This list is about the best Irish actors (and one actress) who have stood out through their remarkable and (in some cases unforgettable) performances and have earned and deserved their place among the best actors in the world. They have also been honoured with important awards and/ or nominations, and some of them will surely bedazzle us with their acting skills in future productions.
10 Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan…Pierce Brosnan. This charismatic Irish actor (who also holds American citizenship) is best known as the fifth actor to portray secret agent James Bond, starring in four films between 1995 and 2002. Brosnan was also the lead actor in films such as Dante’s Peak (1997), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), The Matador (2005), Butterfly on a Wheel (2007), Mamma Mia! (2008) and The Ghost Writer (2010). For his lead role in the dark comedy The Matador he was nominated for a Golden Globe.
9 Colin Farrell
Controversial Irish actor Colin Farrell has proved that he is not only a pretty face but that he also has acting skills. His most important films include Tigerland (2000), Minority Report (2002), Phone Booth (2002), Hart’s War (2002) and In Bruges (2008), for which he won a Golden Glode Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.
8 Gabriel Byrne
This Dublin born actor has starred in over 35 feature films, including Miller’s Crossing (1990) The Usual Suspects (1995), The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and Stigmata (1999). He has received much critical acclaim for his role as Dr. Paul Weston in the HBO drama In Treatment which earned him a Golden Globe win and an Emmy Award nomination for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
7 Kenneth Branagh
This Northern Irish actor and important film director is best known for directing and starring in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays. Branagh has been nominated for 4 Academy Awards. His first two nominations were for Henry V (1989) (for Best Director and Best Actor in a Leading Role). His other two Academy Award nominations were for Swan Song (1992) as Best Short Film and Hamlet (1996) for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
6 Stephen Rea
This Irish film and stage actor has appeared in a number of high profile films such as Interview with the Vampire (1994), Michael Collins (1996), Breakfast on Pluto (2005) and V for Vendetta (2006). He was nominated for an Academy Award and a BAFTA for his lead performance as Fergus in The Crying Game (1992).
5 Brenda Fricker
Fricker is maybe the most important Irish actress of theatre, film and television. Her most famous role was that of Bridget Brown in My Left Foot (1989) alongside Daniel Day-Lewis (who played her son) for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
4 Richard Harris
Harris was an acclaimed Irish actor, whose most important roles include: King Arthur in Camelot (1967), Oliver Cromwell in Cromwell (1970), Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). He was nominated for two Academy Awards as Best Actor in a Leading Role for his parts in This Sporting Life (1963) and The Field (1990). He also earned a Golden Globe for his role in Camelot.
3 Liam Neeson
Who doesn’t know his most famous role as Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg’s biographical drama film Schindler’s List (1993) which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role? Liam Neeson was born in Northern Ireland. He moved to Dublin after university to further his acting career, and in the early 1990s he moved to the United States. In 1999 he was appointed as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. Other notable roles include Michael Collins in Michael Collins (1996), Jean Valjean in Les Misérables (1998), Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey (2004), Ras Al Ghul in Batman Begins (2005) and Agent Bryan Mills in Taken (2008). His most recent role is Dr. Martin Harris in the thriller Unknown (2011).
2 Daniel Day-Lewis
Although born in London, Day-Lewis holds dual British and Irish citizenship. For his portrayals of Christy Brown in My Left Foot (1989) and Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood (2007) he won Academy and BAFTA Awards for Best Actor. His roles as Gerry Conlon in In the Name of the Father (1993) and Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) earned him Oscar nominations, and he also won a BAFTA for Gangs of New York. Day-Lewis is a method actor, known for his constant devotion to and research of his roles. Other notable roles include Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence (1993) and Guido Contini in Nine (2009).
1 Peter O’Toole
Peter O’Toole is arguably one of the greatest stage and screen actors of all time. His 8 Academy Awards nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (making him the most nominated actor never to win the prestigious award) and the Honorary Academy Award won in 2003 for “his remarkable talents” that “have provided cinema history with some of its most memorable characters” speak for themselves. He also has 4 Golden Globes, a BAFTA, and an Emmy. Nevertheless, O’Toole would have preferred to win an Oscar for Best Actor and he reluctantly accepted the Honorary Award saying that he was “still in the game”. O’Toole’s most famous role, and his breakthrough, was that of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic film Lawrence of Arabia (1962).
Two young and promising Irish actors, who did not make it into the top 10, but deserve to be mentioned:
Jonathan Rhys Meyers
(b. 1977) is best known for his roles in Velvet Goldmine, Bend It Like Beckham, Match Point, August Rush, Vanity Fair and his television roles as Elvis Presley in the miniseries Elvis (which earned him a Golden Glove for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film) and as King Henry VIII in the historical drama The Tudors for which he received Golden Globe nominations.
(b. 1976) is often noted by critics for his chameleonic performances in diverse roles, such as in 28 Days Later (2002), Batman Begins (2005), Red Eye (2005), Breakfast on Pluto (2005), The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) and Inception (2010). He received a Golden Globe nomination for his role in Breakfast on Pluto.
Sources: Wikipedia, imdb