Exhibiting perpetual intensity and the dark, hangdog looks of someone who has been run over by life one too many times, Stephen Rea is one of Ireland's most popular and well-respected actors. Although he has acted in films in diverse genres, Rea is most closely associated with his collaborations with director Neil Jordan, particularly The Crying Game, for which he earned Oscar and BAFTA nominations.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1943, Rea was brought up in a working-class Protestant family. After training at the Abbey Theatre School, he began acting on the stage, screen, and television, making his film debut in the 1970 thriller Cry of the Banshee. He first collaborated with Jordan in 1982 on Angel, a crime drama in which he played a saxophonist who witnesses a number of brutal murders. The two again collaborated in 1984 on The Company of Wolves, a modern retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. That same year, Rea worked with Mike Leigh on Four Days in July; he would later work with him on Leigh's celebrated Life is Sweet (1991). In addition to his work on the screen, Rea formed the Field Day Theatre Company with playwrights Brian Friel and Seamus Heaney, bringing theatre to rural communities across Ireland.
In 1992, Rea was introduced to international audiences with his role as an IRA "volunteer" in The Crying Game. Thanks to the film's great success and the praise surrounding his performance, Rea went on to appear in a number of high profile films, including Jordan's adaptation of Interview with the Vampire and Robert Altman's Ready to Wear, in which he gave a delightful portrayal of an egotistical fashion photographer. In addition to further collaborations with Jordan (1996's Michael Collins, 1997's The Butcher Boy), Rea continued to do solid work in films ranging from dramas (This is My Father, 1998) to comedy spoofs (Still Crazy, also 1998). In 1999 alone, Rea could be seen in no less than four divergent films. Following a turn as a psychiatrist in the big-budget thriller In Dreams, he starred as a bohemian photographer with a predilection for young, deeply insecure women in Audrey Wells' celebrated Guinevere. Later that year, he returned to Ireland for I Could Read the Sky and then starred alongside Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes in the adaptation of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair. Over the next several years, Rea would prove to be a consistent presence on screen, appearing in movies like The Good Shepherd, Control, V for Vendetta, and Underworld: Awakening.