What can you say about Sir Michael Gambon, apart from being one of the leading lights in British serious acting? He's completely self-deprecatory. He rather dislikes giving interviews, but when he does, he makes stuff up just to keep himself entertained. He told Jeremy Clarkson that he did an interview in which he decided to work the phrase 'Claudia Schiffer's underwear' into at least one of the answers. Just for the hell of it. Was that true? Who on earth knows? Who cares?

What can you say about Michael Gambon? Not a lot. He keeps his private life shrouded in mystery.

There seems to be agreement that he went to meet the people behind the Bond movies just after George Lazenby's one and only outing as the Superspy. They turned him down because they wanted a name, not another unknown.

Gambon has a rare skill as an actor. When he wants to he can portray emotion better than anyone. There was a time he had to break down in tears. None of that hands over the face thing. He just broke down, tears rolling down his face, heaving in breaths, standing, emotions naked to the audience.

There is the tiny inflection in the voice, of defeat. Or a fleeting expression, showing fear. Or full-on anger. He does it instinctively and admits as much. He is huge. A giant presence in every sense of the word. He's over 6ft (1m83) tall and heavily-built with it.

What else to say about Gambon? He loves cars. he collects antique firearms. He has a private pilot's licence. I've seen interviews with him on Top Gear and on Jonathan Ross. He is a very funny man. You never know what to believe about what he says, though, so for an interviewer, he must be a bit of a nightmare.

Favourite lies: 'I used to be gay, but I had to stop as it made my eyes water' Another: 'I trained with the Royal Ballet but was asked to leave after I fell off the stage through the timpani'

What can you say about Gambon? He married Anne Miller when he was 22 and they had a son, Fergus. She became Lady Anne Gambon when he was knighted in 1998, but the couple separated in 2002 after rumors of a romance with the set artist, Philippa Hart were published. 40-year-old Hart is reported to have given birth to Gambon's child in May 2007, when Gambon was 66.

Hart was a set decorator on the made-for-TV film Perfect Strangers (2001), in which Gambon played the lead role of Raymond. She also worked on the set of Longitude (2000) in which Gambon played the celebrated clock maker, John Harrison. And the same in Sylvia (2003), when Gambon played a relatively small part of Professor Thomas. It's rumoured that she, approaching 40, wanted a child and he was happy to oblige.

Gambon is mainly a stage actor, appearing regularly in productions at the UK's National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), as well as plays by Alan Ayckbourn. He has done a lot of UK TV work. Possibly his most famous film role is as the, psychopathic, cannibalistic, control-freak thief Albert Spica in in Peter Greenaway's The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover. A slightly more accessible , but no less famous role is in Gosford Park, where he played the murder victim, Sir William McCordle.

Other movies include Layer cake, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Ali G Indahouse, and less recent productions, Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, Dancing at Lughnasa, The Singing Detective and so on and so on. Few Hollywood blockbusters, but many leading roles in less well-promoted performances.

What else? Hmmm, Albus Dumbledore. Yes, he plays the old queen of a wizard. The Potter fans hate him of course, because he has not read the books and therefore has no feel for the character. Maybe. But when he heard that Jo Rowling thought of the character as gay, apparently, he had a wild time on set, behaving in the most camp caricature he could summon. I would have loved to have watched that.

The boring stuff

Gambon was born in Dublin, Ireland on October 19 to an engineer father and a seamstress mother. He grew up in Dublin, surrounded by a large extended family. Michael was five when the war ended and his father moved to London to help with the reconstruction. The family moved into the street called Mornington Crescent, where Mr Gambon senior arranged for young Michael to gain full British citizenship. He left school at age 15 with no qualifications, following an unhappy time. From there he took up an apprenticeship as a tool-maker at the military engineering company, Vickers Armstrong in Crayford near Dartford in East London. One suspects that it was in those seven years that he developed a passion for things mechanical, and learned to understand how metal is worked by a craftsman to make weapons and gadgets.

He got into acting by a fluke. It seems he was passing by the stage entrance of a London theatre (Shaftsbury Theatre) when they were preparing for a show, and was fascinated by the bustle of activity and the smells and the machinery within.

His talent for lying brought him together with Irish theatre impresario, Michael MacLiammoir. Apparently Gambon sent him a fictitious CV, which got him his debut role in 1962 as 'Second Gentleman' in a production of Othello at Dublin's Gate Theatre. His talent for acting however, quickly brought him to the attention of the British acting establishment. Sir Laurence Olivier hand-picked him to join the original Royal National Theatre Company, prior to the construction of the National Theatre on the South Bank of the Thames.

From there, a string of critically-acclaimed performances led him to become one of Britain's favourite actors, rarely out of work and always in demand.

A CBE in 1998 meant he is correctly referred to as Sir Michael Gambon.

Trivia

Gambon has appeared twice on the Top Gear Show. Part of that show is that the guest celebrity has to do an interview and also some timed laps of a specially-set-up race track on the Dunsfold Park circuit in a 'reasonably-priced car'. That is to say, a simple ordinary car which is not a high-performance vehicle.

The first time out, Gambon clipped the final corner and almost rolled the car. All four wheels left the track and the car nearly went upside down. This had two consequences. First, the corner was thereafter christened Gambon Corner. Second, the car was reinforced with a rollbar cage, just in case anyone did manage to roll it.

Sources, further information

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002091/ Filmography from IMDB http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Gambon Bio on Wiki http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYphMvZ6A7g YouTube video of Top Gear interview http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/873714/ http://www.mcomet.com/celebrity/Michael_Gambon-824401/biography.html Short bio http://www.tiscali.co.uk/entertainment/film/biographies/michael_gambon_biog.html Comprehensive bio

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