Born June 1, 1947 in Carmel, Wales, John Price was the third child and only son of a former coal miner who ran a small general grocery shop with his wife. His primary education was in Wales, but the brilliant student entered college in Lancashire, England at the age of 16. While studying to become a teacher, he received a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) where he changed his name to Jonathan Pryce when joining British Equity because there was already an actor with the name of John Price.
Pryce began his acting career at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. He made his TV debut in a minor role in a 1972 episode of the British sci-fi series, Doomwatch. He made his film debut in 1976’s Voyage of the Damned in which he was billed fifteenth and is now the thirteenth actor in the film to have received an Oscar nomination after Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner Lee Grant, Wendy Hiller, Julie Harris, Max von Sydow, Orson Welles, James Mason, Katharine Ross, José Ferrer, Janet Suzman and Denholm Elliott.
A 1977 Tony award for Comedians, for a supporting role that he had previously played in London, and a 1980 Royal Court production of Hamlet for which he won an Olivier Award in the title role enhanced his career, but it was Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film, Brazil, in which he had the lead role, that made him a star on film.
The actor added to his awards trophies with his 1991 Tony for Miss Saigon in which he recreated his London portrayal of the engineer in a modernized version of Madame Butterfly. He received Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his supporting role in the 1993 TV movie, Barbarians at the Gate. Two years later he received numerous Best Actor nominations and awards for his performance in 1995’s Carrington.
In 1996, Pryce received his perhaps greatest screen exposure to date as Juan Peron in the film version of Evita with Madonna and Antonio Banderas. Later 1990s films included Tomorrow Never Dies and Ronan. In the first decade of the 21st Century, he was in the TV mini-series, Victoria & Albert and such films as The Affair of the Necklace, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, De-Lovely, The Brothers Grimm, The New World, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End before earning an Emmy nomination for the 2009 mini-series, Cranford.
In the second decade of the current century, Pryce excelled in such films as Hysteria and Woman in Gold the TV series, Games of Thrones and the TV mini-series, Wolf Hall. At the end of the decade he co-starred opposite Glenn Close in her Oscar nominated performance in 2018’s The Wife and finally recived an Oscar nomination as Pope Francis in 2019’s The Two Popes.
Next up for Jonathan Pryce at 72 is the TV movie Gone Hollywood.
BRAZIL (1985), directed by Terry Gilliam
This was Pryce’s breakthrough film in which he played the central character of an unambitious bureaucrat who becomes an enemy of the totalitarian state in Gilliam’s futuristic satire. The film, which has been described as a cross between George Orwell’s 1984 and Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2, won the Best Picture award of the Los Angeles Film Critics after members of the organization saw Gilliam’s director’s cut, forcing Universal to abandon its truncated studio cut of the film and release the film the way the director intended. Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins and Michael Palin co-star.
CARRINGTON (1995), directed by Christopher Hampton
Pryce received numerous award nominations and wins for his portrayal of writer Lytton Strachey who has a lifelong platonic relationship with artist Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson). Both had affairs with numerous men but remained true to each other in this examination of love vs. desire. Among Pryce’s awards recognition was a BAFTA nod for Best Actor while Thompson received a joint Broadcast Critics’ nod for this and Sense and Sensibility for which she won an Oscar for her screenplay. With Steven Waddington, Samuel West, Rufus Sewell, Penelope Wilton, Janet McTeer, Peter Blythe and Jeremy Northam.
EVITA (1996), directed by Alan Parker
Madonna won a Golden Globe as Eva Peron in this long-awaited film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s London and Broadway smash. Antonio Banderas as Ché Guevara was nominated for a Golden Globe, but Pryce as Juan Peron was not. None of the film’s three stars received BAFTA, SAG or Oscar nominations and Madonna never has, but both Banderas and Pryce have received Best Actor nominations this year, Banderas for Pain and Glory and Pryce for The Two Popes. The film did five Oscars nominations, winning for Webber and Rice’s new song, “You Must Love Me”.
THE WIFE (2018), directed by Bjorn Runge
Shown at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival, the film was held for release until 2018 to give Glenn Close at a better shot at winning an Oscar in the title role of the wife of a Pulitzer prizewinning author played by Pryce than she would have had in the crowded 2017 race. She won numerous awards but lost the Oscar to Olivia Colman in The Favourite. Despite positive reviews, Pryce failed to pick up any awards. Max Irons, who plays their son in the film, is the real-life son of Jeremy Irons whose wife Close played in his Oscar winning role in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune.
THE TWO POPES (2019), directed by Fernando Meirelles
Pryce and Anthony Hopkins provide a master class in acting as the titled characters in this film of Andrew McCarten’s unproduced play. McCarten received his third Oscar nomination for his fourth consecutive screenplay about real people for which Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill and Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury all won Oscars. Can Hopkins, nominated in support, as Pope Julius and/or Pryce, nominated in lead, as his successor, Pope Francis, add to that list for this fictionalized accounting of a meeting between the two before Julius’ abdication? We’ll soon know.
JONATHAN PRYCE AND OSCAR
- The Two Popes (2019) – nominated – Best Actor