Michael Gambon was born on October 19, 1940 in Dublin, Ireland. His father was an engineer who decided to seek work in the rebuilding of London following World War II; because of this, his family moved to Mornington Crescent, north London, when he was five. Unbeknownst to Michael, his father would take out official papers for him, making him a British citizen – a fact that would later allow him to be awarded a CBE and a knighthood. Raised a strict Roman Catholic, he attended Jesuit St. Aloysius Boys’ School in Somers Town and served on the altar. He then moved to St. Aloysius’ College in Hornsey Lane, Highgate, London. He left later for a school in Kent – with no qualifications – at 15. After leaving school, he gained an apprentice from Vickers Armstrong as a toolmaker. While training to be an engineer like his father, his father advised him to go to the Unity Theatre in north London and help build sets.
They were left-wing. My dad was left-wing. So I started building the sets and then they said to me, ‘Michael, can you be in this next play? We want you to throw a brick.’
By 21, he had become a fully qualified engineer. He kept the job for a further year – leaving him with a fascination and passion for collecting antique guns, clocks, and watches, as well as classic cars – before pursuing his love of acting.
I was told to go along for an interview at the National Theatre, which I couldn’t believe. I was doing drama classes at the Royal Court, one day a week, and I was at a theatre in the West End understudying Spike Milligan.
Michael is a widely accomplished stage, film, and television actor. He is best known for his roles as Philip Marlow in the BBC television serial The Singing Detective, as Jules Maigret in the 1990s ITV serial Maigret, and as Professor Albus Dumbledore in the final six Harry Potter films. In 1990, Michael was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) and in 1998, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and given the title of Knight Bachelor.
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The part of Albus Dumbledore was played by legendary British actor Richard Harris in both Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. When Harris sadly died of Hodgkin’s disease in 2002, Michael was recast as Dumbledore and portrayed him in the final six films of the Harry Potter series.
Upon receiving the Richard Harris Award for his long and distinguished career, Michael spoke about replacing the legendary actor, saying: “I knew him and he died and I took over his part in Harry Potter. He only did two films and I did six films and all I did was copy Richard.”
In an interview with theartsdesk.com, Harris spoke about being a part of the Potter cast.
Is Harry Potter a life sentence?
No I like Harry Potter. I died in the sixth one.
How did you find out that you died?
Erm, I think I read it in the paper. I read I’d died. It was such a shock. I thought, Jesus Christ.
Have you read the books?
I just read the scripts. I know people read the whole book but then you get cross about what’s missing. A lot of actors get upset that their parts are a bit smaller.
To what extent did you have to inherit Richard Harris’s performance?
No one ever spoke to me about it. Not a word. On the first film I did which was directed by Alfonso Cuaron I walked in there and I’m naturally Irish and my first accent is Irish, I will speak Irish with my parents, and I played just a slight touch of Trinity College Dublin. That light lilt. I did that and Alfonso said, “What’s the accent here?” I said, “Irish.” He said, “That’s OK.” And no one’s ever mentioned it. I’m a little bit more camp, I think, a bit lighter. A bit more ethereal.
- BAFTA Awards – Best Actor – The Singing Detective (1986)
- Royal Television Society, UK – Best Performance – Male – The Singing Detective (1986)
- Broadcasting Press Guild Awards – Best Actor – The Singing Detective (1986)
- Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival – Best Actor – The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
- BAFTA Awards – Best Actor – Wives and Daughters (1999)
- Royal Television Society, UK – Best Actor – Male – Wives and Daughters (1999)
- BAFTA Awards – Best Actor – Longitude (2000)
- BAFTA Awards – Best Actor – Perfect Strangers (2001)
- Screen Actors Guild Awards – Outstanding Performance by the Cast of a Motion Picture – Gosford Park (2001)
- Satellite Awards – Outstanding Motion Picture Ensemble – Gosford Park (2001)
- Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards – Best Acting Ensemble – Gosford Park (2001)
- Florida Film Critics Circle Awards – Best Ensemble Cast – Gosford Park (2001)
- Online Film Critics Society Awards – Best Ensemble – Gosford Park (2001)
- Berlin International Film Festival – Outstanding Artistic Contribution – The Good Shepherd (2006)
- Screen Actors Guild Awards – Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture – The King’s Speech (2010)
- Santa Barbara International Film Festival – Best Ensemble Cast – The King’s Speech (2010)
Michael is a qualified private pilot. His love of all things mechanical – especially cars – has led to his two appearances on the BBC’s Top Gear program. During his first appearance, Michael raced in the Suzuki Liana and was driving so aggressively that it went up on only two wheels on the last corner of his timed lap. The final corner of the Top Gear test track has been named “Gambon” in his honor. During his second appearance on the program, on June 4, 2006, setting a record in the Chevrolet Lacetti. He clipped his namesake corner the second time, and when asked why by host Jeremy Clarkson, he replied, “I dunno — I just don’t like it.”
Connect with Michael Gambon
Connect with Michael Gambon
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