If you’ve ever wondered who the greatest actor of the 20th century was, you need look no further than Laurence Olivier.
Not only could he make Shakespeare sound as normal as every day speak, he could do it while breaking your heart, making you go crazy and making you fall in love with him. If you’ve seen his Hamlet, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
But Olivier wasn’t all about the Shakespeare–in fact there’s so much more to this classic Hollywood star.
Growing up in a strict British home, Laurence was never quite sure he would make it as an actor. But that changed 1927 when at the age of 20 he played the roles of Macbeth and Hamlet. His theater career was further established by his 1928 role in Journey’s End. By that point, Laurence was the pinnacle of British theatrical royalty.
Movies came calling in the mid 1930s, and after a few bit parts, Laurence officially hit mega-stardom as the tortured Heathcliff in 1938′s Wuthering Heights. He followed that up with the one, two, punch of Rebecca and Pride & Prejudice in 1940. Things slowed down a bit after that, and he and second wife Vivien Leigh returned to England to help with the war effort.
But clearly that was just the beginning. Olivier is best known today for the trio of Shakespeare plays he starred in and directed, Henry V in 1944, Hamlet in 1948 and Richard III in 1955. He won an honorary Oscar for his work on Henry V, and the Best Actor Oscar for Hamlet. He was the first actor who directed himself to a Best Actor win.
Olivier spent the rest of his career bouncing between theater, film and television, and generally being amazing in all of it. He received Oscar nominations for The Entertainer (1960), Othello (1965), Sleuth (1972), Marathon Man (1976) and The Boys from Brazil (1978). He received an honorary Oscar in 1979 for his contributions to film.
Perhaps just as interested as his professional life was his private life. Laurence was married to actress Jill Esmond from 1930 to 1940, although the marriage actually ended much earlier when he began an affair with Vivien Leigh. Olivier and Leigh were finally married in 1940, and after countless projects together and plenty of drama, divorced in 1960. After that he married actress Joan Plowright, with whom he had 3 children. They were married until his death in 1989.
For a magical Olivier evening, I recommend Pride & Prejudice (he’s still my favorite Darcy even though the adaptation was ridiculous. See directly above for how handsome he was), Hamlet and The Entertainer. The man bad range and you will be floored by his abilities