Similar to British countrymen and great thespians John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, although a generation later, Ian Richardson has made more of an enduring career in classical theater and BBC television than in films, although in later years he has gravitated toward the latter. Little did he expect it, but his most memorable (and frequently parodied) role may have been as the limousine occupant who asks, "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" in that popular television ad. His dignified countenance and locutions have brought him frequent casting as men of education and refinement.
Richardson was born on April 7, 1934, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and studied at the College of Dramatic Art in Glasgow. He first made a name for himself playing Hamlet at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1960, before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he began a stint of several years as the leading artist, appearing in a variety of roles. At the RSC, he created the role of Jean Paul Marat in Marat/Sade, reprising it for the much-heralded 1966 film version. Stage success in Stratford, Ontario, and New York would soon follow.
His first roles on both the big and small screen were in continuing with his Shakespearean roots. Richardson appeared as Oberon in Peter Hall's well-liked 1968 rendition of A Midsummer Night's Dream, then as Don John in the BBC Much Ado About Nothing in 1978. The actor spent the early '80s in British television movies and series, most notably appearing twice as Sherlock Homes in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Sign of Four (both 1983). Richardson began gaining more worldwide recognition with his role as an officious bureaucrat in the dystopian universe of Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985).
Soon after Brazil Richardson began garnering regular film work, first appearing in such British films as Cry Freedom and The Fourth Protocol (both 1987), and eventually shifting over to Hollywood. He put a twist on his Shakespearean experience by appearing as Polonius in the 1990 film version of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Richardson traveled through the 1990s without a universally distinguishing role to his credit, assuming a variety of supporting roles in bigger budget fare, while also continuing as a mainstay in British television. He had the misfortune of appearing in several notorious duds, including The Year of the Comet (1992) and Robert Townsend's widely detested B.A.P.S. (1997), in which he and Martin Landau jockeyed for the dubious honor of seeming more out of place. However, Richardson was credited with helping establish the haunting atmosphere of Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998) as Mr. Book, one of the eerie cloaked figures who floats through the landscape. Richardson then appeared as Mr. Torte in 102 Dalmations (2000) and Sir Charles Warren in From Hell (2001).
Richardson died of unspecified causes, at age 72, on February 9, 2007.