Ian McShane, who celebrates his 79th birthday on September 29, built his fanbase with ruthless anti-hero roles in television shows like Deadwood. However, his later years saw him make a dramatic shift to the big-screen, starring in family blockbusters so that he could share and enjoy his work with his younger fans.
Unlike the vindictive and violent characters he became known for, McShane is a notoriously gentle-mannered man, a trait which has been showcased more and more as his career continues.
He was first introduced to many audiences with his titular trickster role in the hit nineties series Lovejoy or the ruthless Al Swearengen in the HBO series Deadwood.
The role earned McShane a Golden Globe award, an Emmy nomination and his character was ranked number six on TV Guide’s 2013 list of the Nastiest Villians of All Time. However, the extreme nature of the role shifted him into being thought of as the villain actor — even when he moved into child-friendly entertainment.
He voiced villains Captain Hook in Shrek the Third, Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda and catapulted to international stardom with his role as Blackbeard in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Eventually, McShane wiggled his way over to the lighter side of film, landing the role of the soft-spoken King in Jack The Giant Slayer and the dwarf leader Beith in Snow White and the Huntsman.
The royal role in Jack The Giant Slayer was arguably the biggest shift in McShane’s career thus far, and the actor reportedly loved it, not just for the crown.
He revealed: “I wanted to play a good guy for a change. We filmed in England, so I got to see my family.”
Unlike many in the profession, McShane does not tie his work and creativity as an artist into his entire being, explaining that he would have preferred to be “better at football”.
He said: “Ian McKellen will tell you that the theatre was in him. Well, it wasn’t in me. I love acting – it’s been very good to me – but it wasn’t in me.”
McShane’s acting ability was discovered in school, as a teacher encouraged a 14-year-old McShane to take part in school productions.
At the time, his football aspirations were understandable — he is, after all, the only son of Scottish professional footballer Harry McShane.
McShane’s father played for Blackburn, Huddersfield, Bolton and Manchester United during his 18-year career. The soon-to-be John Wick actor was just eight when his father joined the league-winning Manchester United in 1950, earning him popularity in school.
He explained: “Dad was definitely significant. It meant something. But it was a different time, you know? We were living in the suburbs in Manchester, in a typical footballer’s semi-detached house.”
Eventually, the youngster joined the National Youth Theatre and studied alongside Anthony Hopkins at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
The up-and-coming star was still studying at the Royal Academy when he landed his first film role in 1962 and almost had to forfeit graduating to play his role in The Wild and the Willing.
Acting in the film meant that McShane would miss his final term, and the school warned he may not receive his certificate as a result, to which he replied: “What, I need a bit of paper on the wall telling me I’m an actor?”
He got the best of both worlds, appearing in the film and receiving his certificate which was signed by renowned English actor John Gielgud. As fate would have it, years later, Gielgud would appear in an episode of Lovejoy alongside McShane, where the youngster thanked him for signing his certificate.
The star grew his fame and fortune in British television before moving to America to get a start in Hollywood in 1980.
By this time, McShane had just married his third wife, actress Gwen Humble, and although his love life had been less than steady, he maintained a constant relationship with his parents.
In 2005, McShane’s beloved father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and died in late 2012, garnering memorials and tributes from fans across the world.
He recalled his dad saying: “We never had a row. Which is why, when he died, even though it wasn’t unexpected, well, it’s still your Dad. It doesn’t matter how old you are. You’ve lost your Dad.”
The Death Race actor gushed about how Harry still recognised his wife, McShane’s mother, at the end. The couple had pulled through seven decades together, although he only half-remembered his son.
McShane recounted: “I walked in and he said, ‘Who are you playing for nowadays?’ I said, ‘Dad, now look: you’re the footballer, I’m the actor.’ He looked right at me and said, ‘Would I have seen you in anything?’.”