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Capaldi, Peter (1958-)

Actor, Director, Writer

Main image of Capaldi, Peter (1958-)

Glasgow-born actor Peter Capaldi is best known for playing Malcolm Tucker, the brutally foul-mouthed political fixer (loosely based on New Labour's Alastair Campbell) in Armando Iannucci's savage satire The Thick of It (BBC, 2005-9). (He reprised the role for the feature film spin-off In the Loop, 2009.) It's a tour de force, BAFTA-winning performance, but Capaldi is an actor of wider range and greater subtlety than that might suggest, though he often brings a characteristically sardonic edge to his work.

After studying at Glasgow School of Art he played in a punk group, The Dreamboys, before achieving screen breakthrough in his second film, Bill Forsyth's gentle comedy Local Hero (1983); as gauche young oilman smitten by one of his colleagues, he showed a gift for subtly underplayed humour. Since then, the best of his screen work has been in television; apart from In the Loop, he's yet to be cast in a worthwhile major film role, though he took a minor part as a valet in Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons (US, 1988) and played the lead in Stefan Schwartz's directorial debut Soft Top Hard Shoulder (1993), which he also scripted.

Capaldi's television work has covered a lot of ground, but his distinctive physique - tall and lithe, with intense eyes and eloquent fingers - and the penetrating personality that goes with it allow him to leave his mark on whatever role he plays. In The Crow Road (BBC, 1996), based on Iain Banks's dark novel of family secrets, he was Uncle Rory, whose mysterious disappearance sparks off the plot, and who periodically appears to his nephew, perhaps as ghost or as figment of the lad's imagination. The same year he was another ambiguous otherworldly figure, the Angel Islington, in Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry's Neverwhere (BBC), set in the dangerous fantasy world of London Below.

He was moving as Charles I in Peter Flannery's four-part Civil War drama The Devil's Whore (Channel 4, 2008), dignified but doomed by his own incurable wrong-headedness, and brought something of the same misguided pathos to his role in the Torchwood series 'Children of Earth' (BBC, 2009) as John Frobisher, a hopelessly compromised government official. Roles of moral ambivalence suit Capaldi; in Selling Hitler (ITV, 1991) he played Thomas Walde of Stern magazine, one of those who let the lure of a hugely profitable scoop (the forged 'Hitler Diaries') cloud their own better judgement.

In the hospital black-comedy series Getting On (BBC, 2009-10), set in a terminal ward, Capaldi took a supporting role as a doctor and also directed all the episodes. His first venture into direction was the Oscar-winning short Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (1995), which he also scripted; but the mafia-comedy feature Strictly Sinatra (2001) proved disappointing and flopped at the box-office. More recent TV acting roles confirm his versatility: as a bereaved father in an episode of Jimmy McGovern's drama series Accused (BBC, tx. 29/11/2010) and as Balthasar, one of the Three Wise Men, in the BBC's retelling of The Nativity (2010).

Philip Kemp

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Thumbnail image of Local Hero (1983)Local Hero (1983)

Bill Forsyth's gentle comedy about a Texan oilman in Scotland

Thumbnail image of Crow Road, The (1996)Crow Road, The (1996)

Highly-praised adaptation of Iain Banks' novel of family intrigue

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