Antony Sher

Sir Antony Sher, KBE (born 14 June 1949) is a British actor of South African origin, a two-time Laurence Olivier Award winner and four-time nominee, who joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982 and toured in many roles, as well as appearing on film and TV, and working as a writer and theatre director. In 2001, he starred in his cousin Ronald Harwood’s play Mahler's Conversion, and said that the story of a composer sacrificing his faith for his career echoed his own identity struggles.

Sher and his partner and collaborator Gregory Doran became one of the first gay couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK.

During his 2017 "Commonwealth Tour", Prince Charles referred to Sher as his favourite actor.[1]

Antony Sher

Born14 June 1949 (age 70)
Alma materWebber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art
OccupationActor, writer and theatre director
Years active1972–present
OrganizationRoyal National Theatre
Royal Shakespeare Company
Notable work
I.D. (2003)
Primo (2004)
Home townSea Point, Cape Town, South Africa
Spouse(s)Gregory Doran
Parent(s)Emmanuel and Margery Sher
RelativesRonald Harwood (cousin)
Awards2 Laurence Olivier Awards
1 Screen Actors Guild Award
1 Drama Desk Award
1 Evening Standard Award
1 Critics Circle Theatre Award
1 TMA Award

Early life

Sher was born into a Lithuanian-Jewish family in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of Emmanuel and Margery Sher, who worked in business.[2] He grew up in the suburb of Sea Point and is a cousin of playwright Ronald Harwood.[3] Sher, however, has worked mainly in the United Kingdom and is now a British citizen.

In 1968, after completing his compulsory military service, he left for London to audition at the Central School of Speech and Drama and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), but was unsuccessful. He instead studied at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art from 1969 to 1971. After training, and some early performances with the theatre group Gay Sweatshop, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982.


In the 1970s, Sher was part of a group of young actors and writers working at the Liverpool Everyman Theatre.[4] Comprising figures such as writers Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell and fellow actors Trevor Eve, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Pryce and Julie Walters, Sher has summed up the work of the company with the phrase "anarchy ruled".

With the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sher took the title role in Tartuffe and played the Fool in King Lear. His big break arrived in 1984, when he performed the title role in Richard III and won the Laurence Olivier Award. Since then he has played the lead in such productions as Tamburlaine, Cyrano de Bergerac, Stanley and Macbeth, and in 2014 played Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2 in Stratford-upon-Avon and on national tour. Most recently he has played the eponymous 'King Lear' from 2016-2018. He has also played Johnnie in Athol Fugard's Hello and Goodbye, Iago in Othello, Malvolio in Twelfth Night and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Sher received his second Laurence Olivier Award in 1997 for his performance as the eponymous Stanley Spencer in Stanley.

In 2001, Sher played the role of the composer Gustav Mahler in Ronald Harwood’s play Mahler's Conversion, about Mahler’s decision to renounce his Jewish faith prior to his appointment as conductor and artistic director of the Vienna State Opera House in 1897. Speaking about the role to The Guardian's Rupert Smith, Sher revealed:

"When I came to England in 1968, at 19, I looked around me and I didn't see any Jewish leading men in the classical theatre, so I thought it best to conceal my Jewishness. Also, I quickly became conscious of apartheid when I arrived here, and I didn't want to be known as a white South African. I was brought up in a very apolitical family. We were happy to enjoy the benefits of apartheid without questioning the system behind it. Reading about apartheid when I came to England was a terrible shock. So I lost the accent almost immediately, and if anyone asked me where I was from I would lie. If they asked where I went to school, I'd say Hampstead, which got me into all sorts of trouble because of course everyone else went to school in Hampstead and they wanted to know which one. Then there was my sexuality. The theatre was full of gay people, but none of them were out, and there was that ugly story about Gielgud being arrested for cottaging, so I thought I'd better hide that as well. Each of these things went into the closet until my entire identity was in the closet. That's why this play appealed to me so much: it's about an artist changing his identity in order to get what he wants."[3]

In 2015 he played Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman.

He also has several film credits to his name, including Yanks (1979), Superman II (1980), Shadey (1985) and Erik the Viking (1989). Sher starred as the Chief Weasel in the 1996 film adaptation of The Wind in the Willows and as Benjamin Disraeli in the 1997 film Mrs. Brown.

Sher's television appearances include the mini-series The History Man (1981) and The Jury (2002). In 2003, he played the central character in an adaptation of the J. G. Ballard short story, "The Enormous Space", filmed as Home and broadcast on BBC Four. In Hornblower (1999), he played the role of French royalist Colonel de Moncoutant, Marquis de Muzillac, in the episode "The Frogs and the Lobsters". More recent credits include a cameo in the British comedy film Three and Out (2008) and the role of Akiba in the television play God on Trial (2008).

Sher was cast in the role of Thrain, father of Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but appears only in the Extended Edition of the film.

In 2018, he played the title role in King Lear and is the only person to play both the Fool and King Lear at the Royal Shakespeare Company. He returned to Stratford-upon-Avon in 2019 to perform in Kunene and the King with John Kani.[5]

Other work

Sher's books include the memoirs Year of the King (1985), Woza Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus in South Africa (with Gregory Doran, 1997), Beside Myself (an autobiography, 2002), Primo Time (2005), and Year of the Fat Knight (2015), a book of paintings and drawings, Characters (1990), and the novels Middlepost (1989), Cheap Lives (1995), The Indoor Boy (1996) and The Feast (1999). His 2018 book, Year of the Mad King, won the 2019 Theatre Book Prize, awarded by the Society for Theatre Research.[6]

Sher has also written several plays, including I.D. (2003) and Primo (2004). The latter was adapted as a film in 2005. In 2008, The Giant, the first of his plays in which Sher did not feature, was performed at the Hampstead Theatre. The main characters are Michelangelo (at the time of his creation of David), Leonardo da Vinci and Vito, their mutual apprentice.

In 2005, Sher directed Breakfast With Mugabe at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. The production moved to the Soho Theatre in April 2006 and the Duchess Theatre one month later. In 2007, he made a crime documentary for Channel 4, titled Murder Most Foul, about his native South Africa.[7] It examines the double murder of actor Brett Goldin and fashion designer Richard Bloom. In 2011, Sher appeared in the BBC TV series The Shadow Line in the role of Glickman.[8]

Personal life

In 2005, Sher and his partner – director Gregory Doran, with whom he frequently collaborates professionally – became one of the first gay couples to enter into a civil partnership in the UK.[9] They married on 30 December 2015, a little over ten years after their civil partnership.

Stage performances




Year Title Role
1976 The Madness Militia man/Young man in café
1978 ITV Playhouse Morris
1979 Collision Course Tasic
Play for Today Nathan
One Fine Day Mr Alpert
Yanks G.I. at cinema
1980 Superman II Bell Boy
1985 Shadey Oliver Shadey
1989 Erik the Viking Loki
1990 Screenplay David Samuels
1992 The Comic Strip Presents... Scum editor
1993 Screen Two Genghis Cohn
1994 Shakespeare: The Animated Tales Richard III
1995 The Young Poisoner's Handbook Dr Ernest Zeigler
Look at the State We're In! The Don
1996 The Wind in the Willows Chief Weasel
Indian Summer Jack
1997 Mrs. Brown Benjamin Disraeli
The Moonstone Sergeant Cuff
1998 Shakespeare in Love Dr Moth
1999 The Winter's Tale Leontes, King of Sicilia
2000 The Miracle Maker Ben Azra (voice)
2001 Macbeth Macbeth
2004 Murphy's Law Frank Jeremy
Churchill: The Hollywood Years Adolf Hitler
2005 A Higher Agency Chef
Great Performances Primo Levi
Primo Primo Levi
2008 Three and Out Maurice
Masterpiece Contemporary
2010 The Wolfman Dr Hoenneger
2013 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Thráin (Extended Edition only)
2014 War Book David


Year Title Role Notes
1981 The History Man Howard Kirk Episodes: "Part 1: October 2nd 1972"
"Part 2: October 3, 1972 (a.m.)"
"Part 3: October 3rd 1972 (p.m.)"
"Gross Moral Turpitude"
1995 One Foot in the Grave: "Rearranging the Dust" Mr Prothrow Acted without dialogue
1999 Hornblower: "The Frogs and the Lobsters" Colonel Moncoutant
2002 The Jury Gerald Lewis QC
2003 Home Gerald Ballantyne
2007 The Company Ezra ben Ezra, the Rabbi
2008 God on Trial Akiba
2011 The Shadow Line Peter Glickman Episodes: "Episode #1.5"
"Episode #1.6"
2013 Agatha Christie's Marple: A Caribbean Mystery Jason Rafiel

Awards and nominations


0 win, 1 nomination

British Academy Television Awards
Year Nominated work Category Result
2008 Primo British Academy Television Awards 2008 Best Actor Nominated

Laurence Olivier Awards

2 wins, 4 nominations

Laurence Olivier Award
Year Nominated work Category Result
1983 King Lear Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role Nominated
1985 Richard III and Torch Song Trilogy Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor Won
1997 Stanley Won
2000 The Winter's Tale Nominated

Drama Desk Awards

1 win and 1 nomination

Drama Desk Award
Year Nominated work Category Result
2006 Primo Outstanding One-Person Show "Primo" Won

Evening Standard Theatre Awards

1 win and 1 nomination

Evening Standard Theatre Awards
Year Nominated work Category Result
1985 Richard III Best Actor Won

Evening Standard British Film Awards

1 win and 1 nomination

Evening Standard British Film Awards
Year Nominated work Category Result
1997 Mrs Brown Peter Sellers Award for Comedy Won

Screen Actors Guild Awards

1 win and 1 nomination

Screen Actors Guild Award
Year Nominated work Category Result
1997 Shakespeare in Love Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture Won

Theatre Awards UK (TMA)

1 win and 1 nomination

Theatre Awards UK
Year Nominated work Category Result
1997 Titus Andronicus Best Actor in a Play [10] Won

Tony Awards

0 win and 1 nomination

Tony Awards
Year Nominated work Category Result
1997 Stanley Best Actor in a Play Nominated



  1. ^ "When I'm king I'll build a fort, jovial Prince Charles tells Indian schoolchildren". Daily Telegraph. 9 November 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  2. ^ "Antony Sher Biography". 2008. Retrieved 22 January 2009.
  3. ^ a b Smith, Rupert (20 September 2001). "The great pretender". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Everyman Theatre". Archived from the original on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2010.
  5. ^ "Kunene and the King".
  6. ^ "Antony Sher wins theatre book prize". Royal Shakespeare Company. Retrieved 18 June 2019.
  7. ^ "Murder Most Foul". September 2007.
  8. ^ "The Shadow Line, a New Drama for BBC Two". BBC Online. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  9. ^ BBC News, 21 December 2005.
  10. ^ Sher, Anthony. "TMA Previous Winners". 1995. Theatre Management Association. Retrieved 17 February 2014.

External links

Chris Obi

Christopher Obi Ogugua (born September 24, 1970) is an English actor and filmmaker who trained at Drama Centre London and graduated in 2001. He has done a season at the Royal Shakespeare Company where he was directed by Sir Antony Sher in the four-hander, Breakfast with Mugabe and a season at the Globe Theatre in 2007. He is best known for playing Mr. Jacquel/Anubis on American Gods and Klingon captain T’Kuvma in Star Trek: Discovery.

Dramatic Need

Dramatic Need is a UK-registered charity (number 1119443) that sends international arts professionals (such as musicians, artists and actors) to host workshops in underprivileged and rural communities in Africa. The charity promotes creative expression as a tool for conflict resolution, social development, gender empowerment and the assimilation of health messages in underprivileged communities.

Dramatic Need also provides art, music and film-making equipment to schools in South Africa and Rwanda. Volunteers on the Dramatic Need programme work with the children towards producing a performance or exhibition based on the issues that directly affect their communities. The charity has been particularly effective in encouraging young people to discuss and challenge the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. The Official Patron of Dramatic Need is Her Excellency Dr. Lindiwe Mabuza, former South African High Commissioner to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Board of Trustees includes the Oscar-winning film director Danny Boyle and South African-born actor Sir Antony Sher.

In an article for The Times in the United Kingdom on 11 November 2008, Dramatic Need trustee Danny Boyle described the charity's aims:

For children - and for many adults - art plays a vital role in helping them to express feelings and difficulties that they aren't otherwise able to articulate. Its importance is never greater than in post-conflict conditions. Of course, water, food, and first aid are essential during a crisis, but none of these things can restore human dignity to a person dying from disease or help a rape victim to cope with their outrage.

To suggest that the only things that maintain our humanity are those that serve our biological needs seems to me palpably incorrect. We are not just what we eat. We are also what we feel, what we fear, what we love and what we hate. Unexpressed tensions find their strength in violence....If there is not a means to move beyond the hatred of the past, we will never move past violence.


Significant supporters of the charity include Josh Hartnett, Helena Christensen and David Walliams. Hartnett has stated that he wishes to volunteer for Dramatic Need in the future.On 14 November 2010, Dramatic Need sponsored the one time production of The Children's Monologues, directed by Danny Boyle. Held at the Old Vic Theatre in London, it featured the adapted stories of children’s first-hand experiences in South Africa being retold and re-interpreted by and performed by actors such as Sir Ben Kingsley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Gemma Arterton and Eddie Redmayne.

Erik the Viking

Erik the Viking is a 1989 British comedy-fantasy film written and directed by Terry Jones. The film was inspired by Jones's children's book The Saga of Erik the Viking (1983), but the plot is completely different. Jones also appears in the film as King Arnulf.

God on Trial

God on Trial is a 2008 British television play written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, starring Antony Sher, Rupert Graves and Jack Shepherd. The play takes place in Auschwitz during World War II. The Jewish prisoners put God on trial in absentia for abandoning the Jewish people. The question is whether God has broken his covenant with the Jewish people by allowing the Germans to commit genocide. It was produced and shown by the BBC on 3 September 2008. Production was supported by PBS, which screened the play as part of its Masterpiece anthology.

The play is based on an event described by Elie Wiesel in his book The Trial of God, though Boyce describes this tale as "apocryphal". According to Boyce, producer Mark Redhead "had been trying to turn the story into a film for almost 20 years by the time he called me in 2005 to write the screenplay." However, Wiesel later confirmed that the story was true, and that he was personally witness to it.

Gregory Doran

Gregory Doran (born 24 November 1958) is an English director known for his Shakespearean work. The Sunday Times called him 'one of the great Shakespearians of his generation'.Doran is currently Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), succeeding Michael Boyd in September 2012. In an interview, announcing his appointment, Doran said that whilst Boyd had concentrated on the 'Company', he would be concentrating on the 'Shakespeare' in the Royal Shakespeare Company logo.His notable productions include a production of Macbeth starring Antony Sher, which was filmed for Channel 4 in 2001, as well as Hamlet in 2008, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.

He is on the Board of Governors for The Royal Shakespeare Company.

I.D. (play)

I.D. is a historical drama by Antony Sher. It debuted on 4 September 2003 at London's Almeida Theatre, directed by Nancy Meckler.

The play is adapted from the book A Mouthful of Glass by Henk van Woerden, and follows the events surrounding the trial and imprisonment of the mentally unstable Demetrios Tsafendas, who in 1966 assassinated South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd.

Indian Summer (1996 film)

Indian Summer, also known as Alive & Kicking, is a 1996 British drama film directed by Nancy Meckler and starring Jason Flemyng, Antony Sher and Bill Nighy. The script was written by Martin Sherman, author of the play Bent. The plot follows as self-involved gay dancer who refuses to let the fact that he is HIV positive to disrupt his career as he rehearses a staging of Indian Summer, a gay-themed ballet about love and lust. The dancer begins a troubled relationship with an older man, a gay therapist prone to drinking. The film was released in the UK as Indian Summer and in the United States as Alive & Kicking.

Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor

The Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor in a Play is an annual award presented by The Society of London Theatre in recognition of achievements in commercial British theatre. The awards were established as the Society of West End Theatre Awards in 1976, and, renamed in 1984 in honour of English actor Lord Olivier.

The award has been known by its current name of Best Actor since 1993, previously it was known as Actor of the Year. From 1976–1984 and again in 1988, there were two Actor of the Year awards, one for Actor of the Year in a New Play and the other for Actor of the Year in a Revival.


King Leontes is a fictional character in Shakespeare's play The Winter's Tale. He is the father of Mammilius and husband to Queen Hermione. He becomes obsessed with the belief that his wife has been having an affair with Polixenes, his childhood friend and King of Bohemia. Because of this, he tries to have his friend poisoned, has his wife imprisoned, and orders his infant daughter to be cast out. The daughter, Perdita, survives nonetheless when she is discovered in her basket on the coast of Bohemia by shepherds who adopt and raise her. His young son dies of grief at his mother's plight, and Hermione faints on hearing the news and is reported dead. Leontes comes to understand his faults, and is filled with remorse for his ill-treatment of his Queen. At the end of the play, he is reunited with daughter and his wife, who returns from death in the play's mysterious finale.

Literary critic Harold Bloom has called Leontes Shakespeare's finest representation of jealousy of the male heart. Shakespeare's portrayal is debatable, as he is viewed as a jealous tyrant, in many ways a true villain, though there is also a commonly held view that Shakespeare purposefully wanted to present a childish, flippant man.Actors who have given notable performances as Leontes include Johnston Forbes-Robertson, Henry Ainley, John Gielgud, Jeremy Irons, Patrick Stewart and Antony Sher.

Mrs Brown

Mrs Brown (also theatrically released as Her Majesty, Mrs Brown) is a 1997 British drama film starring Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Geoffrey Palmer, Antony Sher, and Gerard Butler in his film debut. It was written by Jeremy Brock and directed by John Madden. The film was produced by the BBC and Ecosse Films with the intention of being shown on BBC One and on WGBH's Masterpiece Theatre. However, it was acquired by Miramax and released to unexpected success, going on to earn $9 million worldwide.

The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival and released in the United Kingdom on 5 September 1997. Dench won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role; additionally, she was nominated for many other awards for her performance, including the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, but lost both awards to Helen Hunt for her role in As Good as It Gets.

Number 10 (drama series)

Number 10 is a drama series for BBC Radio 4 about a fictional British Prime Minister and his staff. The series was created by Jonathan Myerson, and produced by Clive Brill of Pacificus Productions, with Peter Hyman as Political Advisor. It has had five series to date, in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012. The first three series starred Antony Sher as Adam Armstrong, the Labour Prime Minister. The fourth series replaced him with Damian Lewis as a Tory prime minister in a minority government, in response to the United Kingdom coalition government which took office in 2010.

Primo (film)

Primo is a 2005 film directed by Richard Wilson, starring the BAFTA-nominated Antony Sher and broadcast by HBO and the BBC.This film is a recording of the Royal National Theatre production of the play Primo, also directed by Wilson. Adapted by Antony Sher from If This Is a Man (1947) by Primo Levi, it is a monologue told as a memoir by an older Primo looking back at his life in Auschwitz.

Set designer Hildegard Bechtler devised a symbolist set consisting of a single bare wall and a lone chair with variations in lighting.British composer, Jonathan Goldstein, was nominated for an Ivor Novello award for the score to the film.Wilson and Sher travelled to Auschwitz whilst researching the play. Sher was confined in the back of a lorry and German actors were hired to shout out orders to him in order to give him some feel of the powerlessness and confusion Levi experienced during his incarceration. Sher said that he found the play terribly draining; he refused to extend the play or to tour with it.

A further film of the RNT stage production was made by director Robin Lough.

Red Noses

Red Noses is a comedy about the black death by Peter Barnes, first staged at Barbican Theatre in 1985. It depicted a sprightly priest, originally played by Antony Sher, who travelled around the plague-affected villages of 14th century France with a band of fools, known as Floties, offering holy assistance. It was for this play that Barnes won his Olivier award.


Shadey is a 1985 British comedy film directed by Philip Saville and starring Antony Sher, Billie Whitelaw and Patrick Macnee. The screenplay concerns a man with clairvoyant qualities who is recruited by British intelligence for a secret mission. The film grossed over $65,817.

Teeth 'n' Smiles

Teeth 'n' Smiles is a musical play written by David Hare.

The Shadow Line (TV series)

The Shadow Line is a seven-part British television drama miniseries produced by Company Pictures/Eight Rooks Ltd/Baby Cow/CinemaNX production for BBC Two. It stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Rafe Spall, Lesley Sharp, Kierston Wareing, Antony Sher and Stephen Rea. The series was written, directed and produced by Hugo Blick.

The first episode was screened on 12 April 2011 at BAFTA's Princess Anne Theatre in Piccadilly, and was followed by a special question and answer session with Hugo Blick and Christopher Eccleston.Broadcasting of the series started on 5 May 2011 and finished on 16 June 2011. It is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD and for purchase on Amazon Prime.

War Book

War Book is a 2014 British political drama film directed by Tom Harper and written by Jack Thorne. The film features an ensemble cast, consisting of Adeel Akhtar, Nicholas Burns, Ben Chaplin, Shaun Evans, Kerry Fox, Phoebe Fox, Sophie Okonedo, Antony Sher, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett.

Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art

The Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, formerly the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art, was a drama school, and originally a singing school, in London. It was one of the leading drama schools in Britain, and offered comprehensive training for those intending to pursue a professional performance career. During its 100-year history, the Academy produced many established actors of stage and screen, including Angela Lansbury, Julian Fellowes, Shaun Williamson, Antony Sher, Donald Sinden, Hugh Bonneville, Minnie Driver, Amanda Root, Julia Ormond, Terence Stamp, Gregory Finnegan, Rupert Evans, Matthew Goode.The school was founded in London in 1926 as the Webber Douglas School of Singing, by Walter Johnstone Douglas and Amherst Webber. It was created from the singing academy founded in 1906 in Paris by Jean de Reszke. By 1932 the school had added full theatrical training to its curriculum, and it was renamed the Webber Douglas School of Singing and Dramatic Art. It was located at 30 Clareville St in South Kensington.

In 2006, the academy was absorbed into the Central School of Speech and Drama. Many of the academy's past alumni have formed a theatre company dedicated to keeping the original spirit of the school alive.

In 2009 the Central School of Speech and Drama renamed its Embassy Studio the Webber Douglas Studio.

Awards for Antony Sher


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