Having appeared in over 70 films since 1978, stage performances in the UK and America, and many TV spots, Jim Broadbent has been on the radar of America's entertainment circles for decades. But he is perhaps best known for his comedic performances in myriad British television comedies, both for his comedic timing and the bumbling charm of this Lincolnshire native.
His first film performance was in the film The Shout, featuring household names such as Tim Curry, Alan Bates, Susannah York and John Hurt in 1978. This was, by no means, a Broadbent-featuring film. But it was a step in the right direction for Broadbent's soon-to-be active film career. He followed this with his television debut in Tales of the Unexpected in a tiny role that no one remembers, not making real television waves (ripples?) until 1983.
He finally established himself as an actor of repute when the Black Adder asked him to play the role of an interpreter, Don Speckingleesh in 1983, in the episode titled The Queen of Spain's Beard. He returned to the Adder series in 1988 for their A Christmas Carol parody, where he played an absurd German Prince Albert.
Broadbent also achieved acclaim during his nine seasons (from 1983 through 1991), appearing sporadically, on the amazingly-popular British comedy television show, Only Fools and Horses, one of the most popular television shows in the UK while it ran, from 1983 to 2001.
In 1980, he started working with members of the infamous Monty Python crew, first with Terry Gilliam on his bizarre project Time Bandits, and then Brazil, both films that remain as cult classics around the globe, though they both slipped just under the radar as far as blockbuster incomes are concerned. In Time Bandits he had the small role of the Quiz Master, Kenny Lange, playing on the television in Kevin's (played by Craig Warnock) parents' house. In Brazil, 1985, Broadbent played a strange plastic surgeon intent on keeping his patients looking young forever. "Faces are a doddle" his character, Dr. Lewis Jaffe says, "compared to tits and ass. No hairline." Then, in 1989, Broadbent appeared in Terry Jones's Erik the Viking, as a rapist named Ernest the Viking (though he commits his rape and his killed before the opening credits even run).
After many years of almost solely comedic roles, Broadbent tempted fate on the more dramatic side of acting, performing the role of Col, an unshaven bartender in the exotic London bar The Metro, on the multi-Oscar-winning The Crying Game in 1992. This role established his face on the screens of millions of people, and his performance elevated his hopes (and paychecks) to a whole new level.
From the Crying Game's success, Broadbent was catapulted into stardom, in not just comedic, but also incredibly dramatic, touching roles. In 1998 he played the role of Mother in the bizarre British secret-agent flick The Avengers with Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, and Sean Connery, just to name a few. Though the movie tanked at the box office, no one in the cast was harmed by any bad publicity--it looked like they were all there just to have some fun with a fun script.
In 2001, he appeared in Bridget Jones's Diary, as Bridget Jones's father. Though the role was relatively small and outside of the main scope of the film, Broadbent did a remarkably powerful job portraying a man separated from his wife not only by distance (she left him to join with her boss, an infomercial salesman) but by the distance of time, and his acting portrays a man broken in half by it, while at the same time appearing witty and strong to his daughter, the always-daddy's-girl Bridget.
In the same year, Baz Luhrmann tapped Broadbent for the colorful (and divisive) musical, Moulin Rouge, playing the role of circus master/play director Harold Zidler. How many other actors can claim to have sung Like a Virgin while dancing like a farmer on screen? Whatever you think of the movie itself (I've found people either hate it or love it), no one can deny Broadbent's incredible versatility of performance. (Says Luhrmann: "I dare you to make me tell you you've gone too far.") Broadbent picked up a BAFTA for best supporting actor, giving the show three total (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring picked up five).
As though two films were not quite enough in one year, he added a third, Iris, starring with Dame Judy Dench in his Oscar-winning performance (beating out Ian McKellen and Ben Kingsley for the honor) as John Bayley, husband to Iris Murdoch, a novelist with a remarkable history, who died of Alzheimer's Disease. The story spans from just before Bayley and Murdoch are married to just after her death, and is based on two books written by Bayley, Iris and Iris & the Friends. Broadbent not only won an Oscar for his performance of a man struggling to deal with his wife's slow and agonizingly painful falling, but also a Golden Globe and a BAFTA nomination (he lost this to Russel Crowe from A Beautiful Mind).
Not one to rest on his laurels, he went on to appear in several more films, including Gangs of New York (2002), Nicholas Nickleby (2002, plays the hysterical Wackford Squeers, schoolmaster of where Nickleby is sent after his father dies) and Around the World in 80 Days (2004, the one with Jackie Chan, for reasons no one can really understand). Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason is to be released in 2004, reprising his role as Bridget's father, Robots in 2005 (co-starring his friend Ewan McGregor from Moulin Rouge) and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe in 2005.
Sources include http://jim.broadbent.org, http://www.imdb.com, and his movies.