Rufus Sewell

Active - 1991 - 2020  |   Born - Oct 29, 1967 in Twickenham, Middlesex, England  |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Comedy Drama, Thriller, Historical Film

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

Sporting the kind of darkly mischievous good looks that often get him cast as randy, ne'er-do-well paramours, Rufus Sewell began his film career in the early '90s and soon emerged as one of England's most promising young actors. The son of an Australian animator who died when he was ten, Sewell was born in Twickenham, Middlesex, on October 29, 1967. He trained to become an actor at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, leaving the school after three years. After making a promising debut on the London stage with an award-winning performance in Making It Better, Sewell originated the role of Septimus Hodge in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, which earned him a nomination for the prestigious Olivier Award. He also won acclaim on the other side of the Atlantic, winning Broadway's Theatre World Award for his performance in Translations.

In addition to his work on the stage, Sewell had been acting on both the large and small screen, making his film debut in 1991 with Twenty-One, in which he played Patsy Kensit's junkie boyfriend. In 1994 he caught the attention of American art house filmgoers with his role as a sweet-natured bus driver who becomes the object of Albert Finney's affections in A Man of No Importance; the same year, PBS viewers could see him star in the acclaimed adaptation of Middlemarch.

Sewell's art house recognition increased the following year, when he had starring roles in John Schlesinger's Cold Comfort Farm and Carrington. The first film cast him as an earthy farmer accustomed to rolls in the hay, while the second cast him as one of Emma Thompson's army of spurned lovers. Both films helped to get him noticed, even if the attention centered primarily on his imported lust-object status, but it was not until 1998 that he was given his first starring role, headlining the cast of Dark City. Unfortunately, the film vaporized at the box office, as did Sewell's other film that year, Dangerous Beauty.

In 1999, the actor was again visible to transatlantic audiences, first as a bitter, alcoholic cokehead in The Very Thought of You, a romantic comedy released in Britain the previous year; and then in John Turturro's Illuminata, a turn-of-the-century romantic farce which cast him as an amorous actor. The latter film -- which also featured Susan Sarandon, Ben Gazzara, and Christopher Walken in its impressive cast -- won a number of good reviews, as did Sewell, an actor who by this point had made the expression of earthy lustiness into something of an endearing trademark.

In 2000 Sewell graced the screen in Bless the Child, a supernatural thriller that also starred Kim Basinger and Christina Ricci. Of course few actors of his generation could essay such instantly dislikable villains as the talented Sewell, and after raising the ire of the noble Heath Ledger in the popular period adventure A Knight's Tale, he would once again make viewer's skin crawl as an aristocratic creep with more than a few skeletons in the closet in Neil Burger's romantic fantasy The Illusionist.

In 2008 Sewell appeared as Alexander Hamilton in the Emmy-winning HBO mini-series John Adams, with subsequent roles in Eleventh Hour and The Pillars of the Earth preceding a turn as Detective Aurelio Zen in the TV mini-series Zen, and a turn as an evil bloodsucker with designs on the newly established United States in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.

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  • As a teenager, played drums in bands with his older brother Caspar and dreamed of becoming a rock star.
  • While at Central School, was cast in a play directed by alum Judi Dench; she took Sewell under her wing and helped him find an agent.
  • Made his professional stage debut in a Sheffield, England, production of Shakespeare's As You Like It.
  • Made his feature-film debut as a junkie in 1991 indie drama Twenty-One.
  • Won Most Promising Newcomer at the 1993 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards and was nominated the following year for a Laurence Olivier Award for his performance in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia.
  • Received a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut for his role in the 1995 Broadway production of Translations.
  • Recorded 12 Ian Fleming novels as books on CD.
  • Known for his work in costume dramas, he relished the opportunity to play modern-day detective Aurelio Zen in the 2011 BBC series Zen.