Also Credited As:Laurence Kerr Olivier, Laurence Olivier, Lord Olivier
About Laurence Olivier
Olivier was born into a severe, confining religious household, presided over by a cleric who moved his family through a number of parish districts. Young Laurence took refuge in play-acting and had played several Shakespearean roles by his mid-teens. So successful was his portrayal of Puck in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" at the School of St. Edward that even his pious father encouraged him to apply to London's Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Arts. As a student there, Olivier secured his first professional acting credits--as a stage manager and understudy in "Through the Crack" and as Lennox in "Macbeth." Upon graduation, Olivier became a member of Sir Barry Vincent Jackson's Birmingham Repertory Company. He landed his first leading role, in "Harold," at the age of twenty.
At first, Olivier's athleticism and elegant features typecast him as a young innocent hero. Although he appeared in a spate of London successes, such as "Journey's End," "The Last Enemy" and "Private Lives," he still struggled for serious recognition. His early film work was unimpressive, with no depth or passion beneath his matinee-idol looks; his outspoken disdain for film in general undoubtedly contributed to his wooden performances in "The Yellow Ticket" (1931) and "Perfect Understanding" (1933).
It was Shakespeare and Freud who turned Olivier's career around in the mid-1930s. In 1935, London was undergoing a Shakespeare revival, largely thanks to John Gielgud's successful production of "Hamlet." For his next production, Gielgud chose Olivier to play Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet" and, in spite of complaints that his performance was shallow and athletic, the play was another huge hit. In 1937, Olivier was offered the role of "Hamlet." Given a copy of Ernest Jones' "Essays in Applied Psychoanalysis" by the play's director, Tyrone Guthrie, Olivier became fascinated with the idea of adapting Freudian psychology to his character. Eschewing the flowery phrasing and artificial pretenses of previous Shakespearean performances, Olivier invented a new, staccato rhythm to reflect the psychological torment of the character. Audiences responded enthusiastically to his electrifying portrait of the doomed prince.
Olivier would bring this psychological intensity to bear upon his next important film performance, in "Wuthering Heights" (1939). Instead of a stock-in-trade doomed lover, Olivier played Heathcliff with a smoldering, dangerous undercurrent, one that carried over into his subsequent performances in "Rebecca" (1940), "Pride and Prejudice" (1940) and "That Hamilton Woman" (1941).
As a director, Olivier adapted this duality of artifice and immediacy to cinematic techniques in his Shakespearean films. "Henry V" (1944) begins in a blatantly false Globe Theatre and gradually opens out into an intensely cinematic battle at Agincourt. "Hamlet" (1948) employs voice-over interior monologues for Hamlet's soliloquies and enlists Wellesian deep focus and ominous moving-camera shots to convey the fetid atmosphere of the restricted castle setting of Elsinore. And "Richard III" (1955) uses eye contact with the camera to permit the audience to become accomplices in the comically maniacal Richard's conspiracies.
From the end of WWII to the early 70s, Olivier made sporadic film appearances, largely owing to his involvement in the administration of London's St. James Theatre in the late 40s and the National Theatre at the Old Vic from 1963 to 1973.
With the film version of John Osborne's play "The Entertainer" (1960), Olivier bade farewell to his romantic screen persona and introduced Olivier the character actor in the role of Archie Rice, the seedy, pathetic vaudevillian. Now he began making film appearances in small character roles, often virtually unrecognizable beneath heavy makeup. Most notable among these performances were the Madhi in "Khartoum" (1966), the reclusive mystery writer in "Sleuth" (1972), and the evil Nazi dentist in "Marathon Man" (1976). In declining health, Olivier mustered his old fire in 1984 for a bittersweet, reflective television production of "King Lear", a fitting swan song for an actor dedicated to depicting the life-spark of humanity. Married to Jill Esmond from 1930 to 1940, Vivien Leigh from 1940 to 1960 and Joan Plowright until his death in 1989.
|Dorothy Tutin. had relationship when they appeared together in the film "The Beggar's Opera" (1953)|
|Vivien Leigh. married on August 30, 1940; divorced in 1960|
|Jill Esmond. married on July 25, 1930 in Marlybone; separated c. 1937 when Esmond learned of his affair with Vivien Leigh; divorced on January 29, 1940|
|Claire Bloom. played Lady Anne to his "Richard III" (1955); Bloom recounts their affair in her memoirs|
|Joan Plowright. Married from March 17, 1961 until Olivier's death from cancer July 11, 1989|
|Sarah Miles. Miles wrote about their relationship in her memoirs|
|Julie-Kate Olivier. mother, Joan Plowright|
|Tamsin Olivier. mother, Joan Plowright; owns The Engineer, a restaurant|
|Edward Laurence Albert.|
|Agnes Crookenden Olivier.|
|Richard Kerr Olivier. mother, Joan Plowright|
|Simon Tarquin Olivier. mother, Jill Esmond|
|All Saint's Choir School|
|St Edward's School|
|Elsie Fogerty's Central School of Speech Training and Dramatic Arts|
|Founded National Theater (Britain)|
|Professional stage acting debut in "The Ghost Train"|
|Stage acting debut in "The Taming of the Shrew" aged 14|
|With Birmingham Repertory Company|
|Broadway acting debut|
|Film acting debut in "Murder for Sale"|
|Appointed co-director of Old Vic Theatre|
|Film directing debut with "Henry V"|
|Honored at Film Society at Lincoln Center|