When producers of the Lord of the Rings trilogy needed an actor of eminence and power to play King Théoden in the second and third films, they went fishing and reeled in a prize catch: Bernard Hill. It was Hill who portrayed Captain E.J. Smith in the 1997 box-office blockbuster Titanic. By sinking to the bottom as the stiff-upper-lipped commanding officer of the doomed ship, Hill rose to new heights in his profession, receiving international recognition for his acting skill. Although Titanic was mediocre artistically, audiences loved it for its soapy melodrama, special effects, and strong performances from veteran actors like Hill. But who was Hill? When fans checked into his background, they discovered that he was among Britain's most accomplished actors. In the 1980s, he earned critical acclaim for roles in stage and television productions of Shakespeare's plays and won Britain's Press Guild award for Achievement of the Decade for his performance in the TV miniseries Boys From the Blackstuff. In 1994, he received a British Academy award for his starring role in Skallagrigg. Further research revealed that Hill had portrayed Gratus in what was unquestionably one of the top three or four TV miniseries of all time -- I, Claudius (1976) -- and Sergeant Putnam in the 1982 Academy Award-winning biodrama Gandhi.
Hill was born on December 17, 1944, in Manchester, England, and eventually resided with his own family in Suffolk. Since the early '70s, he has acted in television and film, as well as theater. Hill has appeared in TV adaptations of such classics as The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot; The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; and Antigone by Sophocles. Hill accepted roles in a string of films with offbeat names: Besides Skallagrigg, he appeared in Madagascar Skin (1995), Drug-Taking and the Arts (1994), Dirtysomething (1993), Drowning by Numbers (1988), Bellman and True (1987), Milwr Bychan (1986), Squaring the Circle (1984), The Spongers (1978), and Pit Strike (1977). In the Lord of the Rings films, Hill plays white-haired Théoden Ednew, the 17th king of Rohan and a defender of Middle-earth. Made old and decrepit beyond his chronological age by the machinations of Grima Wormtongue and Saruman, Théoden regains his vigor through the intervention of Gandalf and rides his horse, Snowmane, to battlefield glory.