Date of Birth: January 22, 1940
"I never had any ambition to be a star, or whatever it is called, and I'm still embarrassed at the word. I just wanted to act as well as I could act."
Born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England, John Hurt studied painting at the St. Martin's School of Art before deciding he wanted to be an actor. "My parents felt that acting was far too insecure. Don't ask me what made them think that painting would be more secure." Although he was the son of a clergyman, he became enamored with acting and enrolled in London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts instead of following in his father's footsteps.
A small man with a slightly sinister countenance and tenor voice that never completed the transition between early adolescence and manhood, Hurt is generally cast in supporting or leading roles as eccentric characters in off-beat films.
He made his onstage debut in 1962 with The Bluebird. "The first part that I ever played was the girl [in The Bluebird] and I felt an extraordinary feeling that I was in the place that I was meant to be." Though he frequently appears on stage, Hurt, unlike his theater colleagues, considers himself primarily a film and television actor. His film debut was The Wild and the Willing (1962) and he went on to give what is regarded as one of his strongest performances, playing Richard Rich in Fred Zinnemann's A Man for All Seasons (1966).
On television, Hurt made his name in the movie The Naked Civil Servant and furthered his growing reputation as the twisted Caligula on the internationally acclaimed BBC miniseries I, Claudius (1976).
In 1987, Hurt landed a role in Jim Henson's television project The Storyteller. Playing the storyteller, he introduced and narrated the European folk tales with his dog (who was a muppet played by Jim Henson's son, Brian).
Hurt has been making at least one film a year since 1962. He received his first Oscar nomination for playing a supporting role in the harrowing film, Midnight Express (1978) and a second nomination for his sensitive portrayal of the horribly deformed John Merrick in the film, The Elephant Man (1980) -- except for his voice, Hurt was unrecognizable beneath pounds of latex and make-up. In 1984, Hurt was the definitive Winston Smith in Michael Radford's version of George Orwell's 1984.
Other memorable roles include a man who finds himself hosting a terrifying critter in Alien (1979), his parody of that role in Mel Brooks's Spaceballs (1987), an Irish idiot in The Field (1990), the Marquis de Montrose in Rob Roy (1995) and Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001), then reprising his role for the final two movies, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.
Hurt's distinctive voice has also played many roles throughout his career, including Hazel in Watership Down (1978), Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings (1978), Mr. Mole in Thumbelina (1994) and the Narrator in The Tigger Movie (2000).
Hurt has been married three times and has two sons, Nicolas and Alexander, from his third marriage. In 2003 he won the Richard Harris Award at the British Independent Film Awards.