Stephens went on to a distinguished stage career, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company and becoming the youngest actor with the troupe to undertake the lead in the Bard's "Coriolanus" (1994). Daring to step into the shadow of Marlon Brando, he tackled the role of Stanley Kowalski opposite Jessica Lange in the 1996 Peter Hall-staged London production of "A Streetcar Named Desire." His rising status as a leading man was cemented with his turn as Orsino in "Twelfth Night" (1996), Trevor Nunn's feature adaptation of Shakespeare's comedy, and as Gilbert Markham, the Yorkshire farmer who falls for a married woman, in the small screen version of Anne Bronte's novel "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" (also 1996). Although his next couple of films didn't fare too well at the box office, Stephens earned mostly good notices for his work, whether playing an early 20th-century photographer in "Photographing Fairies" (1997) or 19th-century men in "Cousin Bette" (1998) or "Onegin" (1999). After making his Broadway debut playing twins in the farcical "Ring Around the Moon" in 1999, the actor was tapped to portray the young incarnation of director-star Clint Eastwood's astronaut in "Space Cowboys" (2000). That same year, he tried to embody F. Scott Fitzgerald's elusive titular character in the A&E version of "The Great Gatsby," but while he cut the proper dashing figure, something was missing in his interpretation of the role. He fared better in his homeland playing a supporting role in the critically-acclaimed BBC2 presentation "Perfect Strangers" (2001) and a return to the stage alongside Dame Judi Dench in "The Royal Family." Director Neil LaBute tapped Stephens to play a self-serving academic in "Possession" (2002) before the actor landed a part that reach his wide audience yet-- the villainous Gustav Graves in "Die Another Day" (2002), the 20th James Bond film. Stephens held his own against Pierce Brosnan as 007, proving one of the more charismatic of the recent Bond bad guys and demonstrating a flair for physical combat in the action-packed fencing sequence with Brosnan.
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