At least some content in this article is derived from information featured in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Spoilers will be present within the article.
Sir Michael John Gambon (born on 19 October, 1940) plays Albus Dumbledore in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and all subsequent film adaptations of the Harry Potter books. Gambon was cast as Dumbledore after Richard Harris' death in 2002. Gambon would go on to be cast in all of the remaining Harry Potter movies. In 2018, Michael Gambon provided Professor Dumbledore's voice for Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery.
Gambon was born in Dublin during World War II. His father, Edward Gambon, was an engineer and his mother, Mary Hoare was a seamstress. His father decided to seek work in the rebuilding of London, and so the family moved to Mornington Crescent in north London, when Gambon was five. His father had him made a British citizen — a decision that would later allow Michael to receive an actual, rather than honorary, knighthood and CBE. (although, under the British Nationality Act 1981 anyone born in Ireland before 1949 can still register as a British subject and, after five years' UK residence, as a British citizen).
Raised a strict Catholic, he attended St Aloysius Boys' School in Somers Town and served at the altar. He then moved to St Aloysius' College in Hornsey Lane, Highgate, London, whose former pupils included Peter Sellers. He later attended a school in Kent, before leaving with no qualifications at fifteen. He then gained an apprenticeship with Vickers Armstrong as a toolmaker. By the time he was 21 he was a fully qualified engineer. He kept the job for a further year – acquiring a fascination and passion for collecting antique guns, clocks and watches, as well as classic cars.
At age 19 he joined the Unity Theatre in Kings Cross. Five years later he wrote a letter to Michael MacLiammoir, the Irish theatre impresario who ran Dublin's Gate Theatre. It was accompanied by a CV describing a rich and wholly imaginary theatre career – and he was taken on.
Gambon made his professional stage début in the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin's 1962 production of Othello, playing "Second Gentleman", followed by a European tour. A year later, cheekily auditioning with the opening soliloquy from Richard III, he caught the eye of star-maker Laurence Olivier who was recruiting promising spear-carriers for his new National Theatre Company. Gambon, along with Robert Stephens, Derek Jacobi and Frank Finlay, was hired as one of the ‘to be renowned’ and played any number of small roles, appearing on cast lists as Mike Gambon. The company initially performed at the Old Vic, their first production being Hamlet, directed by Olivier and starring Peter O'Toole. Gambon played for four years in many NT productions, including named roles in The Recruiting Officer and The Royal Hunt of the Sun, working with directors William Gaskill and John Dexter.
After three years at the Old Vic, Olivier advised Gambon to gain experience in provincial rep. In 1967, he left the NT for the Birmingham Repertory Company which was to give him his first crack at the title roles in Othello (his favourite), Macbeth and Coriolanus.
His rise to stardom began in 1974 when Eric Thompson cast him as the melancholy vet in Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests at Greenwich. A speedy transfer to the West End established him as a brilliant comic actor, squatting at a crowded dining table on a tiny chair and sublimely agonising over a choice between black or white coffee.
Back at the National, now on the South Bank, his next turning point was Peter Hall's premiere staging of Harold Pinter's Betrayal, an unexpectedly subtle performance — a production photograph shows him embracing Penelope Wilton with sensitive hands and long slim fingers (the touch of a master clock-maker). He is also one of the few actors to have mastered the harsh demands of the vast Olivier Theatre. As Simon Callow once said: “Gambon's ‘iron lungs and overwhelming charisma are able to command a sort of operatic full-throatedness which triumphs over hard walls and long distances.”
This was to serve him in good stead in John Dexter's masterly staging of The Life of Galileo in 1980, the first Brecht to become a popular success. Hall called him ‘unsentimental, dangerous and immensely powerful’, even the Sunday Times’ curmudgeonly critic of the day called his performance ‘a decisive step in the direction of great tragedy...great acting’, while fellow actors paid him the rare compliment of applauding him in the dressing room on the first night.
From the first Ralph Richardson dubbed him The Great Gambon, an accolade which stuck, outshining his 1990 CBE, even the later knighthood, although Gambon dismisses it as a circus slogan. But as Sheridan Morley perceptively remarked in 2000, when reviewing Cressida: ‘Gambon's eccentricity on stage now begins to rival that of his great mentor Richardson’. Also like Richardson, interviews are rarely given and raise more questions than they answer. Gambon is a very private person, a ‘non-starry star’ as Ayckbourn called him. Off-stage he prefers to back out of the limelight, an unpretentious guy sharing laughs with his fellow cast and crew.
While he has won screen acclaim, no-one who saw his ravaged King Lear at Stratford, while still in his early forties, will forget his superb double act with a red-nosed Antony Sher as the Fool sitting on his master's knee like a ventriloquist's doll. There were also notable appearances in Old Times at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and as Volpone and the brutal sergeant in Pinter's Mountain Language.
David Hare's Skylight, with Lia Williams, which opened to rave reviews at the National in 1995, transferred first to Wyndhams Theatre and then on to Broadway for a four-month run which left him in a state of advanced exhaustion. “Skylight was ten times as hard to play as anything I’ve ever done” he told Michael Owen in the Evening Standard. “I had a great time in New York but couldn’t wait to get back”. Gambon is almost the only leading actor not to grace Yasmina Reza's ART at Wyndham's. But together with Simon Russell Beale and Alan Bates he gave a deliciously droll radio account of the role of Marc. And for the RSC he shared Reza's two-hander The Unexpected Man with Eileen Atkins, first at The Pit in the Barbican and then at the Duchess Theatre, a production also intended for New York but finally delayed by other commitments.
In 2001 he played what he described as “a physically repulsive’’ Davies in Patrick Marber's revival of Pinter's The Caretaker, but he found the rehearsal period an unhappy experience, and felt that he had let down the author. A year later, playing opposite Daniel Craig, he portrayed the father of a series of cloned sons in Caryl Churchill's A Number at the Royal Court, notable for a recumbent moment when he smoked a cigarette, the brightly lit spiral of smoke rising against a black backdrop, an effect which he dreamed up during rehearsals.
In 2004 he finally achieved a life-long ambition to play Sir John Falstaff, in Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre production of Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, co-starring with Matthew Macfadyen as Prince Hal.
He made his film debut in the Laurence Olivier Othello in 1965 (in which Maggie Smith played Desdemona). He then played romantic leads, notably in the early 1970s BBC television series, The Borderers, in which he was swashbuckling Gavin Ker. As a result, Gambon was asked by producer Cubby Broccoli to audition for the role of James Bond in 1970, as a potential replacement for George Lazenby (ultimately, American John Gavin won the role, only to be replaced when Sean Connery agreed to return). His craggy looks soon made him into a character actor, although he won critical acclaim as Galileo in John Dexter's production of The Life of Galileo by Brecht at the National Theatre in 1980. But it was not until Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (1986) that he became a household name. After this success, for which he won a BAFTA, his work includes films such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, in which he played Albert Spica, a sociopathic gangster and the film's titular "thief". Interestingly enough, one of Gambon's character's underlings in this film was played by Ciarán Hinds, who would ultimately play Dumbledore's brother Aberforth in the Harry Potter films (although the two brothers never appeared onscreen together).
In 1992 he played a psychotic general in the Barry Levinson film Toys and he also starred as Georges Simenon's detective Inspector Jules Maigret in an ITV adaptation of Simenon's series of books. He starred as Fyodor Dostoyevsky in the Hungarian director Károly Makk's movie The Gambler (1997) about the writing of Dostoyevsky's novella The Gambler.
In recent years, films such as Dancing at Lughnasa (1998) and Plunkett & Macleane (1998), as well as television appearances in series such as Wives and Daughters (1999) (for which he won another BAFTA), a made-for-TV adaptation of Samuel Beckett's Endgame (2001), alongside David Thewlis playing Hamm and Clov respectively, and Perfect Strangers (2001) have revealed a talent for comedy. In 2004, he appeared in five films, including Wes Anderson's quirky comedy The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; the British gangster flick Layer Cake; the theatrical drama Being Julia; and the CGI action fantasy Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. (Interestingly enough, in this last film, he appeared alongside Jude Law, who would later play a younger version of Albus Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.)
Perhaps his most significant role in 2004, however, was that of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Gambon took over the role from fellow Irish actor Richard Harris, who had died of Hodgkins' disease in 2002 (coincidentally, Harris had also played Maigret on television four years before Gambon took that role) and reprised the role in every subsequent Harry Potter film.
In discussing his portrayal of Dumbledore in the Harry Potter film series, Gambon has given detailed accounts. Particularly, he was quoted as saying that when portraying Dumbledore, he does not necessarily "have to play anyone". He further states, "I just stick on a beard and play me, so it's no great feat. I never ease into a role – every part I play is just a variant of my own personality. I’m not really a character actor at all." This suggests that Gambon chooses to act his performance based on his own intuitive interpretations of how a character would respond to certain situations. In short, Gambon has not deliberately aimed to follow the specific characteristics of Dumbledore, as referenced in the books, but rather developed an acting style in which he combines his own personality with that of his character. Not only had Gambon not read the books before being cast in the role of Dumbledore, he chose to not read any of the books after receiving the role, as he felt that "Actors can get a bit miserable when they read the book and realise, 'Oh, my scene from the book has been cut.' That's not the point."
Gambon, in comparison to Richard Harris, has portrayed Dumbledore as a more robust, vocal and rather eccentric wizard. Richard Harris's interpretation differed, opting for a far calmer demeanour on his character's part. The films have, so far, not attempted to address this discrepancy between Gambon's portrayal and Harris' quieter, less physically abrupt performance. As such, the Harry Potter series has followed the same path as the 1960s magic-oriented sitcom, Bewitched, which likewise changed a lead actor with no explanation ever offered.
Most recently, he was Joe in Beckett's Eh Joe, giving two performances a night at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. He currently does the voice over to the new Guinness ads with the penguins.In 2007 he played major roles in Stephen Poliakoff's Joe's Palace, and the five-part adaptation of Mrs Gaskell's Cranford novels, both for BBC TV.
In 2008 Gambon appeared in the role of Hirst in No Man's Land by Harold Pinter in the Gate Theatre, Dublin, opposite David Bradley as Spooner, in a production directed by Rupert Goold, which transferred to the London West End's Duke of York's Theatre, for which roles each received nominations for the 2009 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor. After Pinter's death occurred on 24 December 2008, Gambon read Hirst's monologue selected by the playwright for Gambon to read at his funeral, held on 31 December 2008, during the cast's memorial remarks from the stage as well as at the funeral and also in Words and Music, transmitted on the BBC Radio 3 on 22 February 2009.
In 2010, Gambon appeared in The Book of Eli, alongside fellow Harry Potter stars Gary Oldman and Frances de la Tour. The BBC also announced that Gambon would guest star in the 2010 Doctor Who Christmas special, A Christmas Carol, which was broadcast on Christmas Day that year. Gambon also appeared in the 2010 film The King's Speech as King George V .
In 2017, he took over the role as Arthur in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the second Kingsman film, which the role was previously portrayed by Michael Caine in the first film Kingsman: The Secret Service.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011): Albus Dumbledore
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010): Albus Dumbledore
- Doctor Who (2010): Older Kazran Sardick / Elliot Sardick
- The King's Speech (2010): King George V
- The Book of Eli (2010): George
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009): Albus Dumbledore
- Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009): Voice of Franklin Bean
- Brideshead Revisited (2008): Lord Marchmain
- Amazing Grace (2007) Lord Fox
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007): Albus Dumbledore
- The Good Shepherd (2006): Dr Fredericks
- The Omen (2006): Bugenhagen
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005): Albus Dumbledore
- Layer Cake (2004): Eddie Temple
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004): Editor Paley
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004): Albus Dumbledore
- Path to War (2003) Lyndon Baynes Johnson, President of the United States
- Gosford Park (2001)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999): Baltus Van Tassel
- The Last September (1999)
- The Gambler (1997): Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Othello (1965)
Gambon married Anne Miller when he was 22, but has always been secretive about his personal life, responding to one interviewer's question about her: "What wife?" The couple lived together in a country house near Gravesend in Kent, where Anne has her workshop. Gambon was invested by Prince Charles as a Knight Bachelor on 17 July 1998 for services to drama (Queen Elizabeth II's approval for the award was notified in the 1998 New Year Honours List) and his wife thus became Lady Gambon. The couple have a son, Fergus, who appears as an expert on the BBC's Antiques Roadshow.
While filming Gosford Park, Gambon brought Philippa Hart on to the set and introduced her to co-stars as his girlfriend. When the affair was revealed in 2002, he moved out of the marital home, but rather than moving in with his lover, he bought himself a bachelor pad. Philippa, who worked with Gambon on the film Sylvia in 2003, in late 2006 moved into a £500,000 terraced home in Chiswick, West London with her pet pug dog. In February 2007, it was revealed that Philippa was pregnant with Gambon's child, and gave birth to son Michael in May 2007. In October 2008, it was revealed that Philippa was pregnant with the couple's second child.
Gambon is a qualified amateur pilot, and his love of cars led to his appearance on the BBC's Top Gear programme. Gambon raced the Suzuki Liana and was driving so aggressively that it was launched into the air on the last corner of his timed lap. The final corner of the Dunsfold Park track has been named "Gambon" in his honour. He reappeared on the programme on June 4th, 2006, and set a time in the Chevrolet Lacetti of 1:50.3, a significant improvement on his previous time of 1:55. He clipped his namesake corner the second time, and when asked why by Jeremy Clarkson, replied that 'I dunno - I just don't like it'.
Notes and references
- Harry Potter Page to Screen: The Complete Filmmaking Journey, Page 95
- Michael Gambon: "I’m quite good at villainous characters". BBC One. Retrieved on 2016 December 29.