Stout, jovial character actor Simon Callow has been enlivening the stage and screen for years, often in roles that highlight his versatility and capacity for a particular brand of good-natured, self-deprecating humor.
Born in London on June 13, 1949, Callow began going to the theatre when he was 18 and working at a bookstore with no idea of what to do with his life. He took a particular interest in the Old Vic, which was being run by Laurence Olivier at the time. Deeply impressed with Olivier's talent, Callow wrote to him. To his great surprise, the esteemed actor responded in kind, telling the young man that if he was interested in acting, he should consider taking a job at the Old Vic's box office. Callow did so, and thus made his entrance into the theatre world. He subsequently became a fixture on the London stage, appearing in numerous productions over the years.
Callow made his film debut with a substantial supporting role in 1984 in Milos Forman's Amadeus. Two years later, he endeared himself to transatlantic audiences with his portrayal of the bumbling reverend Mr. Beeb in Merchant-Ivory's celebrated adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Room with a View. He would also appear in two more Merchant-Ivory-Forster adaptations, Maurice (1987), in which he had a brief role as the title character's deluded school teacher, and Howards End (1992), which featured him in the small but memorable role of a pompous lecturer on music appreciation.
In addition to his numerous collaborations with Merchant-Ivory (which also include Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, 1990, and Jefferson in Paris, 1995), Callow has worked in a number of diverse British and American productions. Perhaps one of his best-loved and most recognizable roles was in the popular Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). As one of Hugh Grant's motley circle of friends, the ebullient, flamboyant Gareth, Callow injected both poignance and joie de vivre into the proceedings. His character particularly stood out for being in an open, unapologetic relationship with another man (John Hannah), something that at the time had few parallels in American films. The character also highlighted Callow's status as one of Britain's openly gay actors, which also had regrettably few parallels across the Atlantic.
Among the other diverse films he appeared in throughout the '90s, Callow particularly stood out in the animated James and the Giant Peach (1996), in which he voiced the wise Grasshopper; the acclaimed Shakespeare in Love (1998), which featured him as the obnoxious, party-pooping Master of Revels; and Rose Troche's omnisexual romantic comedy Bedrooms & Hallways (1998), in which Callow starred as the painfully sincere guru of a men's consciousness-raising group.
Keeping busy into the new millenium, Callow noteably appeared among the ensemble cast of Mike Nichols' critically-acclaimed HBO mini-series Angels in America.
In addition to working in front of the camera, Callow has spent a fair amount of time behind it as a director. In 1991, he made his feature directorial and screenwriting debut with the film version of Carson McCullers' Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Two years earlier, he had made his Broadway debut as the director of Shirley Valentine. And, apparently averse to having too much free time, Callow is also the author of numerous books on acting and actors. In particular, his biographies of Orson Welles and Charles Laughton have met with great acclaim, further establishing Callow as an actor who is more than just the sum of his parts.