A remarkable actor who brings a vibrant intensity to his performances, Christopher Eccleston is widely held to be one of the most talented British actors of the 1990s. Primarily known for his portrayals of working-class men, Eccleston, who possesses a lanky, stone-faced physical appeal, has won international attention for his work in such films as Jude and Elizabeth.
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A product of the Northwestern English town of Salford, where he was born on February 16, 1964, Eccleston enjoyed a happy working-class upbringing. A poor student with a love of television, he initially wanted to be a professional soccer player. At the age of 19, however, he realized that acting was his calling, and enrolled in London's Central School of Speech and Drama. As an actor, his early influences had been Ken Loach's Kes and Albert Finney's performance in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, but he soon found himself interpreting the classics, performing the works of Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Molière. At the age of 25, he made his professional stage debut in the Bristol Old Vic's production of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Relatively unemployed as an actor for some years after his graduation, Eccleston took a variety of odd jobs at a supermarket, on building sites, and as an artist's model. His luck began to change in 1991, when he was chosen to play the protagonist of Let Him Have It. He won acclaim for his haunting portrayal of Derek Bentley, whose real-life murder of a policeman and subsequent hanging for the crime was the subject of dispute in the British legal system, as Bentley had the mental age of a nine-year-old. Eccleston's handling of the role paved the way for more work, and he was soon starring opposite Robbie Coltrane in Cracker, a popular British television series. He stayed with the show from 1993 until 1994, when he was cast in Shallow Grave, the stylish thriller from Danny Boyle, John Hodge, and Andrew MacDonald, the team who would later make Trainspotting. The film, which starred Eccleston, Ewan McGregor, and Kerry Fox as three flatmates with a corpse on their hands, proved a success, and Eccleston won praise for his portrayal of an unhinged accountant.
More television work followed in the form of Hillsborough (1996), and that same year, Eccleston won the title role in Michael Winterbottom's Jude. Co-starring with Kate Winslet, he garnered widespread praise for his interpretation of Thomas Hardy's tragic hero, and he began to attract the attention of American audiences. This attention was heightened two years later when he was cast as the dastardly Duke of Norfolk in Elizabeth; both his chilling performance and the film itself received wide acclaim. The same year, Eccleston starred alongside Renée Zellweger as an Orthodox Jew in A Price Above Rubies. The film was a relative disappointment, but it did allow the actor to break away from the character types that he usually played. In 1999, Eccleston could be seen in David Cronenberg's eXistenZ and in Heart, a black comedy in which he starred as a man so consumed with jealousy over his wife -- whom he believes to be having an affair -- that he gives himself a heart attack. The same year, he collaborated again with director Winterbottom on With or Without You, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
He found no small amount of success in 2005 and 2006, when he took on the role of the ninth incarnation of Dr. Who in the fantastical television series of the same name, and a man with the ability to become invisible in the first season of NBC's Heroes. In 2009 he co-starred in Amelia, a biopic chronicling the life of the legendary aviator Amelia Earhart. He took on the starring role of Beatle John Lennon in Lennon Naked (2010), another biopic, and continued to work steadily throughout the 2010s. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi