While a student at Manchester University, Robert Powell began his professional theatrical career in 1964. The best-known of Powell's hundreds of stage roles was Tristan Tzara in the long-running Travesties. In films from 1967, Powell played the title role in Ken Russell's Mahler (1974), and later essayed the lengthy cameo part of the ill-fated Captain Walker in Russell's Tommy (1975). Powell was a prolific performer on British television in the 1970s, notably as star of the popular series Doomwatch. Still, he was a relatively unknown quantity in the states, thus was billboarded as an "unknown" and "newcomer" by some when he starred as the Son of God in the expensive, internationally produced miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977). This Zeffirelli-directed effort was controversial enough without Powell making the smoking-fuse public statement "I hope Jesus Christ will be the last in my line of sensitive young men for quite a while." The furor eventually died down, and Powell continued playing such important film roles as reluctant-spy Hannay in the 1979 remake of 39 Steps (later spun off into a British miniseries) In 1982, Robert Powell won the Venice Film Festival "Best Actor" award for his performance in Interactive.