British television is often full of what one might term “Hey, It’s That Guy!” actors and actresses – performers you’ve seen probably a dozen times, but maybe aren’t quite sure who they are or where you’ve seen them before. While actor Ben Whishaw’s professional star is rising rapidly, thanks to a couple of recent very high-profile roles (thanks lots, James Bond!), he probably falls under that category for a many of you. But he shouldn’t, because he is the real deal.
Frequently referred to as one of the best British actors of his generation by various members of the press, Whishaw has been nominated for multiple awards for his various performances on stage and screen, and is generally just amazing.
Why? Read on for a look at some of his best roles. (These are in alphabetical order because I can't pick favorites.)
Brideshead Revisited. This 2008 film remake of the classic 1981 television series was written by Andrew Davies (whose work you may know from recent hit Mr. Selfridge) is, quite honestly, not nearly so good as the original show. (Though, honestly, that should probably be expected given the fact that the TV version was eleven hours long.) That said, it’s worth a look for the stellar cast, which includes Emma Thompson, Michael Gambon, Hayley Atwell, Matthew Goode, Greta Scacchi and more. Whishaw plays Sebastian Flyte, the unhappy younger son who numbs his inner turmoil with a drinking problem.
Bright Star. Romantic poet John Keats wrote the poem “Bright Star” for his outspoken neighbor Fanny Brawne. Directed by The Piano’s Jane Campion, this film tells the story of the last three years of Keats’ life and explores his relationship with Fanny. Whishaw plays an exceptionally adorable and delicate Keats alongside Abbie Cornish and just listening to him reading Keats’ poetry is worth the price of admission.
Cloud Atlas. Whishaw plays five different characters in this adaptation of David Mitchell’s time-and-genre-crossing epic novel, but it’s his performance as the complicated composer Robert Frobisher that will stay with you long after the film has ended. Great performance in an all-around wonderful film.
The Hour. This drama depicts the launch of a new current-affairs show in June 1956 at the time of the Hungarian Revolution and Suez Canal crisis. Whishaw stars alongside Dominic West and Romola Garai as the trio of journalists who make the show possible.
Whishaw plays crusading reporter Freddie Lyons, whose passion for news means that he’ll do anything to get the story, with occasionally horrifying results. Sadly, the series was abruptly cancelled after its second season – ultimately ending on a truly awful cliffhanger, to boot. Nevertheless, The Hour is well worth your time, particularly if you’re a fan of shows like Mad Men. Whishaw’s performance is captivating and even when you’re annoyed by Freddie, you root for him.
I’m Not There. This 2007 biographical film tells the story of musical legend Bob Dylan, using six different actors to portray different facets of Dylan’s life and public persona, including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Richard Gere and Marcus Carl Franklin. Whishaw plays a young man named Arthur Rimbaud, who is depicted as someone being questioned who responds with quotes from Dylan’s interviews and writings. This is a bit of a strange film, but stylistically very interesting.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. An incredibly disturbing film, Perfume tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an olfactory genius, and his quest for the perfect scent, which involves him killing people in order to find it. Whishaw plays Grenouille and is very, very creepy, but the fact that you kind of want to run away from him screaming is an affirmation of how good his performance here is. Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman also star.
Skyfall. Whishaw plays the new Q to Daniel Craig’s James Bond, and does a more than adequate job of making tech geeks everywhere look pretty darn cool again. Whishaw is the youngest person in Bond history to play the quartermaster, and will be back for the Skyfall sequel next year, presumably with more great hair and cool gadgets. Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes and more all also star. (And, incidentally, Skyfall is a also just a really great Bond film!)
The Hollow Crown. Whishaw stars as King Richard II in this quartet of films adapting four of William Shakespeare’s history plays and grouping them into a single chronological narrative. Whishaw won the 2013 BAFTA for Leading Actor for his role in this miniseries. The Hollow Crown finally comes to America on PBS stations this Fall.
The Tempest. Director Julie Taymor’s often bizarre retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest made waves for its decision to change the gender of lead character Prospero and cast Dame Helen Mirren in the role. Whishaw, who plays a particularly dramatic Ariel, is most impacted by Taymor’s various directorial flourishes, having had to film most of his role against a green screen due to the heavy CGI involved. The movie has its flaws, but it’s fun to watch.
Though all of Whishaw's roles are very different in these productions, his performances are nonetheless fabulous - even if it's in something (ahem, Perfume, I am looking at you) that might not be your regular cup of tea. He's incredibly talented! And now, clearly something good must have been left off this list - what is it? Are any of you already fans of this actor?