The BAFTA, Golden Globe and Emmy-winning film, television and stage star died Saturday at home in London of undisclosed causes, his publicist told The Times. His wife, fellow actor Diana Hardcastle Wilkinson, and family were with him at the time of his passing.
A powerhouse character actor known for bringing versatility, biting intelligence, humor and pathos to his onscreen roles, Wilkinson was twice nominated for an Academy Award: First for his starring role as a devastated father opposite Sissy Spacek in 2001’s “In the Bedroom,” and again for his supporting turn as a corporate litigator opposite George Clooney in 2007’s “Michael Clayton.”
A commanding presence even in supporting turns, Wilkinson’s memorable film appearances include 1993’s “In the Name of the Father,” 1995’s “Sense and Sensibility,” 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love” and “Rush Hour” and 2004’s “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” He brought menacing comic book villain Carmine Falcone to life in 2005’s “Batman Begins,” appeared opposite Tom Cruise in 2008’s “Valkyrie” and 2011’s “Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and co-starred in the 2011 hit “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” among his 100+ screen credits.
But it was his vulnerable and layered performance as Gerald Cooper, an ex-foreman with a knack for choreography who joins a troupe of unemployed steel mill workers-turned-strippers in the Oscar-nominated 1997 comedy blockbuster “The Full Monty,” that first endeared Wilkinson to international audiences.
A critical and commercial hit, “The Full Monty” became the highest grossing British movie at the time and even earned the ensemble cast an MTV Movie Award nomination for best dance sequence. Wilkinson was in his 50s and an established UK TV and stage veteran when his international film career subsequently took off.
“With the good things happening in my career, you think, ‘Better late than never,’” he told The Times in 1998. “But I must admit I’d be happier if I was 35 or 30 and this whole thing was starting. Nevertheless, it’s very gratifying.”
A few years later, he said the film’s success helped him set his sights on a broader stateside career. (Wilkinson reprised the role alongside his original castmates in an FX on Hulu/Disney+ limited series of the same name, earlier this year.)
“I figured: Look, the United States is where the big boys play, and if you want to sit at the table, you’ve got to go into movies. Which was a tough decision to make because in some ways it was having to prove myself all over again,” he told The Times in 2001 as his emotional turn in Todd Field’s “In the Bedroom” was drawing early Oscar buzz.
His gutting performance as Matt Fowler, a Maine man struggling in his grief following the violent murder of his son in “In the Bedroom,” had earned Wilkinson and Spacek a joint Sundance Film Festival special jury prize, and it would also land him his first career Academy Award lead actor nomination. The film was also nominated for best picture, adapted screenplay, lead actress (Spacek) and supporting actress (Marisa Tomei).
Over his nearly 50-year career, Wilkinson was nominated for six BAFTAs, numerous critics awards and two Laurence Olivier theater awards, in 1981 for playing Horatio in a Royal Shakespeare Company presentation of “Hamlet” and in 1988 for his turn as Dr Thomas Stockman in Henrik Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” at the Young Vic.
For his work in television, he won the Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy Award for his supporting turn for his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin on the HBO limited series “John Adams” and earned three additional Emmy nods for roles in “Normal,” “Recount” and “The Kennedys.”
Born to a working class family in Leeds, England, in 1948, Wilkinson spent part of his childhood living in British Columbia, Canada, before his family returned to the UK. While attending the University of Kent (“because I couldn’t think of anything else to do,” he told The Times in 2001), he fell into performing arts by directing Eugène Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano,” in college.
“After the first rehearsals, I decided this is what I want to do with my life,” he said. “Once I found out you could make a life for yourself doing this, there was no turning back.”
After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Wilkinson began his acting career in the 1970s and 1980s in British television. He met future wife, Diana Hardcastle, on the set of the 1986 series “First Among Equals,” and they wed in 1988, going on to raise two daughters.
Decades later, the real-life couple would play onscreen spouses Joe and Rose Kennedy in the 2011 miniseries “The Kennedys.” In 2014, they reunited again onscreen portraying a married couple in the action thriller “Good People,” then again as aristocratic in-laws in the 2020 historical drama “Belgravia.”
In 2005, Wilkinson was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his services to drama.