Often mistaken for British, Alessandro Nivola has established himself as one of the American actors most likely to assume a flawless English accent in his films. Nivola, whose combination of charismatic good looks, vowel-laden name, and work in a number of British films have both confused and delighted critics and viewers, is actually a product of the East Coast. The son of an Italian-born academic father and a Boston blue-blood mother, Nivola was born and raised in Boston. Taking an early interest in acting, he grew up attending drama camp in the summer and got an internship at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in Waterford, Connecticut, where he began acting on the stage. His love of acting continued while he was a student at the Tony Philips Exeter Academy and Yale University; by the time he was a sophomore at Yale, he had landed an agent and was making regular trips to New York City for auditions.
Nivola got his first professional jobs with the Yale Repertory Theatre and a Seattle-based company. He broke into films in 1997 with a small role in Inventing the Abbotts and the more substantial part of Nicolas Cage's psychotic genius brother in John Woo's Face/Off. He then crossed the ocean, and the accent barrier, to star in the British noir drama I Want You (1998), which cast him as an enigmatic man with a dark past, and in Patricia Rozema's saucy adaptation of Mansfield Park (1998). It was the latter film that gave Nivola his first significant dose of recognition and respect, with critics and viewers alike marveling at his portrayal of the dashing and morally dubious Henry Crawford, not to mention his seamless English accent.
Nivola again worked with a largely British cast and crew the following year to make Kenneth Branagh's musical version of Love's Labour's Lost (2000), in which he played a king whose vow to forsake love for intellectual enlightenment becomes severely jeopardized by the arrival of a comely French princess (Alicia Silverstone) and her ladies in waiting. That same year, he returned to the other side of the Atlantic to portray a Backstreet Boys-type singer in Mike Figgis' Time Code 2000, an experimental feature filmed entirely in one take.
In the years to come, Nivola would remain a consistent presence on screen, appearing in movies like Junebug, Grace is Gone, and The Eye, as well as on the TV series The Company.