An A-Z of Actors : Z

Finally at the end of this alphabet challenge, with ‘Z’. There are more surnames with ‘Z’ than you might expect, but I will limit my selection to three, for this last entry.

Zhang Ziyi (double Z!) is a Chinese actress who is famous for her starring role in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'(2000). But she has made many more outstanding films, including ‘The Road Home’ (1999), ‘Memoirs of A Geisha’ (2005), ‘House of Flying Daggers’ (2004), and ‘Hero’ (2002). More recent films include her multi-award winning part in ‘The Grandmaster’ (2013), and she will be seen in the forthcoming ‘Godzilla’ film, in 2019. She is still just 39 years old, and will no doubt continue to work for a long time yet.

Another double Z is the Chinese actress Zhu Zhu, star of film and television in both her native country, and in international productions. She starred in the remake of the Mel Gibson film ‘What Women Want’, in 2011, ‘Shanghai Calling’ (2012), and the Wachowski Brothers’ film ‘Cloud Atlas’ in the same year. Also released in 2012, she co-starred with Russell Crowe, in ‘The Man With The Iron Fists’. Her most recent international role was in ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ in 2018.

Back to Britain for my last choice, and the gorgeous Catherine Zeta Jones. This Welsh actress was much loved for her television appearances in the UK long before she achieved fame in America, and married Michael Douglas. She began as a child actress in stage productions and musicals, achieving star status with the musical ’42nd Street’, in 1987. From 1991-1993, she was in the popular long-running television series ‘The Darling Buds Of May’, after which she left Britain to try her luck in Los Angeles. Since then, her career has been unstoppable, with films like ‘Entrapment’ (1999), ‘The Haunting’ (1999), ‘Traffic’ (2000), and ‘Chicago’ (2002). Very much an A-list star, she continues to work in the industry, now aged 48.

An A-Z of Actors: Y

Quite a few to choose from in ‘Y’, and most of them have the surname ‘Young’. So, I will limit my choices to just three this time, leaving room for you to add your favourites.

Susannah York was a British actress who rose to fame during the period known as ‘The Swinging Sixties’. She graduated from RADA in London, in 1958, and was soon starting out on a long stage and film career, with her first film role in ‘Tunes Of Glory’ (1960), which starred Alec Guinness. The following year she starred opposite Kenneth More in ‘The Greengage Summer’, and later appeared in the award winning film ‘Tom Jones’ (1963). During this time she also appeared regularly on television dramas in the UK, and in stage productions too. In 1968, she co-starred as the young lesbian lover of Beryl Reid, in the landmark film ‘The Killing Of Sister George’, and the following year won a BAFTA for her role in ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t they?’
She continued to work until 2009, with her last film part in ‘The Calling’. Sadly dying of Cancer in 2011, at the age of 72.

American Robert Young will be known to many as the kindly doctor from the television series ‘Marcus Welby, M.D.’, but he had a very long career. Starting out in local theatres, and as an extra in silent films, he was signed by MGM, and appeared in a ‘Charlie Chan’ film in 1931, the first of over 100 more film roles. Although he rarely starred, his support was always notable, and he was also used to fill spots in many ‘B’ films, used for the popular ‘double features’ of the time. Some of his many film appearances include ‘Western Union’ (1941), ‘The Canterville Ghost’ (1944), and ‘The Forsyte saga’ (1949). But he will undoubtedly be best-remembered for his long-running TV series. He died in 1998.

Michael York is an English actor, and star of many well-known films. He began in theatre, and later worked in both films and on television. Well-spoken, he frequently played in period dramas, and was often cast as the typical English gentleman. From 1967, until becoming ill in 2013, he rarely stopped working, and his list of credits includes Losey’s film ‘Accident’ (1967), ‘Zeppelin’ (1971), and ‘Cabaret’ (1972), with a starring role opposite Liza Minnelli. He also starred in ‘Logan’s Run’ (1975), ‘The Riddle Of The Sands’ (1979), and ‘The Return Of The Musketeers’ (1989). His career was later reinvigorated, when he appeared with Mike Myers in all three of the ‘Austin Powers’ films.

An A-Z of Actors: X

I had to give up on this one, to be honest. Even the Chinese actors I know didn’t have ‘X’ surnames. But I wanted to leave the post open for you, in case you were saving one for this letter!

So, if you can think of any of your favourite actors whose surname starts with an ‘X’, please add them in the comments.

An A-Z of Actors: W

Close to the end now, and lots of choices with ‘W’. I will be featuring one very famous actor in this letter, as well as three others perhaps not so famous, to leave room for your selections and favourites.

Starting today with English ‘tough-guy’ actor, Ray Winstone. A former youth boxer, and a genuine East End boy, he started out at theatre school in London, before being catapulted to fame with his chilling role as Carlin, in the BBC production of the Borstal (youth prison) drama, ‘Scum’, a play so powerful it was not shown on television at the time. It was later filmed in 1979, and given a cinema release, with Ray playing the same part. That same year, he appeared in ‘Quadrophenia’, as well as continuing to work in television series. Despite taking on so many hard man roles, he also tackled difficult areas, such as domestic abuse in ‘Nil By Mouth’ (1997), and incest, in the harrowing ‘The War Zone’ (1999). He has rarely stopped working, with so many supporting or starring film roles, including ‘Sexy Beast’ (2000), ‘Ripley’s Game’ (2002), ‘Cold Mountain’ (2003), and ‘King Arthur’ (2004). Since then, he has appeared in more than forty other films, including Scorsese’s ‘The Departed’ (2006).

English actress Billie Whitelaw started work as a child actress in the 1940s, and worked in every area of acting, until 2007. Early stage work featured many notable collaborations with Samuel Beckett, and working as part of The National Theatre company. Her film career began in 1953, and she was in many British films of the period, with a role in the famous ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ (1958). During the 1960s, she appeared in twelve films, including ‘Payroll’ (1961), ‘No Love For Johnnie’ that same year, and ‘Charlie Bubbles’ (1967), starring opposite Albert Finney. In 1972, she appeared in Hitchcock’s last film, ‘Frenzy’, and four years later as the evil housekeeper in ‘The Omen’ (1976). Then in 1990, she played the mother of the notorious twin gangsters, in ‘The Krays’. Her final role was in Simon Pegg’s 2007 comedy, ‘Hot Fuzz’. She died seven years later, in 2014.

American character actor M. Emmett Walsh has a distinctive look, and has made a few unforgettable appearances in some excellent films, as well as on television. You might think you don’t know the name, but look him up, and you will certainly know the face. You will know the films too, including some of the most highly acclaimed in modern cinema. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969), ‘Little Big Man’ (1970), ‘Serpico’ (1973), and ‘The Jerk’ (1979). He went on to appear in ‘Blade Runner’ (1982), ‘Silkwood’ (1983), ‘Blood Simple’, the 1984 film by the Coen Brothers, and ‘Raising Arizona’ (1987). Since then, he has been in over sixty five other films, including a standout role in ‘Calvary’ (2014). He is still working, at the age of 83.

No apologies for choosing someone famous as my last offering in ‘W’, as he is one of my all time favourite actors, as well as being a much lauded director. For me, the marvellous Orson Welles can do no wrong. I have never not liked him in a single role he has played, and some of his films I have watched over and over again, including ‘The Third Man’ (1949), ‘(Touch Of Evil’ (1958), and ‘Chimes At Midnight’ (1965). His career was long, and his roles too many to list, but they of course include the legendary ‘Citizen Kane’ (1941), ‘The Magnificent Ambersons’ (1942), ‘Jane Eyre’ (1943), ‘The Stranger’ (1946), and ‘Macbeth’ (1948). In 1959, he played the crusading lawyer in ‘Compulsion’, and in 1970, the French King Louis, in the epic ‘Waterloo’. He continued to work until his death in 1985, leaving behind what is arguably one of the greatest legacies in all of cinema history.

An A-Z of Actors: V

I will only add three names this time, as ‘V’ can be a bit tricky. But that should leave you plenty of scope to add your own favourites in the comments.
My selections are not that well-known.

American actor John Vemtimiglia had enjoyed a successful career in films and on television, most notably in the long running series ‘The Sopranos’. Films include ‘Cop Land’ (1997), ‘The Iceman’ (2012), and ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’ (1999). He is one of those rare character actors who always leaves his mark on the smallest role, making me want to find out more about him.

An unusual choice, and another star of The Sopranos, Steven Van Zandt was perhaps never meant to be an actor. In fact, he was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band, and well-known as a musician. In 1999, he decided to audition for a role in ‘The Sopranos’, despite having no acting experience. He was given the role of Silvio, one of the main characters, and brought him to life on the screen. Then in 2011, he co-wrote and produced the Norwegian/English mini-series, ‘Lillyhammer’, playing a New York gangster in hiding in Norway, with often hilarious results. He is still working in television and radio, as well as continuing to perform and record music.

My last offering today is another American, the Oscar-nominated Brenda Vaccaro. She has had a distinguished career on stage, in films, and on television that has lasted for more than fifty years. Winning awards for her theatre work as well as screen roles, her list of film credits includes some very famous films indeed. ‘Midnight Cowboy’ (1969), ‘Going Home’ (1972), ‘Once Is Not Enough’ (1975), and ‘Capricorn One’ (1977). Later films included ‘Supergirl’ (1994), and ‘The Mirror Has Two Faces’ (1996). Now 78, she is still working, and known for supplying voices to various animated characters.

An A-Z of Actors: U

‘U’ is not a kind letter for surnames, so to give you room for some choices, I am only going to feature one fairly obvious choice for this letter. Good luck!

Sir Peter Ustinov pretty much did it all. Film, Theatre, Opera, TV, as well as writing, directing, and designing. His career lasted almost five decades, from 1938, until 2004, the year he died. Starting out on stage in the 1930s, he was soon working in films, with ‘One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing’, in 1940. Twelve films later, he starred as Emperor Nero, in the epic ‘Quo Vadis’ (1951), beginning a run of playing in historical films including ‘Beau Brummell’ (1954), and ‘Spartacus’ (1960), which won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

He made roughly one film a year for the next sixteen years, before ‘Logan’s Run’ (1976), then ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ (1977). In 1978, he took on the role of detective Hercule Poirot, in the film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death On The Nile’, playing him again in ‘Evil Under The Sun’ in 1982. Many more film roles continued, alongside TV documentaries, writing, and appearing on stage in a one-man show. His last film was ‘Winter Solstice’ (2004).

An A-Z of Actors: T

Sorry to have dragged this one out for so long. Now up to ‘T’, and lots to choose from. I will try to avoid the most obvious choices, as usual.

Rita Tushingham has had a long career. The British actress started out in Stage School, but she soon had a starring role in the film ‘A Taste Of Honey’ (1961), when still in her teens. She went on to appear in ‘The Leather Boys’ (1964), whilst also working regularly on television here. In 1965, she appeared in David Lean’s epic, ‘Doctor Zhivago’, as well as the ‘Swinging Sixties’ comedy ‘The Knack’, with Michael Crawford. Following that, she continued to appear in mainly British productions, occasionally working on international films, including ‘Being Julia’ (2004). Now aged 76, she is still active, most recently in TV drama.

One of my favourite actresses, Kristin Scott Thomas has won numerous awards, and was made a Dame, in 2015. After going to work as an Au Pair in Paris in her teens, she later studied acting there, and speaks fluent French. This has enabled her to appear in many outstanding modern French films. Her award winning debut was in the film ‘A Handful Of Dust’ (1988), followed some years later by her BAFTA-winning role in the highly successful ‘Four Weddings And A Funeral'(1994). In 1996 she received no less than seven nominations for her role in ‘The English Patient’, and further critical acclaim for ‘Gosford Park’ (2001). If you have never seen her act in French, then I recommend the outstanding ‘I Have Loved You So Long’, another award-winning performance, from 2008. Since then, she has been in twenty-four other films, as well as acting on the stage in Britain, France, and America. Still only 58 years old, I am sure we will see much more of her in the future.

John Turturro is an American actor with distinctive looks, and an acting style that matches them. He has appeared in more than sixty films, and worked with some of the most famous modern film-makers, including collaborations with The Coen Brothers, and Spike Lee. Although best known for film roles, the New Yorker has also worked on stage, and in various television shows. His credits include some of the most popular modern films ever made, beginning in 1980 with a role as an extra in ‘Raging Bull’, through to ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ (1985), and ‘Hannah And Her Sisters’ (1996). In 1989, he stood out in ‘Do The Right Thing’, and received praise for ‘Miller’s Crossing’ (1990). The following year he won Best Actor awards for ‘Barton Fink’, and then more nominations for ‘Quiz Show’, in 1994. More Coen Brothers films continued, with ‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998), and ‘Oh Brother Where Art Thou?’ (2000). He has been in many other films since then, and his latest one is awaiting release.

A French actor next, and the star of one of my personal top ten films, Jean-Louis Trintignant. Now 87 years old, and still working, he made his stage debut in 1951, before I was born. He has made films in French, Italian, and English, and has worked with many of the leading directors too, from the French New Wave, to the films of Krzysztof KieĊ›lowski. With such a huge body of work behind him, I will not even try to list all of his most famous films, but here are a few of them. ‘A Man And A Woman’ (1966), ‘Les Biches’ (1968), ‘The Conformist’ (1970), and ‘Confidentially Yours’ (1983). Later films include ‘Three Colours: Red’ (1994), ‘Fiesta’ (1995), and ‘Amour’ (2012), for which he won three Best Actor awards.

Last today is another American, Billy Bob Thornton. As well as acting, he writes and directs films too, including two of his best, ‘One False Move’ (1992), and the marvellous ‘Sling Blade’ (1996). A talented actor who has taken on everything from crime to comedy, even the space adventure ‘Armageddon’ (1998), and has also released four albums of music. You are sure to have seen him in something, even if you don’t know his name. ‘Tombstone’ (1993), ‘U-Turn’ (1997), and ‘Pushing Tin’ (1997). Then came ‘Monster’s Ball’ (2001), ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ (2001), and ‘Bad Santa’ (2003). The following year, he played Davy Crockett, in the remake of ‘The Alamo’, and was in ‘Eagle Eye’ in 2008. As well as appearing in the TV series of ‘Fargo’, he continues to make films, with his most recent released in 2018.

An A-Z of Actors: S

Back to this alphabet series, with ‘S’. As usual, I will try to avoid the most obvious choices, and leave room for you to add your favourites in the comments.

Londoner Timothy Spall got his big break on a popular television series in Britain, in 1983. Before that, he had trained at The National Youth Theatre, and enjoyed a stage career including his time with The Royal Shakespeare Company, and a first film role in ‘Quadrophenia’ (1979). He went on to work with director Mike Leigh on ‘Life Is Sweet’ (1991), ‘Secrets and Lies’ (1996, and ‘Topsy Turvy’ (1999). Films outside Britain included ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001), ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003), and ‘Appaloosa’ (2008). He has portrayed the character of Peter Pettigrew in the ‘Harry Potter’ films, and in 2014 received various awards and nominations for the lead role in the film ‘Mr Turner’, a biopic of the famous English painter. Since then, he has appeared in nine more films, as well as continuing to work on television both as an actor, and as a presenter of documentary programmes. Something of a British institution by now, and still only 61 years old.

Polish-born German actress, Hanna Schygulla, captivated me with her sultry looks in the film ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant’ in 1972, and seven years later, she was gorgeous in ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’ too. She could act as well, so got her entry into this section without hesitation. I soon started to try to find more films to watch her in, and discovered ‘Rio Das Mortes’ (1970), another collaboration with Fassbinder. Work with another famous German film-maker, Wim Wenders, led me to ‘The Wrong Move’ (1975), and I was fast becoming one of the biggest fans of an actress very few people outside of Germany seemed to have heard of. Then in 1983, she won the award for Best Actress at Cannes, with her role in ‘The Story of Piera’, alongside Isabelle Huppert and Marcello Mastroianni. After that, her career was hit and miss, appearing in many English-language films, as well as continuing to appear on German television, and in European films. She is still working, aged 74.

Harry Dean Stanton died last year, and that was a loss to acting, undoubtedly. But he left a legacy of sixty years of work behind him, including so many memorable character parts, and leading roles. He had served during WW2, and lived to the great age of 91. His film career reads like a list of some of the best films ever over a forty-year period, and I doubt there are many readers of this blog who would not know his name, or recognise his distinctive features. From his first uncredited role in a western in 1957, he went on to appear in ‘Pork Chop Hill’ (1959), and ‘How The West Was Won’ (1962). Parts in ‘Cool Hand Luke’ (1967), and ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ (1970) followed, but Harry still had to wait for a breakout role to give him a memorable leading man performance. That came in 1984, with Wim Wender’s haunting ‘Paris, Texas’, followed by Alex Cox’s film ‘Repo Man’, in the same year. The list goes on, with ‘Pretty In Pink’ (1986), ‘The Straight Story’ (1999), ‘The Green Mile’ (1999), and ‘Inland Empire’ (2006). With a successful television career running alongside his film roles, his body of work was enormous.

English actor Rufus Sewell has enjoyed a successful career in the theatre, as well as on television, and in films. Still just fifty years old, we can no doubt expect more from him in the years to come. He has performed in many historical and period dramas, including the adaptation of ‘Middlemarch’ on TV, and as Charles II in a BBC series, whilst continuing to impress audiences with his stage roles too. Recent TV roles include Lord Melbourne in the BBC serial ‘Victoria’, and a German SS officer in the streamed series ‘The Man In The High Castle’. Film roles include ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ (1995), ‘Dark City’ (1998), ‘A Knight’s Tale’ (2001), and ‘The Illusionist’ (2006). He is still working in every area of acting, and his latest film is due for release.

Tilda Swinton is a British actress known for her androgynous looks, and award-winning roles. Her early collaborations with the avant-garde film maker Derek Jarman got her noticed in films like ‘Caravaggio’ (1986), and ‘The Last Of England’ (1988). She went on to appear in many of Jarman’s experimental films, before embarking on a more mainstream career with the film ‘Female Perversions’ in 1996. Since then, she has worked with many of the leading modern directors, in an assortment of roles, and won numerous awards in the process. Well-known films she has appeared in include ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001), ‘Constantine’ (2005), ‘Michael Clayton’ (2007), and ‘The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button’ (2008). She is still very busy, and has two films awaiting release.

An A-Z of Actors: R

I know these tend to drag on, but please continue to add your own choices in the comments.

Gena Rowlands is an American actress who has been active for more than sixty years. She has won four Emmy awards, two Golden Globes, and has also been nominated for an Oscar, finally receiving an honorary one, in 2015. For over thirty years, she was married to the actor and film-maker John Cassavetes, and appeared in many of his films. After drama school, Gena toured with various theatrical companies, and also worked on television before her collaborations with her husband, on ten films together. In 1974, she won awards for her outstanding role in ‘A Woman Under The Influence’, with her portrayal of a disturbed housewife. More critical acclaim followed in 1980, with the wonderful lead role in ‘Gloria’, as the mobster’s moll who tries to help a young boy being hunted by the Mafia. She has rarely stopped working, with parts in films during every year of the 1980s and 1990s, including notable roles in various TV mini-series too. In 2004, she co-starred in ‘The Notebook’, directed by her son, Nick.

Charlotte Rampling is still popular, in her seventies. As a model and singer too, she became one of the faces of ‘The Swinging Sixties’ in England. After an early role in ‘Georgy Girl’ (1966), she went on to be cast in numerous European films, often taken under the wing of a famous director at the time. As well as her film work, she continued to appear in British and American TV dramas, and she has won numerous European awards for Best Actress, during her long career. Some of her film roles might surprise you, but you may well remember the titles. ‘The Damned’ (1969), ‘The Night Porter’ (1974), ‘Zardoz’ (1974), a strange sci-fi, opposite Sean Connery. ‘The Verdict’ (1982), with Paul Newman, ‘Angel Heart’ (1987), with Mickey O’Rourke, and the French film, ‘Under The Sand’ (2000). In 2015, she was outstanding in the British film ’45 Years’, and she also appeared in the recent ‘Red Sparrow’ (2018).

English actor Mark Rylance already had a distinguished career as a stage actor and television regular, before becoming noticed in films. For ten years, he was artistic director of the restored Globe Theatre, in London, and he has won Tony awards and BAFTAs, for various roles. In 2015, he excelled in the role of Thomas Cromwell, in the BBC adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’, as well as winning the Oscar for best supporting actor, in the film ‘Bridge Of Spies’. He then went on to appear in Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk’ (2017), and in Spielberg’s ‘Ready Player One’, this year.

Someone who gets little recognition outside of the UK, Saskia Reeves has had a long and distinguished career, mostly in supporting roles. But her performances are never less than powerful, and she deserves to be better known. Her work so far has led her to collaborate with some of the best, including Mike Leigh, and Stephen Poliakoff. She was outstanding as the incestuous lover, in ‘Close My Eyes’ (1991), and went on to co-star in many TV series and adaptations, including ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1999), and ‘Island At War’ (2004). Later roles saw her starring opposite Idris Elba, in the wonderful BBC drama, ‘Luther’, and in David Hare’s ‘Collateral’ (2018).

I have to finish with one of my favourite British actresses, Miranda Richardson. Her work on stage, screen, and television began in 1981, before she was cast as the true-life killer, Ruth Ellis, in the simply superb ‘Dance With A Stranger’ (1985), where she starred opposite the distinguished Ian Holm, and Rupert Everett. At the same time, she was demonstrating a huge talent for comedy, in the long-running BBC series, ‘Blackadder’, with Stephen Fry, and Rowan Atkinson. Her film career continued, with ‘Empire Of The Sun’ (1987), the wonderful ‘The Crying Game’ (1991), and ‘Damage’ (1992), which earned her a BAFTA. Since then, her career has continued unabated. ‘The Hours’ (2002), ‘The Young Victoria’ (2008), ‘Harry Potter’ (2010), and ‘Churchill’ (2017). She is undoubtedly one of the finest modern British actresses.

An A-Z of Actors: Q

We all know that ‘Q’ is a difficult letter, in almost all of these alphabet challenges. Even harder, when it comes to surnames. With that in mind, I am only using one name today, or you will have little left to choose from, to add your own favourites.

Anthony Quayle was a distinguished stage and screen actor, as well as a theatre director. He began his career in Music Hall, later joining The Old Vic company, in London. During WW2, he served in the military, notably as a member of The Special Operations Executive. After the war, he specialised in Shakespearean drama, also becoming a familiar face in British films, before moving on to many famous roles in huge hit films of the time. He received an O.B.E. for his theatrical work, and was Knighted too. He appeared in over forty films, though rarely as the star.

You will undoubtedly have seen him in many of those, and even if you were not aware of his name, his performances always stand out. ‘The Battle Of The River Plate’ (1956), ‘Woman In A Dressing Gown’ (1957), opposite the wonderful Yvonne Mitchell, ‘Ice Cold In Alex’ (1958), ‘The Guns OF Navarone’ (1961), and ‘Lawrence Of Arabia’ (1962). Later films included his Oscar-nominated role in ‘Anne Of The Thousand Days’ (1969), and ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ (1976). He continued to work on stage, and in television dramas too, founding the Compass Theatre Company, in 1984. He died at the age of 76, in 1989.