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Kay Carter

Kay Carter

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An enormously gifted character actor, Jim Carter had his start in fringe theater, mastering magic tricks, cabaret performance and circus training before becoming a noted performer on screen. A highly respected theatrical actor with a lengthy, illustrious career, Carter married actress Imelda Staunton in 1983 and notched memorable small turns in a slew of high-profile films, including "Top Secret!" (1984), "Haunted Honeymoon" (1986), "The Madness of King George" (1994) and "Shakespeare in Love" (1998). Playing the male actor cast as the Nurse based on the real nurse (Staunton) of Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), Carter and his wife delivered masterpieces of comic acting. They delighted again in "Cranford" (BBC One, 2007), while on his own Carter appeared in "102 Dalmatians" (2000), "Ella Enchanted" (2004), "Alice in Wonderland" (2010) and "My Week with Marilyn" (2011). His most famous role, however, came with his hailed performance as Mr. Carson, the loyal, aging butler of "Downton Abbey" (ITV, 2010-16), whose overwhelming self-control and sense of duty hid a loving, laughing heart. An icon of British theater, TV and film, Carter built an acclaimed international profile on his prodigious gifts and...

An enormously gifted character actor, Jim Carter had his start in fringe theater, mastering magic tricks, cabaret performance and circus training before becoming a noted performer on screen. A highly respected theatrical actor with a lengthy, illustrious career, Carter married actress Imelda Staunton in 1983 and notched memorable small turns in a slew of high-profile films, including "Top Secret!" (1984), "Haunted Honeymoon" (1986), "The Madness of King George" (1994) and "Shakespeare in Love" (1998). Playing the male actor cast as the Nurse based on the real nurse (Staunton) of Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), Carter and his wife delivered masterpieces of comic acting. They delighted again in "Cranford" (BBC One, 2007), while on his own Carter appeared in "102 Dalmatians" (2000), "Ella Enchanted" (2004), "Alice in Wonderland" (2010) and "My Week with Marilyn" (2011). His most famous role, however, came with his hailed performance as Mr. Carson, the loyal, aging butler of "Downton Abbey" (ITV, 2010-16), whose overwhelming self-control and sense of duty hid a loving, laughing heart. An icon of British theater, TV and film, Carter built an acclaimed international profile on his prodigious gifts and one-of-a-kind spirit that informed every performance.

Born Aug. 19, 1948 in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, Carter originally intended to become a lawyer and made it as far as university before dropping out to join a fringe theater group, the Brighton Combination, which later became the London-based Albany in Deptford. While gaining invaluable professional experience, he made extra money teaching magic and juggling, while working up a cabaret act. As he furthered his acting career with an impressive variety of roles, Carter also took the time to attend an American circus school, where he learned multiple magic, acrobatic and performance tricks. Although he essayed many iconic roles on stage, his favorite came in a 1982 production of "Guys and Dolls" at the National Theatre, where he met and fell in love with his co-star, Imelda Staunton. The two married the following year, and even though Carter continued to enjoy theatrical success, including with the troupe "Madhouse Company of London," he began to notch screen roles that elevated his profile both in the U.K. and beyond.

After small roles in the sci-fi spoof "Flash Gordon" (1980), the Val Kilmer comedy "Top Secret!" (1984) and Neil Jordan's erotic fairy tale "The Company of Wolves" (1984), Carter appeared in the Gilda Radner-Gene Wilder comedy "Haunted Honeymoon" (1986). He followed up by making a big impression as the musically gifted, sweet-natured father of Philip Marlow (Michael Gambon) in the highly acclaimed miniseries "The Singing Detective" (BBC1, 1986). Working steadily in U.K. projects, Carter continued to impress international audiences as a first-rate character actor with turns in "The Witches" (1990), "Black Beauty" (1994), "The Madness of King George" (1994), "Richard III" (1995) and "Brassed Off" (1996). He dazzled critics and fans alike with a delightful, through-the-looking-glass role in the Oscar-winning triumph "Shakespeare in Love" (1998). Playing Ralph Bashford, a frequently drunk actor cast by the titular playwright as the Nurse in "Romeo and Juliet," Carter had a blast riffing on the film's "real" Nurse and inspiration for his part, played by his real-life wife, Imelda Staunton. For his wonderful work, Carter shared a richly deserved Best Ensemble Screen Actors Guild Award with his castmates, including the always-brilliant Staunton.

While continuing to add to his British filmography, Carter went on to book roles in such high-profile international projects as "The Little Vampire" (2000), "102 Dalmatians" (2000) and "Ella Enchanted" (2004). He took a small part in the Woody Allen drama "Cassandra's Dream" (2007) and worked with Staunton again on the charming, moving adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's classic novel "Cranford" (BBC One, 2007). After lending his voice as the Executioner to Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), he notched a supporting role in the Oscar-nominated "My Week with Marilyn" (2011) and followed with his acclaimed performance as Mr. Charles Carson, the butler for "Downton Abbey" (ITV, 2010-16). Playing a lifelong servant who romanticizes the past -yet is ashamed of his own brief turn as a musical performer - Carter won over viewers with his masterful portrayal of a man bound to duty even as his body begins to fail, and whose all-consuming self-discipline and self-restraint conceal a secretly soft and fatherly heart for Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery). For his wonderful, layered work, Carter earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

By Jonathan Riggs

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