Alun Armstrong is a famous British actor who is known for his works in films, television, and theatre. He has appeared in movies like ‘Oliver Twist,’ TV shows such as ‘New Tricks,’ and plays including 'The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby'. He mostly portrays crazy and psychotic characters on the stage and screen. Armstrong was born in a village named Annfield Plain in England. He started pursuing acting during his school days and joined the National Youth Theatre summer school. He made his screen debut with a supporting role in the British crime film ‘Get Carter’. The film did well commercially and is often regarded as one of the best British films. His notable works on TV include his role of an eccentric ex-detective in the drama TV series 'New Tricks'. The series aired for twelve years. He also had a main role in the legal drama series 'Garrow's Law'. An accomplished stage actor as well, he has acted in the London production of ‘Les Misérables, playing the role of Thénardier. He was also seen in the titular role in the play 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'. His performance won him an Olivier award.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Alan Armstrong on 17 July 1946 in a village named Annfield Plain situated in County Dunham, England. His father was a coal miner and both his parents were Methodist lay preachers.
Armstrong attended Annfield Plain Junior School and decided to pursue acting during his school days. He acted in the Shakespearean comedy ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, where he played the role of Petruchio. In 1964, he took part in the National Youth Theatre Summer School.
Since he was not accepted at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he studied art at the Newcastle University instead. However, he was expelled after two years due to poor attendance.
For some time, he worked as a bricklayer and a gravedigger. Later, he found work as an assistant stage manager at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. He began his acting career performing in radio plays for BBC Radio 4.
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Alun Armstrong’s first work on the big screen was a supporting role in the British crime film ‘Get Carter’. Directed by Mike Hodges, the film was about a gangster investigating his brother’s accidental death. Armstrong portrayed a character named Keith. The film did well commercially and eventually came to be recognized by many as one of the best British films of all time.
Over the next years, he appeared in many films, mostly in minor as well as supporting roles, the notable ones being ‘The Likely Lads’ (1976), ‘A Bridge Too Far’ (1977), ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ (1981), ‘Krull’ (1983), ‘That Summer of White Roses’ (1989), ‘White Hunter Black Blood (1990), ‘Blue Ice’ (1992) and ‘Black Beauty’ (1994).
In 1995, he appeared in the Oscar-winning epic war film ‘Braveheart’. The film, which was directed by Mel Gibson, was not only a commercial success, but also won five Oscars. Armstrong continued to appear in films, such as ‘The Saint’ (1997), ‘Strictly Sinatra’ (2001), and ‘Eragon’ (2006). Following a hiatus of a few years, he made his comeback in 2016 with a supporting role in the British film ‘Golden Years’.
Alun Armstrong mostly played guest roles and supporting roles in TV shows. He was seen in TV series, such as ‘General Hospital’ in 1972, ‘Father Brown’ in 1974, ‘Enemy at the Door in 1978, ‘Get Lost’ in 1981, and ‘This is David Lander’ in 1988. His most notable work is undoubtedly his role of an eccentric ex-detective named Brian Lane in the TV series ‘New Tricks’ which aired from 2003 to 2015.
He also appeared in several TV films, such as ‘The House’ (1984), ‘The Widowmaker (1990), ‘Breaking the Code’ (1996), and ‘This is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper’ (2000), for which he was nominated for the Royal Television Society Award. Other TV films he was seen in over the years include ‘When I’m 64’ (2004), ‘The Girls who Came to Stay’ (2006) and ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ (2012).
His most recent work on television is his role in the detective drama series ‘Prime Suspect 1973’. Armstrong portrayed a criminal named Clifford Bentley planning a bank heist.
Alun Armstrong is also famous for his work in theatrical productions. His early works include his role in the play ‘The Changing Room’ where he portrayed Billy Spencer. Starting from 1979, he spent nine years with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He made appearances in many plays, such as ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’.
He has been nominated multiple times for the Olivier Award during his theatrical career. His first nomination was in 1985 for ‘Outstanding Performance by an Actor’ for his role in ‘Les Misérables.’ He was nominated again for his role in ‘The Jew of Malta’. Armstrong eventually won the award in 1994 for his role of Sweeney Todd in a production of the musical of the same name.
Over the next two decades, he continued to appear in several other plays, the notable ones being ‘Death of a Salesman, ‘The Royal Hunt of the Sun’, ‘A House Not Meant to Stand’ and ‘My Fair Lady’. His latest appearance was seen in the play ‘Exit the King’.
’Braveheart,’ a 1995 epic war film, is one of the most significant works in Alun Armstrong’s career. Directed by Mel Gibson, who also played the lead role, the film revolved around the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward of England. The film was a commercial success earning around three times its budget. It earned ten Oscar nominations out of which it took five.
He played the lead role in the British suspense drama series ‘New Tricks’. It aired from 2003 to 2015. The series followed the works of a fictional organization consisting of retired police officers which was headed by a female boss. Other actors in the show included James Bolam, Amanda Redman, Dennis Waterman and Denis Lawson. The title of the show came from the proverb ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’.
He played an important role in the 2012 TV film ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It was loosely based on the unfinished novel of the same name by Charles Dickens. It was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence. Other actors in the film included Matthew Rhys, Rory Kinnear, Julia McKenzie and Ron Cook. The film was aired on 12th January on BBC 2.
Awards & Achievements
In 1994, Alun Armstrong won the Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance in the musical thriller ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.
Armstrong won a ‘Dallas OUT TAKES’ Award for Best Actor in 2005 for his performance in the 2004 TV film ‘When I’m 64’.
He received a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ award at the Portsmouth International Film Festival for his role in the movie ‘Out of Innocence’ in 2016.
Armstrong received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the University of East Anglia as well as an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from the University of Sunderland.
Alun Armstrong is married to Susan J Bairstow. The couple has three children named Tom, Joe, and Dan.