Jonathan Pryce, CBE (born John Price; 1 June 1947) is a Welsh actor and singer. After studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and meeting his longtime girlfriend, English actress Kate Fahy, in 1974, he began his career as a stage actor in the 1970s. His work in theatre, including an award-winning performance in the title role of the Royal Court Theatre‘s Hamlet, led to several supporting roles in film and television. He made his breakthrough screen performance in Terry Gilliam‘s 1985 cult film Brazil.
Critically lauded for his versatility, Pryce has participated in big-budget films such as Evita, Tomorrow Never Dies, Pirates of the Caribbean, The New World, GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, GI Joe: Retaliation as well as independent films such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Carrington. His career in theatre has also been prolific, and he has won two Tony Awards—the first in 1977 for his Broadway debut in Comedians, the second for his 1991 role as The Engineer in the musical Miss Saigon. Born John Price in Carmel, Flintshire, he is the son of Margaret Ellen (née Williams) and Isaac Price, a former coal miner who, along with his wife, ran a small general grocery shop. Price has two older sisters. He was educated at Holywell Grammar School (today Holywell High School), and, at the age of 16, he went to art college and then started training to be a teacher at Edge Hill College (now Edge Hill University) in Ormskirk. While studying, he took part in a college theatre production. When he joined Equity, the British actors’ trade union, he used Jonathan Pryce as a stage name because Equity can only have one actor with any particular name on its books.
An impressed tutor suggested he became an actor and on Pryce’s behalf sent off to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for an application form, and Pryce was awarded a scholarship to RADA. While at RADA Pryce worked as a door-to-door salesman of velvet paintings. Pryce was part of ‘new wave’ of actors to emerge from the Academy. Others included Bruce Payne, Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, Anton Lesser, Kenneth Branagh and Fiona Shaw.
Despite finding RADA «straight-laced» and being told by his tutor that he could never aspire to do more than playing villains in Z-Cars, when he graduated he joined the Everyman Theatre Liverpool Company, eventually becoming the theatre’s Artistic Director.
To gain his Equity card to work in Liverpool, he made his first screen appearance in a minor role on 1972 episode of the British sciencefiction programme Doomwatch, called «Fire & Brimstone». He then starred in two television films, both directed by Stephen Frears, Daft as a Brush and Playthings. After the Everyman, Pryce joined the director Sir Richard Eyre at the Nottingham Playhouse and starred in the Trevor Griffiths play Comedians in a role specially written for his talents, Gethin Price. The production then transferred to London’s Old Vic Theatre and in 1976 he reprised the role on Broadway, this time directed by Mike Nichols, for which he won the 1977 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play, his first Tony Award. It was around this time that he appeared in his first movie role, playing the character Joseph Manasse in the film drama Voyage of the Damned, starring Faye Dunaway. He did not, however, abandon the stage, appearing from 1978 to 1979 in the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s productions of The Taming of the Shrew as Petruchio, and Antony and Cleopatra as Octavius Caesar.
In 1980, his performance in the title role of Hamlet at the Royal Court Theatre won him an Olivier Award, and was acclaimed by some critics as the definitive Hamlet of his generation. That year, Pryce had a small but pivotal role as Zarniwoop in the 12th episode of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series, one that he reprised for the Quintessential Phase which was broadcast in 2005. In his original role as Zarniwoop, Pryce’s character questions the «ruler of the Universe», a solipsist who has been chosen to rule arguably because of either his inherent manipulability, or immunity therefrom, on his philosophical opinions. Around the same time, he also appeared in the film Breaking Glass (1980).
Pryce played the role of the sinister Mr. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same title. After appearing mostly in films, such as the Ian McEwan-scripted The Ploughman’s Lunch, and Martin Luther, Heretic (both also 1983), he achieved a breakthrough with his role as the subdued protagonist Sam Lowry in the Terry Gilliam film, Brazil (1985). After Brazil, Pryce appeared in the historical thriller The Doctor and the Devils (also 1985) and then in the Gene Wilder-directed film Haunted Honeymoon (1986). During this period of his life, Pryce continued to perform on stage, and gained particular notice as the successful but self-doubting writer Trigorin in a London production of Anton Chekhov‘sThe Seagull in late 1985. From 1986 to 1987 Pryce played the lead part in the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s production of Macbeth, which also starred Sinéad Cusack as Lady Macbeth. Also in 1986 he starred in the film Jumpin’ Jack Flash.
Pryce worked once again with Gilliam in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), playing «The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson». The film was a notorious financial fiasco, with production costing more than $40 million, when the original budget was $23.5 million. The following year Pryce appeared in three of the earliest episodes of the improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, alongside Paul Merton and John Sessions, and in Uncle Vanya, again a play by Chekhov, at the Vaudeville Theatre.
After a series of major dramatic roles on stage, including Vanya and Macbeth, Pryce decided he wanted to do musicals after seeing his friend Patti LuPone in the original London production of Les Misérables. He would successfully return to the stage originating the role of The Engineer, a Eurasian pimp, in the West End musical Miss Saigon. His performance was praised in England where he won the Olivier and Variety Club awards, but when the production transferred to Broadway the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) would not allow Pryce to portray The Engineer because, according to their executive secretary, «[t]he casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community.» Cameron Mackintosh, the show’s producer, decided to cancel the $10 million New York production because, he said, he would not let the freedom of artistic expression be attacked. Realizing that its decision would result in the loss of many jobs, and after Pryce received much support from the acting community (both Charlton Heston and John Malkovich threatened to leave the union if Pryce was not allowed to perform) the AEA decided to make a deal with Mackintosh, allowing Pryce to appear in the production. He would then, in 1991, win a Tony Award for his performance. Made in the same period, Pryce starred in the ITV mini-series Selling Hitler (1991) as Gerd Heidemann. Pryce returned to the London stage the following year to star for one night only at the Royal Festival Hall for an AIDS charity alongside Elaine Paige and Lilliane Montivecchi in the 1992 revival of the Federico Fellini-inspired musical Nine.
Pryce featured, alongside Kathy Burke and Minnie Driver, in the BBC serial Mr. Wroe’s Virgins (1993), directed by Danny Boyle. Pryce played Henry Kravis in the HBO produced made-for-TV movie Barbarians at the Gate (1993). He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and for a Golden Globe Award for his role. Also during 1993, Pryce starred alongside River Phoenix and Judy Davis in the unfinished film Dark Blood, but production had to be shut down when, 11 days short of completion, Phoenix died from a drug overdose. Director George Sluizer, who owns the rights to what has been filmed, has made available some of the raw material, which features Pryce and Phoenix on a field in Utah, on his personal website. Between 1993 and 1997, Pryce, on a multi million dollar contract became the spokesman for the Infiniti automobile marque in a series of American television commercials, in particular for the Infiniti J30 and Infiniti Q45. In one of these advertisements Pryce appeared alongside jazz singer Nancy Wilson in a Prague nightclub. In 1994, Pryce portrayed Fagin in a revival of the musical Oliver!, and starred alongside Emma Thompson in the film Carrington (1995), which centres on a platonic relationship between gay writer Lytton Strachey and painter Dora Carrington. For his portrayal of Strachey, Pryce received the Best Actor Award at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.
Pryce then starred with Madonna and Antonio Banderas in his first musical film, Evita (1996). In this adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s stage musical, Pryce portrayed the Argentinian president Juan Peron. The movie’s soundtrack was an international success. It contains over 30 songs sung mainly by Madonna, Banderas and Pryce, of which two are solos for Pryce: «She Is A Diamond» and «On The Balcony Of The Casa Rosada». After Evita, Pryce went on to portray Elliot Carver in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). During the rest of the decade Pryce would play to his new acquired fame as a villain, portraying an assassin in Ronin (1998), a corrupt Cardinal in the controversial Stigmata (1999) and, for Comic Relief, the Master in the Doctor Who special, Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. About this time Pryce sang at the Hollywood Bowl alongside opera singer Lesley Garrett in highlights from My Fair Lady and in 1998, he performed inCameron Mackintosh‘s gala concert Hey, Mr Producer!, also as Professor Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady and reprising his role as the Engineer from Miss Saigon.
During the early 2000s Pryce starred and participated in a variety of movies, such as The Affair of the Necklace (2001), Unconditional Love (2002), What a Girl Wants (2003), and Terry Gilliam‘s aborted project, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. While the success of some of these films was variable, the 2001 London stage production of My Fair Lady and his portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins was acclaimed by observers. This production turned out to be very stressful for Pryce because Martine McCutcheon, who portrayed Eliza Doolittle, was sick during much of the show’s run. McCutcheon was replaced by her understudy Alexandra Jay, who would also fall sick hours before a performance, forcing her understudy, Kerry Ellis, to take the lead. Pryce was understandably upset and on her first night introduced Ellis to the audience before the show by saying «This will be your first Eliza, my second today and my third this week. Any member of the audience interested in playing Eliza can find applications at the door. Wednesday and Saturday matinee available.» Pryce ended up dealing with four Elizas during the course of 14 months. Despite the difficulty, the show was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards on 2001: Best Actress in a Musical for Martine McCutcheon, Outstanding Musical Production, Best Theatre Choreographer and Best Actor in a Musical for Pryce. Pryce lost to Philip Quast, although ironically McCutcheon won in her category having played fewer performances than any of her understudies. Pryce did express interest in doing My Fair Lady in New York, but when asked if he would do it with McCutcheon he said that «there’s as much chance of me getting a date with Julia Roberts as doing My Fair Lady in New York with Martine McCutcheon.»
In April 2003 Pryce returned to the non-musical stage with A Reckoning, written by American dramatist Wesley Moore. The play co-starred Flora Montgomery and after premiering at the Soho Theatre in London was described by The Daily Telegraph as «one of the most powerful and provocative new American plays to have opened since David Mamet‘s Oleanna.» Pryce had a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) in which he portrayed a fictional Governor of Jamaica, Weatherby Swann, a film he described as «one of those why-not movies.» After Pirates, Pryce appeared in several large-scale motion pictures, such as De-Lovely (2004), his second musical film, a chronicle of the life of songwriter Cole Porter, for which Kevin Kline and Pryce covered a Porter song called «Blow, Gabriel, Blow». The Brothers Grimm (2005), Pryce’s third completed film with Terry Gilliam, starred Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, and The New World (2005), in which he had a cameo role as King James I. In 2005, Pryce was nominated for another Olivier Award in the best actor category for his role in the 2004 London production of The Goat or Who is Sylvia?, where he played Martin, a goat-lover who has to face the recriminations of his cheated-on wife, played by his real-life wife Kate Fahy. Pryce’s performance was highly praised, but he lost the Olivier to Richard Griffiths.
Pryce lent his voice to the French animated film, Renaissance (2006), which he stated he wanted to do because he had never «done anything quite like it before.» He reprised the role of Governor Weatherby Swann for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (also 2006). Both were filmed at the same time but released a year apart. Pryce returned to the Broadway stage replacing John Lithgow, from January to July 2006, as Lawrence Jameson in the musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. During early 2007, the BBC serial Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars was first broadcast with Pryce in the lead. From September 2007 through June 2008, he returned to the theatre portraying Shelly Levene in a new West End production of David Mamet‘s Glengarry Glen Ross at the Apollo Theatre, London. He later appeared in the BBC Three comedy series Clone as Dr. Victor Blenkinsop also starring Stuart McLoughlin and Mark Gatiss. In 2009 he appeared at the Donmar Warehouse theatre in the title role of Dimetos written by Athol Fugard, and later that year made a sentimental journey back to Liverpool to appear as Davies in Harold Pinter‘s The Caretaker directed by Christopher Morahan. This transferred to London’s Trafalgar Studios in early 2010. On television he appeared as Mr Buxton in Return to Cranford (2009), for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award as Best Supporting Actor in a Mini Series.
In 2015 he will join the cast of the HBO series Game of Thrones in Season 5 as The High Sparrow. Pryce admitted that one of the main reasons he took on the role was because of how influential the character is plot-wise. While initially being quite sceptical about “sword and sorcery” shows, Pryce later had a change of heart after his positive experiences on the Thrones sets.