Sir Michael John Gambon, CBE (born 19th October, 1940), is an acclaimed Irish-British actor who has worked in theatre, television and film.
Gambon was born in Dublin during World War II. His father, Edward Gambon, an engineer, decided to seek work in the rebuilding of London, and so Gambon and his seamstress mother, Mary, moved to north London, when he was five.
Raised a strict Catholic, he attended St Aloysius Boys' School in Somers Town. 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 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.
Aged 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 a 1962 production of Othello. 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. The company initially performed at the Old Vic, their first production being Hamlet, directed by Olivier and starring Peter O'Toole. He played for four years in many NT productions.
He made his film debut in the Laurence Olivier Othello in 1965. 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 James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli to audition for the role in 1970, to replace George Lazenby. 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 which also starred Helen Mirren.
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) 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; theatrical drama Being Julia; and CGI action fantasy Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
Perhaps his most significant role in 2004, however, was Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts headmaster in the third instalment of J. K. Rowling's franchise, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Gambon reprised the role of Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was released in November 2005. He returned to the role again in the fifth movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which was released in 2007. He will once again return to portray Dumbledore in film six Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Gambon admits to not having read the Harry Potter novels and says that this is because he does not want to be upset by an extremely large change or death in the books. Similarly, he has also stated in an interview that, when playing Dumbledore, "I don't have to play anyone really. 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..."