The Top 20 Irish Actors of All-Time

The Top 20 Irish Actors of All-Time

The Top 20 Irish Actors of All-Time

There are many talented actors from every corner of the globe. However, when thinking of the greatest actors, it is almost always an American actor that people will name first closely followed by actors from the UK. These are not the only two countries where there is a pool of talent in the film and television industries as Ireland is also the birthplace of many talented entertainers. There are Irish actors in every genre of movie, from drama to romantic comedies and from horrors to sci-fi movies. In fact, many movies would not have seen the success that they achieved had it not been for the casting of an Irish actor in the film. Some of the actors who have made the biggest impact in films and made their names in Hollywood have come from Ireland. Here are 20 of the best Irish actors of all-time.

20. Chris O’Dowd

Born in County Roscommon in Ireland on October 9, 1979, Chris O’Dowd is an Irish actor who trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He is recognized for his talents in comedic acting and became well-known in television series including ‘The IT Crowd’, ‘Moone Boy’, and ‘Girls’. He is also famous for his appearances in films. Some of his best-known movies include ‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Calvary’, ‘Thor: The Dark World’, ‘The Sapphires’, ‘This is 40′, and St. Vincent’. He is also a stage actor and made his Broadway debut in the 2014 play adaptation of ‘Of Mice and Men’. It was for his performance in this production that he won a Tony Award. Chris O’Dowd is married to Dawn Porter and has two children.

19. Stephen Rea

Born in Belfast on October 31, 1946, Stephen Rea is a well-known Irish actor. He began his career as an actor in 1970 when he predominantly worked in stage productions of Irish television. Although he went on to appear in many films and television series, it wasn’t until 1992 that he received international recognition. This followed his performance in ‘The Crying Game’ in which he played Fergus and he was nominated for both an Academy Award and a BAFTA. He also won a National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor. Other films for which he is well-known include ‘V for Vendetta’, ‘Interview with the Vampire’, ‘Michael Collins, and ‘Breakfast on Pluto. Rea is also known for his work in television, especially for his roles in ‘The Shadow line’ and ‘The Honourable Woman’. For the latter, he won a BAFTA Award for his performance.

18. Liam Cunningham

Liam Cunningham is an Irish actor of both stage and screen. He was born in Dublin on June 2, 1961, and became an actor in 1992. He is also a producer and director. Cunningham is best-known for playing Davos Seaworth in ‘Game of Thrones’, the HBO epic-fantasy series. He shared a BAFTA Award with Michael Fassbender for their performances in the crime-drama short film ‘Pitch Black Heist’. Other films in which he has appeared include ‘The League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse’, ‘Hunger’, ‘The Escapist’, ‘War Horse’, and ‘Childhood of a Leader’. He is married to Colette Cunningham with whom he has three children and the family resides in Dublin.

17. Colm Meaney

Colm Meaney was born in Dublin on May 30, 1953. He began his acting career as a teenager when he entered the Abbey Theatre School of Acting and then became a member of the Irish National Theatre. He made his first television appearance in 1978 with a small role in the BBC1 series ‘Z-Cars’. However, he is best-known for playing the role of Miles O’Brien in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’. In terms of his film roles, he has appeared in all three film adaptations of ‘The Barrytown Trilogy’ by Roddy Doyle. He was married to Bairbre Dowling from 1977 to 1994 and then to Ines Glorian since 2007. He has two children.

16. Ciarán Hinds

Born in Belfast on February 9, 1953, Ciarán Hinds is a film, television, and stage actor. He began his acting career on stage in 1976 when he performed in ‘Cinderella’ at the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre. It was at this theatre where he performed into the mid-1980s. Hinds’ first film role was playing King Lot in the 1981 film ‘Excalibur’. In the same year, he made his first television appearance in ‘Our Boys’. Some of the films for which he is best-known include ‘Justice League’, ‘Road to Perdition’, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part 2′, ‘Munich’, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, ‘There Will Be Blood’, and ‘Frozen’. Hinds is also known for playing Mance Rayder in ‘Game of Thrones’. He has been married to Hélène Patarot since 1987 and they have one child together.

15. Aidan Turner

Best-known for playing Kili in the three-part fantasy film ‘The Hobbit’, Aidan Turner is an Irish actor who was born in Dublin on June 19, 1983. For his role in this trilogy, Turner won the Empire Award for Best Male Newcomer. He is also well-known for playing Ross Poldark in the adaptation of the Poldark Novels by Winston Graham that were aired on BBC in 2015. For his performance in ‘Poldark’, Turner was awarded the Impact Award at the National Television Awards in 2016 and was also awarded the Best Actor Awarded by GQ Men of the Year. Furthermore, he won the Radio Times Drama Champion for three consecutive years between 2015 and 2017 for his portrayal of Poldark. Other notable television roles include John Mitchell in ‘Being Human’, Ruairi McGowan in ‘The Clinic’, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in ‘Desperate Romantics’. Some of his films include ‘The Mortal Instruments: An Unexpected Journey’, ‘The Secret Scripture’, and ‘Loving Vincent’.

14. Michael Gambon

Michael Gambon is an actor who not many people realize is from Ireland. Although he was raised in England, he was born in Dublin on October 19, 1940. He began his career in the entertainment industry in 1962 when he made his stage debut in ‘Othello’ at Gate Theatre Dublin. He has since enjoyed a successful career on stage, in television, and in film. He is currently particularly well-known for his portrayal of Albus Dumbledore in the final six films in the ‘Harry Potter’ series of films. He had taken over this role from Richard Harris. In terms of his career in television, he is known for his roles in ‘The Singing Detective’ and ‘Maigret’. Throughout his prolific career, Gambon has won many accolades. These have included three Olivier Awards and four BAFTA TV Awards. Gambon was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the 1998 New Years Honours.

13. Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy was born in County Cork on May 25, 1976. He originally began his career in the entertainment industry as a rock musician but then turned his talents to a career in acting. In the late 1990s, he turned down a record deal and started taking small roles in short films, independent films, and stage productions. His career took off when he landed a role in the 2002 film ’28 Days Later’. Other films for which he is well-known include ‘Cold Mountain’, ‘Red Eye’, ‘Intermission’, and ‘Breakfast on Pluto’. For the latter, he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. Murphy also played Dr. Jonathan Crane/ Scarecrow in ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’ films which were released between 2005 and 2012. Other films in which he has had a starring role include ‘Inception’, ‘The Edge of Love’, ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’, and ‘The Edge of Love. He has been married to Yvonne McGuinness since 2004 and the couple has two children.

12. Sam Neill

Although Sam Neill is now an actor from New Zealand, he was actually born in County Tyrone, Ireland, on September 14, 1947. His family moved to New Zealand in 1954. Neill began his acting career in 1975 but rose to prominence when he played Damien Thorn in the 1981 movie ‘Omen III: The Final Conflict’. Other films for which he is well-known include ‘Dead Calm’, ‘The Piano’, ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Jurassic Park III’. The television roles with which his name is usually associated include ‘Reilly, Ace of Spies’, ‘Merlin’, ‘The Tudors’, ‘Peaky Blinders’, and ‘The Hunt for Red October’. In 2016, he received great acclaim for his performance in ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ alongside Julian Dennison. He has been married twice; first to Lisa Harrow between 1978 and 1989 and then to Noriko Watanabe’ He has four children, including one stepdaughter and a son he gave up for adoption.

11. Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Jonathan Rhys Meyers comes from a talented Irish family as not only is he an actor, his three brothers are professional musicians. Meyers was born in Dublin on July 27, 1977, and he became an actor in 1994. He is best-known for his work in television, such as ‘The Tudors’, ‘Elvis’, and ‘Dracula’. His films include ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, ‘Mission: Impossible III’, ‘Match Point’, and ‘Velvet Goldmine’. In addition to his work as an actor, Meyers has been the face model for Hugo Boss fragrance advertisements. He has been married to Mara Lane since 2016 and has one child.

10. Brendan Gleeson

Brendan Gleeson is a multi-award winning Irish actor and director who was born in Dublin on March 29, 1955. During the mid to late 1980s, he worked predominantly on stage as he was a member of a Dublin-based theatre company called ‘Passion Machine’. Gleeson was 34 before he landed a role in a film and didn’t rise to prominence until he played Michael Collins in a television film called ‘The Treaty’. Some of the films in which he has appeared include ‘Braveheart’, ‘Gangs of New York’, ‘Mission: Impossible 2′, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’, and ‘Assassin’s Creed’. He also played Alastor Moody in the Harry Potter series of films. When he portrayed Winston Churchill in the 2009 television film ‘In the Storm’, he won an Emmy Award for his performance. Throughout his career, he has also won three IFTA Awards and two BIFA Awards. Brendan Gleeson has been married to Mary Weldon since 1982 and has four children.

9. Kenneth Branagh

Sir Kenneth Branagh was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on December 10, 1960. He is an actor, a producer, a director, and a screenwriter. Branagh is particularly well-known for starring in or directing film adaptations of William Shakespeare plays. Other films and television series in which he has had starring roles include ‘Celebrity’, ‘Fortunes of War’, ‘The Road to El Dorado’, ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, ‘Sir Laurence Olivier’, ‘Wallander’, and ‘Conspiracy’. Some of the films he has directed include ‘Thor’, ‘Swan Song’, ‘The Magic Flute’, and ‘Cinderella’. Branagh is a multi-award winner as he has won awards including a BAFTA and a Golden Quill. In 2012, he was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the Birthday Honours. In 2015, Branagh became the President of the Royal Academy of Arts where he trained as an actor, succeeding Richard Attenborough.

8. Gabriel Byrne

Gabriel Byrne is an actor, producer, director, author, and screenwriter who was born in Dublin on May 12, 1950. He is also an audiobook narrator and a cultural ambassador. His career began in 1978 when he was in the Focus Theatre and the following year he joined the Royal Court Theatre. He then became known for his role in ‘The Riordans’, an Irish soap opera, and its spin-off series ‘Bracken’. During his prolific career, he has appeared in 35 feature films. Some of these include ‘Excalibur’, ‘Stigmata’, ‘Miller’s Crossing’, ‘Spider’, ‘The Usual Suspects’, ‘End of Days’, ‘The 33′, ‘Vampire Academy’, and ‘Jindabyne’. As a producer, he is most famous for the 1993 film ‘In the name of the Father’ which was nominated for an Academy Award’.

7. Daniel Day-Lewis

Daniel Day-Lewis holds dual citizenship as a British and an Irish citizen as he was born in London on April 29, 1957, but now lives in County Wicklow, Ireland, as this was the home country of his father. Day-Lewis showed talent as a performer form a young age and was part of the National Youth Theatre and was then accepted at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He was well-known for his method acting in industry circles and is also famous for being selective about the films in which he appeared. In fact, between 1998 and 2017, he appeared in just five films. One of his most famous movies in the 1989 film ‘My Left Foot’ and he won an Academy Award for his performance in this film. The two other films for which he won an Academy Award were the 2007 film ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘Lincoln’, which was released in 2012.

6. Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell has become one of the most renowned Irish actors in the world. He was born in Dublin on May 31, 1976, and shot to fame when he appeared in the Irish television series ‘Ballykissangel’. He made his film debut in the 1999 film ‘The War Zone, which was directed by Tim Roth. Farrell then gained international recognition when he played the lead in the 2000 film ‘Tigerland’. Other films for which he is famous include ‘Minority Report’, ‘Phone Booth’, ‘The Recruit’, ‘Daredevil’, ‘Alexander’, ‘Seven Psychopaths’, and ‘Horrible Bosses’. He has won Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor for his roles in ‘In Bruges’ and ‘The Lobster’. Most recently, he played Percival Graves in the 2016 film ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them’, which is a spin-off from the Harry Potter series of films.

5. Peter O’Toole

There is some controversy surrounding both the date of birth and the place of birth of Peter O’Toole. He had two separate birth certificates; one from Ireland and one from England. One says he was born in Leeds, England, on August 2, 1932. The other claims he was born in June in County Galway, Ireland. While O’Toole preferred to believe he was Irish, he celebrated the birthday on the English birth certificate. His career began in 1954 and spanned seven decades. Some of his most famous films included ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘My Favorite Year’, ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’, ‘Becket’, ‘The Lion in the Winter’, ‘Venus’, ‘The Stunt Man’, and ‘The Ruling Class’. For each of these eight films he was nominated for an Academy Award. This led him to hold the title of the actor with the most Academy Award nominations without a win. In 2002, he was finally awarded an Academy Honorary Award in recognition of his achievements throughout his career. During his career, he has also won a Primetime Emmy Award, a British Academy Film Award, and four Golden Globe Awards.

4. Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender is an Irish national, although he was born in West Germany on April 2, 1977. His father is German and his mother is Irish. Fassbender’s parents decided to move to Ireland as they wanted their children to grow up in the countryside. He now lives in London, England. He began his career in acting on television and stage in 2001 and is particularly well-known for his role in ‘Band of Brothers’. He made his feature film debut in ‘300′, the fantasy war epic released in 2007. One of his most famous film roles id the Marvel Comics antihero Magneto which he has played in ‘X-Men: First Class’ and in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’. He shared the role with Ian McKellen in ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’. Other films for which he is well-known include ’12 Years a Slave’, ‘Shame’, ‘Steve Jobs’, ‘Macbeth’, and ‘The Counselor’. In 2017, Michael Fassbender married Swedish actress Alicia Vikander.

3. Pierce Brosnan

Pierce Brosnan was born on May 16, 1953, in County Louth. When he left school, he first trained as a commercial illustrator before training at the Drama Centre in London. He began his professional career on the stage in 1977. Brosnan gained popularity when he was in a television series called ‘Remington Steele’ between 1982 and 1987. It was following the conclusion of this series that he embarked on a film career. Some of his earlier films include ‘Fourth Protocol’ and ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’. He then became the fifth actor to play James Bond and it is for this role that he is now most famous. He played the famous spy in four films between 1995 and 2002. Other films for which he is well-known include ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’, ‘The Ghost Writer’, ‘The November Man’, and ‘Mamma Mia!’. He has won two Golden Globe Awards for his work. Brosnan has his own production company called ‘Irish Dream Time’ which he co-founded with Beau St. Clair. He now lives in Malibu, California, and has dual citizenship in the United States and Ireland.

2. Richard Harris

Richard Harris enjoyed a prolific acting career that spanned six decades. He was born in Limerick on October 1, 1930 and began his professional acting career in 1958. Although he began his work on stage, he starred in many films. Some of his best-known films include ‘This Sporting Life’, ‘Camelot’, ‘A Man Called Horse’, ‘Gladiator’, and ‘Unforgiven’. He also starred as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films; ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. He won many awards for his work, including a Golden Globe, a Cannes Award, a Grammy Award, and a Moscow Film Festival Award. Harris sadly died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma on October 25, 2002. He was married twice and has three children.

1. Liam Neeson

One of the most successful actors to come from Ireland is Liam Neeson. He was born on June 7, 1952, in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Her began his career on stage in 1976 when he joined the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast. He made his break into films when he landed a role in the 1981 film ‘Excalibur’. During the 1980s, he starred in ‘The Bounty’, ‘The Mission, and ‘Next of Kin’. However, it was playing the title role in 1993 Steven Spielberg film ‘Schindler’s List’ that led him to international prominence. Other films for which Neeson is well-known include ‘A Monster Calls’, ‘The Grey’, ‘Batman Begins’, Kinsey’, ‘Menace’, ‘Les Misérables’, ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’, and Michael Collins’. Neeson was married to Natasha Richardson from 1994 until she died in a tragic skiing accident in 2009. He has two children and lives in New York City.

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