Closer”, “Sin City” and “Children of Men”.

#7: Alfred Molina

You might know Molina as the comic book villain Doc Ock in “Spider-Man 2”, or as the insane, bathrobe-wearing drug dealer in “Boogie Nights”, or as the deceitful Satipo in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” – this guy’s filmography is a long list of fan favourites. Molina decided at an early age that he would become an actor, and was a member of the National Youth Theatre. From there, his early stage credits include parts in “Henry IV, Part 1” and “Richard III”.

#6: Rosamund Pike

Her performance in David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” brought this talented actress critical and popular acclaim, but in her early years Rosamund Pike was actually turned down by a series of stage schools, before finally finding success. Before a role in “Die Another Day” kick started her film career, Pike took to the stage to gain valuable experience with various significant parts, including as Juliet in a National Youth Theatre production of the famous Shakespeare tragedy.

#5: Andy Serkis

A pioneer for motion capture performance, it’s Andy Serkis behind the faces, movements and voices of some of cinema’s most iconic CGI characters – including Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” and Caesar in “Planet of the Apes”. But before all of that, he trod the boards at the Duke’s Playhouse in Lancaster, where he performed in a wide variety of roles, from Shakespeare to Brecht. Serkis boasts a particularly unique acting skill set, but even he channelled the Bard in his early days.

#4: Tilda Swinton

She’s one of the world’s most distinct and distinguished actresses, and one of the UK’s most adaptable performers. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, shortly after graduating from Cambridge University, and so started her celebrated career – beginning with a role in “Measure for Measure”. Swinton has since become synonymous with arthouse and independent films, but she balances the indie flicks with big-budget Hollywood productions, too. From Orlando to the Ancient One, she can master all manner of roles.

#3: Ewan McGregor

Our third-place thespian found fame under director Danny Boyle, as the heroin-addled Mark Renton in “Trainspotting”. But as his varied career proves, McGregor is a very versatile performer, capable of switching from junkie to Jedi, and everything in between. A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, he still takes to the stage every so often, and his most prominent Shakespearean role came as the evil Iago in a 2007 production of “Othello” – opposite Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role.

#2: James McAvoy

Known for playing a young Charles Xavier in the “X-Men” movies, Glaswegian actor James McAvoy began his career aged fifteen, and reportedly pursued acting only because of a crush he had on a co-star in “The Near Room”, his first professional role. He graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, and boasts stage credits across his career for “The Tempest” and “Macbeth”. And for one of his more unexpected roles, he’s also in a 2003 Bollywood-inspired film adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet”.

#1: David Tennant

The Tenth Doctor always wanted to act, and Tennant actually lists “Doctor Who” as one of his earliest inspirations. He took Saturday classes until he was 16, also at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, before passing an entrance audition to become a fully-fledged student. The Scot made his first Royal Shakespeare Company appearance in 1996, in “As You Like It”. Since then, Tennant’s Shakespearean stock has grown and grown, with title roles in “Hamlet” in 2008, and “Richard II” in 2013.


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