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The great actors of today

Christopher Plummer | Maggie Smith | Alla Demidova | Bruno Ganz | Ludmila Mikaël |
Philippe Caubère
| Fiona Shaw| Kenneth Branagh | Martin Wüttke | Valérie Dréville |

Christopher Plummer (1929)

© National Archives of Canada, photographer unknown
Christopher Plummer in The Glass Menagery by Tennessee Williams, Canadian Theatre Repertory (Ottawa), 1950. Also Photo: Amelia Hall and Janet Fehm.

Title: The Glass Menagery

Playwright: Tennessee Williams

Production: Canadian Theatre Repertory, Ottawa, 1950.

Christopher Plummer was born in Toronto and raised in Montreal after the divorce of his parents. He grew up in cultured environment that drew him toward the performing arts. Plummer made his professional debut in 1950 with the Canadian Repertory Theatre. After attaining recognition in the United States, the Stratford Festival invited him to take on the title role of Shakespeare’sHenry V (1956). Following this triumph came a decade of Shakespearean theatre, with such characters as Hamlet (1957), orMacbeth (1962) produced by the Stratford Festival.Afterward, he worked at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company (both in England), and several festivals. He made his film debut in Sydney Lumet’s Stage Struck in 1957, and since then has appeared in numerous films and television productions. While his theatre career has been illustrious, he is best known for his over fifty feature films, in particular playing the role of Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965). In 2002, Christopher Plummer performed the title role in King Lear for the Stratford Festival’s 50th anniversary.

On Christopher Plummer:

Film roles:

  • Georg von Trapp in The Sound of Music (1965), Robert Wise, 174 min.
  • David in Ararat (2002), Atom Egoyan, 115 min.

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Maggie Smith (1934)

Born in Ilford, Essex, the British actress Maggie Smith trained for the stage at the prestigious Oxford Playhouse School in the late 1940s. She appeared in local revues before making her London debut in 1952 in Shakespeare’sTwelfth Night. Beginning in 1963 as a member of the National Theatre, she shared the bill with Laurence Olivier in Shakespeare’s Othello. She also performed the leads in Strindberg’s Miss Julie, Ibsen’sHedda Gabler directed by Ingmar Bergman, and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The detective thriller Nowhere to Go (1958) marked the debut of her impressive film career. Selective in her film roles and directors, she continued to appear in numerous plays on both sides of the Atlantic (she was a member of Canada’s Stratford Festival from 1976 to 1980), reaping rave critical reviews. More recently, she performed in a London production of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women (1994) and as Professor McGonagall in The Adventures of Harry Potter. At age seventy, Dame Maggie Smith continues to add to her legendary status in film, theatre and television.

Film roles:

  • Jean Brodie in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969), Ronald Neame, 116 min.
  • Lady Myra in The Last September (1999), Deborah Warner, 103 min.
  • Desdemona in Othello (1965), Stuart Burge and John Dexter, 165 min.

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Alla Demidova (1936)

Alla Demidova


The actress Alla Demidova is undoubtedly the grande dame of the Russian stage. In the late 1970s she joined the prestigious Taganka Theatre in Moscow, which was founded in 1964 by director Yuri Lyubimov. As a member of the Taganka, a gathering place for intellectuals and dissidents between 1960 et 1980, the actress became one of Russia’s foremost contemporary actresses. She has written several books on her artistic path and theatrical expertise, and teaches at the Moscow Academy of Dramatic Art. Steeped in the tradition of Russian acting, her skills are derived from such theoreticians as Stanislavsky and Meyerhold. As one of the last actresses to use these traditional acting methods, she is regarded as a national treasure. From the fifties to the nineties, Demidova appeared in some thirty Russian feature films, including an adaptation of Chekhov’sThe Seagull (1970) by Yuli Karasik. She also appeared in several foreign theatre productions, including Theodoros Terzopoulos’ version of Hamlet (2001). Still artistically active, Alla Demidova collaborates on a wide variety of projects, including The World Theater Olympics.

Film roles:

  • Yulia von Mekk in Tchaikovsky (1969), Igor Talankin, 157 min.
  • Lisa in A Mirror (Zerkalo, 1974), Andrei Tarkovsky, 108 min.

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Bruno Ganz (1941)

© Ruth Walz
Bruno Ganz (at left) in the title role of Faust by Goethe directed by Peter Stein, in 2000.

Title: Faust

Playwright: Wolfgang Goethe

Director: Peter Stein

Set: Ferdinand Wögerbauer (Faust I)

Stephan Mayer (Faust II)

Costumes:  Moidele Bickel.

Born in Zurich, Bruno Ganz studied theatre in Switzerland before settling in Germany in the 1950s. After acting in various troupes in Bremen and Göttingen, he was chosen by director Peter Zadek to play the lead in Hamlet (1964). In the early 1970s he met director Peter Stein, with whom he co-founded the Schaubühne in Berlin. Within this institution, which is highly respected throughout Europe, Ganz became the favourite actor of directors Stein and Klaus Michael Grüber. The immensely talented actor went on to distinguish himself, with great range and subtlety, in the major roles of the classic and modern German repertoire. His successes include a number of works directed by Peter Stein: Kleist’s The Prince of Homburg (1972) and world premiere of Botho Strauss’sTrilogy of Goodbye (1978). He began to appear in films in the mid-seventies, but he is very selective in his choice of roles and directors. With an extremely rigorous and authentic acting style, combined with an innate sense of romantic melancholy, Bruno Ganz is regarded by many as the finest actor of his generation.

Film roles:

  • Damiel in Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987), Wim Wenders, 127 min.
  • Jonathan Harker in Nosferatu (Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, 1978), Werner Herzog, 107 min.

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Ludmila Mikaël (1947)

The daughter of a painter and pianist, Ludmila Mikaël graduated in 1966 from the Conservatoire national supérieur d'art dramatique in Paris. She joined the Comédie-Française the following year, playing Elvire in Molière’sDom Juan (1967). With this fabled company she went on to perform classic works by Claudel, Corneille, Racine and Goldoni, directed by such world-renowned figures as Terry Hands, Giorgio Strehler, Antoine Vitez and Klaus Michael Grüber. For the latter she played the lead in Racine’s Bérénice (1984), considered one of the greatest interpretations of the century. In 1966, she made her film debut in Christian de Chalonge’s Le Saut. Although she left the Comédie-Française in 1987, she continued her illustrious career on stage with such hits as Jacques Rampal’s Célimène et le Cardinal (1993), directed by Bernard Murat. While film has allowed her to play contemporary characters, she regards theatre as the irreplaceable medium for classicism. The French actress has also put her talents to good use in audio books, recording some of the great classics of literature.

Film roles:

  • Marie in Vincent, François, Paul et les autres (1974), Claude Sautet, 113 min.
  • Françoise in Le Cœur des hommes (2003), Marc Esposito, 107 min.

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Philippe Caubère (1950)

© Danièle Pierre
La Danse du diable , a production created, performed, and directed by Philippe Caubère, Caubère Production, Comédie Nouvelle (France), 1981.

Title: La Danse du diable

Created and directed by: Philippe Caubère

Production: Caubère Production, Comédie Nouvelle, 1981

Lighting: Roger Goffinet.

Born in Marseille, the French actor Philippe Caubère made his debut at the TEX (Théâtre d’essai d’Aix-en-Provence) in 1968. He then joined the Théâtre du Soleil, where he remained from 1971 to 1978. Under the direction of Ariane Mnouchkine, he appeared in 1789 (1970-1971), 1793 (1972-1973) and L’Âge d’or (1975). In 1976 he began writing his Carnets d’un jeune homme, which was published in its entirety (1976-1981) in 1999. He played the title role in Mnouchkine’s film Molière (1977). In 1981, he staged his first one man show, La Danse du diable, at the Festival d’Avignon. Two years later, he began an eleven-part semi-autobiographical cycle entitled Le Roman d’un acteur. He himself played the lead in this vast fresco that would continue until 1993. This series of works, presented in their entirety at Avignon in 1993, spawned both books and films directed by Bernard Dartigues. The tireless artist has continued to create ambitious works along these same lines, which showcase his multiple talents. Working outside the theatrical mainstream, the actor-playwright-director has forged a path of great integrity and personal vision, creating his singular worlds with intensity and passion.

On Philippe Caubère (in French):

By Philippe Caubère:

  • Carnets d’un jeune homme, Gallimard, Folio, 2003.

Film roles:

  • Joseph Pagnol in La Gloire de mon père (1970), Yves Robert, 105 min.
  • Title role in Molière (1978), Ariane Mnouchkine, 260 min.

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Fiona Shaw (1958)

The Irish actress Fiona Shaw was born in the city of Cork. After obtaining a degree in philosophy, she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Upon graduating, she quickly became a favourite with director Deborah Warner, for whom she performed the leads in Richard II (1995) and Medea (2003). Together they formed a remarkable tandem, their collaborations gracing numerous festivals around the world. Under Warner’s direction, and that of such major directors as Bob Wilson and Peter Wood, the actress starred in an impressive number of plays — mostly by Shakespeare, but also by Brecht, Ibsen and Euripides — at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the Old Vic Theatre and Abbey Theatre. Known throughout the world for her impassioned—and often controversial—interpretations of the great characters of classic theatre, she has elicited strong reactions from critics and public alike. She has also appeared in numerous films, including the Harry Potter series where she plays aunt Petunia, and is universally regarded as one of Britain’s boldest and brightest stars.

Film roles:

  • Dr. Eileen Cole in My Left Foot (1989), Jim Sheridan, 98 min.
  • Mrs. Nugent in The Butcher Boy (1997), Neil Jordan, 109 min.

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Kenneth Branagh (1960)

© Joe Cocks Studio Collection
Kenneth Branagh (right) in the title role of Henri V by William Shakespeare, Royal Shakespeare Company, 1984.

Title: Henri V

Playwright: William Shakespeare

Production: Royal Shakespeare Company, 1984

Director: Adrian Noble

Set design: Bob Crowley

Lighting: Robert Bryan.

At the age of nine, Kenneth Branagh moved with his family from Northern Ireland to London to escape the sectarian strife. As a teenager, this British actor turned to the theater. He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and, in 1982, he scored an instant triumph on the London stage in Julian Mitchell’s Another Country, his first professional role. He joined the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, where, at the age of twenty-three, he was acclaimed for performances in Henry V (1984). In 1987, Branagh formed his own company, the Renaissance Theatre Company, for which he also directed and wrote. His well-received Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and Hamlet (1996) further demonstrated his acumen at presenting Shakespeare to modern audiences and critics compared him to a young Laurence Olivier. Now focusing almost exclusively on his film career, Branagh played Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the second Harry Potter movie. His autobiography Beginning was published in 1989.

By Kenneth Branagh:

  • Beginning, St. Martin’s Press, New York.

On Kenneth Branagh:

Film roles:

  • Title role in Hamlet (1996), Kenneth Branagh, 242 min.
  • Title role in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Kenneth Branagh, 123 min.
  • Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing (1993), Kenneth Branagh, 1993, 111 min.

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Martin Wüttke (b. 1962)

© Matthias Horn
Martin Wuttke (left) in The Resistable Ascension of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht, Berliner Ensemble (Germany), 1995. Also Photo: Michael Gwisdek.

Title: The Resistable Ascension of Arturo Ui

Playwright: Bertolt Brecht

Production: Berliner Ensemble, Germany, 1995

Director: Heiner Müller

Set and costumes: Hans Joachim Schlicker.

Martin Wüttke was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. It was his acting talent, and not his past as a rock musician, that made him a star of the Berlin stage at the age of 23, after playing Hamlet at the Schauspielhaus in Frankfurt. Since then, he has appeared on Germany’s most prestigious stages in works directed by such luminaries as Bob Wilson, Heiner Müller and Frank Castorf. He has performed the leads in works by Büchner, Brecht, Müller, Goethe and Schiller for some fifteen companies and festivals throughout Germany, most notably the Berliner Ensemble and the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz. Although he has concentrated on acting, he has also sat in the director’s chair, staging such classics as Aeschylus’s Persians (2003). The magnitude of the works he appears in, and the reputation of the directors who choose him, have earned him worldwide exposure and acclaim. He has also distinguished himself in numerous works for television and film. A highly prolific and sought-after actor, Martin Wüttke is currently at the apex of his career.

Film roles:

  • Erwin Hull in The Legend of Rita (Die Stille nach dem Schuß, 2000), Volker Schlöndorff, 103 min.
  • Joe in Buster’s Bedroom (1991), Rebecca Horn, 104 min.

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Valérie Dréville

© Pascal Victor
Valérie Dréville in Quelqu'un va venir (Someone is Going to Come) by Jon Fosse at the Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers (France), 2003. Also Photo: Marcial di Fonzo Bo.

Title: Quelqu'un va venir(Someone is Going to Come)

Playwright: Jon Fosse

Production: Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers, 2003

Director: Claude Régy

Set Design: Daniel Jeanneteau

Lighting: Dominique Bruguière

Costumes: Ann Williams.

The French actress Valérie Dréville studied under director Antoine Vitez at the École de Chaillot, and with Claude Régy and Daniel Mesguich at the Conservatoire national supérieur d’Art dramatique. She began her career at the Théâtre national de Chaillot, performing in Sophocles’Electra (1986) under the direction of Vitez, in Paul Claudel’s Le Soulier de satin (1987), and in Brecht’sThe Life of Galileo (1990). As a pensionnaire at the Comédie-Française from 1989 to 1993, she began an artistic dialogue with Anatoli Vassiliev; since appearing in his famous production of Lermontov’s Bal masqué (1992), she has made regular trips to Moscow, where she continues her apprenticeship with the Russian master. Under Vassiliev’s direction, she played the lead in Heiner Müller’sMédée-Matériau (2002) at the Festival d’Avignon. She also starred in Edward Bond’sPièces de guerre (1995), and more recently in Jon Fosse’sVariations sur la mort (2003), directed by Claude Régy at the Théâtre de la Colline.

Film roles:

  • Pauline Kasser in Les Confessions du Docteur Sachs (1999), Michel Deville, 107 min.
  • Nathalie in La Sentinelle (1992), Arnaud Desplechin, 139 min.

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