Antony Sher

Antony Sher

The South African-born, openly gay and Jewish Sher was a child prodigy in art. Because he was shy as a lad, he was sent for elocution lessons which lead to his desire to be an actor. After compulsory military service (which he spent mostly painting portraits of the officers), Sher moved to Great Britain. Turned down by most of the drama schools, the actor has been known to paraphrase his rejection from RADA: "Not only have you failed in the audition and we do not want you to try again, but we seriously recommend that you think about a different profession." Eventually, Sher was accepted at the Webber-Douglas Academy. After working at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, he made his London stage debut in Willy Russell's "John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert." In took nearly a decade, though, for Sher to really break out, beginning with his performance in Mike Leigh's "Goosepimples" in 1981 and the TV series "The History Man" in 1982. Later that year, he won attention as the Fool to Michael Gambon's "King Lear."1985 proved to be a banner year for the actor. With his dark curly hair and atypical looks, Sher was cast as Shakespeare's "Richard III." Trying to find a new approach to the role, he chose to interpret Richard as a "spider on crutches." His aggressive, diabolical performance earned widespread critical praise and numerous British stage awards. Later that year, Sher solidified his status as a rising actor as the drag queen hero in Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy." Tackling roles as varied as Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" to a South African in Athol Fugard's "Hello and Goodbye" to a tycoon in "Singer," he has consistently won praise. His portrayal of the eccentric British painter Stanley Spencer in Pam Gems' "Stanley" earned him further acclaim and led to his belated Broadway debut in 1997. (His own artistic background informed his characterization.)John Schlesinger gave Sher his first screen role, a bit part as soldier, in "Yanks" (1979). Sher co-wrote and starred in "Mark Gertler Fragments of a Biography" in 1981, about a member of the Bloomsbury set. "Shadey" (1985; released in the USA in 1987), an uneven black comedy, offered Sher the meaty title role of a London mechanic who wants nothing more than a sex change. Critics were divided over his performance; some felt the actor was miscast, while others acclaimed the theatricality of his work. He fared much better in two films playing therapists: as the psychiatrist who treats a youthful serial killer in Ben Ross' "The Young Poisoner's Handbook" and as an AIDS counselor who falls in love with an HIV-positive ballet dancer in "Alive and Kicking/Indian Summer" (1996; released in the USA in 1997). Sher also was the British Prime Minister Disraeli to Judy Dench's Queen Victoria in the offbeat story of the purported relationship between the widowed monarch and a Scottish commoner in "Mrs. Brown" and was cast as the Chief Weasel in Terry Jones' film version of "The Wind in the Willows" (both 1997). In addition to his stage and film roles, Sher has made occasional TV appearances, notably in the title role of "Genghis Cohn" (BBC, 1993; A&E 1994), the ghost of a Jewish comic killed in a concentration camp who returns to haunt the SS officer responsible for his death. He has also written several novels and has published performance diaries and a book of paintings and drawings. Antony Sher died in late 2021 at the age of 72.