Whereas many stars are bitten by the acting bug early in life, Gabriel Byrne did not become interested in the craft until he was in his late twenties. Since then, he has worked steadily as a leading and supporting actor in a wide variety of Hollywood and international films, gaining a reputation as one of th e most reliably solid performers on either side of the Atlantic.
As a youth, the Dublin-born and bred actor aspired to become a Catholic priest. He was thus sent to a seminary in England, where he studied for four years. His time there came to an abrupt end after the 16-year-old Byrne was caught smoking and expelled. Upon returning to Ireland, he worked at assorted jobs, eventually receiving a scholarship to Dublin's University College. After studying linguistics and archeology, Byrne worked as an archeologist for three years and then taught Spanish and Gaelic at a Catholic girls school for four years. During his teaching tenure, Byrne appeared in an amateur theatrical production and was good enough to attract the interest of an actor from the highly regarded Abbey Theatre, who encouraged him to try acting professionally.
After appearing in a few more community theater productions, Byrne became a member of the Abbey Theatre. He also began to work in television, and in 1979 made his film debut in The Outsider. Although his film roles were steady -- albeit small -- TV was where he was most recognizable, particularly thanks to his work in the popular Irish series Bracken. Another notable television role was that of Christopher Columbus in an American miniseries of the same name.
Byrne's film career during the 1980s was decidedly uneven. Although there were a few hits, such as the 1981 Excalibur, the number of misses was substantial. One of those misses was the 1987 film Siesta, in which he starred opposite Ellen Barkin. Although the film failed to do well, it did result in a marriage between Byrne and his co-star. The two married in 1988, and during the course of their marriage they collaborated on one film, the children's adventure Into the West (1993). They divorced in 1993.
Byrne's film career did not take flight until he starred as an Irish mobster in the Coen brothers' memorable Miller's Crossing (1990). The film helped to establish him as an actor to be taken seriously, and since 1993 -- when he starred in The Point of No Return -- Byrne has enjoyed steady work, appearing in three to four films per year, notably, Little Women (1994), Dead Man (1995), The Usual Suspects (1995), Smilla's Sense of Snow (1997), and The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), in which he and Jeremy Irons, Gérard Depardieu, and John Malkovich starred as the Three Musketeers. In 1999, Byrne starred as a priest asked to investigate the case of a woman (Patricia Arquette) who has developed Christ-like wounds in Stigmata. That same year, he took on an entirely different role, playing Satan himself in the action-thriller End of Days.
In 2000 Byrne had a huge success on Broadway as the lead in a revival of Moon for the Misbegotten, a role which earned him a Tony nomination. The next year he had a major role in David Cronenberg's psychological drama Spider. He continued to work steadily in projects including the 2004 adaptation of Vanity Fair, and got good notices for his work in 2006's Jindabyne. In 2008 he took the lead part as the psychiatrist on HBO's In Treatment, a role that earned him a pair of nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.