George William Harris (born October 20, 1949 in Grenada) is a British actor of films, stage (including musicals), TV and radio, known for playing Kingsley Shacklebolt in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, David Yates). He has been acknowledged by the BBC Black Legends to be one of the inspirations to many present day performers. Harris has also worked as a teacher for the summer theatre course at Goldsmiths' College, University of London.
George Harris was born in 1949 in the island of Grenada, West Indies, which was then a part of the United Kingdom. He was partially raised in Barbados, his father's native land  and also a British colony at that point.
In 1964, fifteen-year old George went to the British isles, and since he travelled through Europe, the United States and Asia to act. His debut in cinema was in 1969 with Gladiatorerna (1969, Peter Watkins), a Swedish movie. One year later, he debuted in stage both in Full Circle, in London's West End, and in the Israeli production of Hair, in Hebrew language.
From 1972 to 1979, Harris performed in several productions, mostly in TV and stage. Those were commonly for BBC, CBS and independent interests. His theater productions included the original London cast of Jesus Christ Superstar, in which he played Caiaphas. He performed then in the National Theatre and The Royal Court Theatre (both in London), the Royal Exchange (Manchester) and the Theatre Royal (Bath). He also reached the American public with films such as Yanks (1979, John Schlesinger).
More recognized then, Harris acted in widespread movies in the early 1980s, particularly the alien prince Thun in Flash Gordon (1980, Mike Hodges, also featuring Robbie Coltrane); colonel Bobi in The Dogs of War (1981, John Irvin, also featuring Jim Broadbent); a little role as band leader in Ragtime (1981, Milos Forman, also featuring Richard Griffiths); and the smuggler captain Simon Katanga in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg, music by John Williams). During this time, Harris also played the first colored detective of Great Britain's TV, Winston Churchill Wolcott, top-billing in the 1981 mini-series Wolcott, and he also worked along Miranda Richardson in 1985 theatre adaptation of David Mamet's Edmond in Newcastle.
Harris continued with independent TV series and working for Universal TV. He was a recurrent character in the first season of BBC's TV drama Casualty (1986), to which he would return in a different role for a single episode 18 years later (This series also featured a pre-chamber of secrets Gemma Padley in a different episode).
Harris then continued his career in the Royal National Theatre/Lyttleton: He performed as De Flores in The Changeling, by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley in 1988, and then acted in Mountain Language, written and directed by Harold Pinter, and a collaboration he would reprise for BBC ten years later. In 1989, he was seen as a bartender in American movie See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989, Arthur Hiller) and also in London theatre for August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
During the early 1990s, Harris worked mostly in TV series (Highlander, season 3) and movies both for TV (Bermuda Grace, 1994, Mark Sobel, also featuring Leslie Phillips) and for cinema (The Browning Version, 1992, Mike Figgis, also featuring Michael Gambon). Some of his later films have developed a certain cult following such as Gulliver's Travels (1996, Charles Sturridge), starring Ted Danson, featuring Warwick Davis and Robert Hardy, and where he played a giant scientist; Soul Music (1997, Jean Flynn), an animation based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld works; and Madeline (1998, Daisy von Scheler Mayer), based on Ludwig Bemelmans's book.
Between 2000 and 2001, Harris was a guest star for five episodes of Canadian sci-fi TV series Starhunter (strangely known in U.S. as Starhunter 2300, even though the plot happens in 2275 AD). This series was discontinued after its second season due to business differences of the creative team. At the same time, he acted in European co-production The Emperor's New Clothes (2001, Alan Taylor, featuring Ian Holm and Ashley Artus).
Harris then acted in Hollywood blockbuster Black Hawk Down (2001, Ridley Scott, also featuring Jason Isaacs), acting for the first time as a real living person: Somali warlord Osman Ali Atto, who had been arrested by American forces in 1993. Real-life Atto, who was again free at the time of the movie and who disliked the version of the events depicted in the movie, felt that Harris's portrayal of him was unaccurate, and he also regretted not having been asked for authorization.
Harris saw several of his project opening in 2004. He starred in the short film Elephant Palm Tree (2004, Kara Miller) and he returned, as previously stated, for one more episode of Casualty. He acted in all the 14 episodes of 55 Degrees North, a TV series from BBC that lasted for two seasons. Last, but not least, he also had an important role in the thriller Layer Cake (2004, Matthew Vaughn), the directorial debut of Snatch producer, which also starred Daniel Craig, Sienna Miller and Michael Gambon.
In 2005, Harris was seen as opposition leader Kuman-Kuman in Hollywood success The Interpreter (2005, Sydney Pollack). The following year, he made a new American movie, Eye of the Dolphin (2006, Michael D. Sellers), the sequel of which (Way of the Dolphin) is currently filming with Harris as a main actor and associate producer, and with an estimated release date of 2009.
Harris's collaboration with the Harry Potter franchise began with the movie version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, David Yates), where he gave life to Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt. Although his character appears in the two following books, Harris's reprisal of the role, or even Shacklebolt's appearance in the next movies, are still unconfirmed.
Notes and references
- Imdb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0364711/
- http://home.online.no/~frodebye/dana_gillespie/cd_jesus_christ_superstar.htm and http://us.geocities.com/superarchive/discography.htm
- David Mamet: A Research and Production Sourcebook