Although many thought his work in such features as Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Reuben, Reuben might lead to a high-profile film career, Tom Conti never found the same success in his later work. Equally adept at comedy or drama, the longtime stage and screen actor gave lively, but finely tuned, performances regardless of the medium in which he appeared. Born to an Italian immigrant father and a Scottish mother in Paisley, Scotland, Conti was trained as a classical pianist at Glasgow's Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama before shifting his attention to the stage. He made his stage debut with the Citizen's Theater in the late '50s and flourished in the theater for nearly a decade before making his first film in the 1975 musical drama Flame. As his sensitive and multi-layered portraits of deeply troubled characters began to earn the actor nods from the theater community, Conti began appearing in a series of memorable British television productions (highlighted by The Glittering Prizes  and The Norman Conquests ). In 1979, he was awarded a Tony for his portrayal of a paralyzed sculptor in a stage production of Whose Life Is It Anyway? Thanks to increased international exposure, he began to get more film roles, as well; they were usually only supporting parts in such movies as Galileo (1975) and Eclipse (1976), however, and he had still not landed a role that would leave a lasting impression.
All that changed (at least temporarily) with an impressive pair of films in 1983. Conti's unforgettable portrayal of the eponymous character in the war drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence almost stole the spotlight from marquee draw David Bowie. That same year, Conti gave an Oscar-nominated performance as a drunken Scottish lothario in Reuben, Reuben. It should have turned the actor into a box-office draw, but superstardom continued to elude him, despite leading roles in such later efforts as American Dreamer (1984), Heavenly Pursuits (1985), and Shirley Valentine (1989). His turn as a Holocaust survivor in Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story earned Conti a Golden Globe nomination, and he alternated between the stage and screen in subsequent years. He starred in the CBS series The Wright Verdicts in 1995, but it was canceled after only a three-month run. Later roles in such features as Someone Else's America (1995) and Something to Believe In (1998) offered memorable screen appearances sandwiched between Conti's frequent stage roles. He continued to make both film and TV appearances in the '90s, including small-screen roles in such series as Deadline and Friends (in which he played Ross' snooty father-in-law Stephen).