Childhood & Early Life
Joss Ackland was born Sidney Edmond Jocelyn Ackland in North Kensington, London, England, on February 29, 1928, to Ruth and Sydney Norman. His father was a journalist and suffered from sex addiction, which caused immense trouble in their household and eventually led to Joss’ parents not talking to each other for a long time.
However, Joss seemed unaffected by the problems at home. He was a creative kid, who also happened to be good in academics. Sometime during his school days, he fell in love with acting. During the 30s, Europe’s film scene was flourishing and enjoying a new wave. Joss was fascinated by this. With time, his dream of being an actor only grew intense.
After graduating from the ‘Central School of Speech and Drama’ he joined a local theater group to train himself as an actor, but he was always low on confidence regarding his skills. He trained for a couple of more years, but he gradually started losing interest in it. During this time, he also did some minor roles, which remained uncredited.
His wife, Rosemary Kirkcaldy, also an actor, she refueled his desire of becoming an actor. However, shortly after their marriage, the couple moved to Kenya to start their tea plantation business. After finding Kenya unsafe to live in, they moved to Cape Town, South Africa, a British colony at that time.
They also experimented with acting, while in South Africa. However, by the late 50s, they were back in England and were keen on starting afresh.
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Joss joined the ‘Old Vic,’ a reputed non-profit theater company, and acted there for a few more years, before he finally started getting better roles in television. Reputed actors such as Judy Dench and Maggie Smith were also part of the ‘Old Vic.’
Joss’s first steady role in a TV series fell on his lap in 1959 in the form of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ which was followed by ‘In Search of the Castaways.’ The 1966 serial ‘David Copperfield’ also earned him enough credibility as an actor. Gradually, he honed his skills and was no longer required to audition for most parts.
All through the 60s and the 70s, he steadily worked in films and television and built a niche for himself in the entertainment world. He was being considered as the ‘go-to character actor.’
1979 proved to be a major turning point in his career, as he got the chance to star opposite Alec Guinness in the successful TV series ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.’ In this series, he played the role of a sports journalist, and his performance was critically acclaimed. This resulted in him finally plunging into bigger and better roles in films.
The 80s are now considered to be the best period in his acting career, as he was part of some of the biggest hits of that decade. Although he earned the reputation of being an actor with a range, he was particularly good in the crime genre and acted brilliantly in films such as ‘The Sicilian,’ ‘Lethal Weapon 2,’ ‘White Mischief,’ and ‘The Hunt for Red October.’
His performance in the film ‘White Mischief,’ as Sir Henry Broughton, brought him universal critical acclaim. He was nominated for a ‘BAFTA Award’ for the ‘Best Actor in a Supporting Role,’ in 1988, for his performance in the movie. However, in spite of stellar performances, he was never considered for any major award.
In 2000, he shared the screen with celebrated actor Demi Moore, in the film ‘Passion of Mind,’ which narrated the story of a woman, stuck between her dreams and the reality. Similarly, the two-part series ‘Hogfather’ too became a significant testimony of Joss’ talents.
He played the role of CS Lewis in the TV series ‘Shadowlands.’ and was even considered to play the same role in the film adaptation of the series. However, the role eventually went to Anthony Hopkins and is known as one of his most iconic roles ever.
Apart from acting in films and TV, he has been in touch with stage productions too. His acting skills garnered respect for him in theatre too. Some of his well-known plays are ‘Tim Rice,’ ‘Evita,’ and ‘A Little Night Music.’
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Ackland somehow knew that he was considered mostly as a character actor. Thus, he ended up with any role that came his way, in order to go forward. This led him to become part of some low-paying, obscure films, such as the 1987 movie ‘It Couldn’t Happen Here,’ which was a failure. He also appeared in a video, based on the film, and claimed that he did it only for his grandkids.
He was thrashed by the media for not being choosy about his roles. Joss responded to such criticism by saying that being a workaholic, he could not sit idle.
He was also involved in a slight tiff with actor Demi Moore, when he termed her as somebody who was’ “not very bright or talented,” in one of his interviews.
In 2007, he lent his voice for the documentary film ‘In Search of the Great Beast 666.’ In the same year, he worked in ‘How About You,’ where he played the role of an alcoholic. His role received unanimous critical acclaim.
In September 2013, he put on the hat of a director for the first time for the gala performance of the famous Shakespeare play ‘King Lear’ at the ‘Old Vic.’, Joss himself played the role of King Lear.
Very recently, he was seen playing the role of Rufus in the 2014 historical epic, ‘Katherine of Alexandria,’ at the age of 85.
Joss Ackland met his wife, Rosemary Kirkcaldy, in the late 40s while working on stage and immediately fell in love with her. The couple got married in August 1951. She died of a motor neuron disease in 2002.
Joss maintained that she was a pillar of strength in his chaotic life. Many industry professionals found the couple inspirational, and her death was mourned by the entire industry.
Joss does not drink, but suffers from chronic depression. According to him, his wife always managed to pull him out of his melancholic episodes, and that was another reason why he loved her so much.