It has been announced today that Stephen Graham OBE will receive the Richard Harris Award at the British Independent Film Awards 2023.
The Richard Harris Award recognises an outstanding contribution by an actor to British film and has previously been bestowed upon, amongst others, Samantha Morton, Riz Ahmed, Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench, Vanessa Redgrave, Daniel Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julie Walters, John Hurt, Emma Thompson, Jim Broadbent and Glenda Jackson.
In an acclaimed career that has seen him highly sought after across both film and television, Graham has achieved almost legendary status as a hugely talented and versatile performer with an otherworldly ability for bringing vulnerability and emotional depth to even the toughest characters, working with directors such as Guy Ritchie, Shane Meadows, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Jimmy McGovern, Andrew Haigh and Alex Cox.
His skill and range as an actor can be seen in the variety of roles he has played throughout his career, utterly convincing as shockingly violent yet emotionally raw tough guys, unhinged gangsters, damaged men consumed by inner turmoil, but equally believable in hilarious turns as a scurvy riddled pirate or adding a musical string to his bow as frontrunner for world’s worst parent in 2022 smash Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.
Graham’s talent for the performing arts was spotted by acclaimed Liverpudlian actor Andrew Schofield in a school production of Treasure Island when he was just ten years old, and he was swiftly guided towards Liverpool’s Everyman Youth Theatre, renowned for nurturing budding stars and from where, in his words, he ‘never looked back’. TV and film roles followed, with 2000 seeing him breakthrough in the memorable role of Tommy in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch, after impressing the director when they first met.
Hollywood soon beckoned with a role in Scorsese’s mighty Gangs of New York (2002). He would again work with Scorsese, starring as Al Capone in the Screen Actors Guild award-winning series “Boardwalk Empire” (2010-14) and the multi-Oscar nominated The Irishman (2019) opposite Al Pacino and Robert De Niro.
It was his explosive and now iconic performance as Combo, a bitter, emotionally damaged neo-Nazi in Shane Meadows’ BIFA-winning This Is England (2007) that firmly established him as one of Britain’s finest actors, receiving his first BIFA nomination. A TV mini-series followed with “This Is England” ’86, ’88 & ’90, securing Graham a Best Leading Actor TV BAFTA nomination.
Roles in critically acclaimed films such as Tom Hooper’s The Damned United (2009), Thomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Saul Dibbs’ Journey’s End (2017) and Idris Elba’s debut feature Yardie (2018) expanded his repertoire, whilst he cemented his household name status appearing in global smash-hits such the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, as Baby Face Nelson in Michael Man’s Public Enemies (2009), music man Dick James in Dexter Fletcher’s Elton John biopic Rocketman (2019) and in Marvel’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021).
Graham is also known for supporting new talent, famously recommending a young Jodie Comer to his agent and has spoken of the difficulties working-class actors face in breaking through. In 2020 Graham co-founded Matriarch Productions with his wife and fellow actor Hannah Walters with the aim of providing a much-needed platform to champion diversity and inclusivity within the entertainment industry, producing both film and television projects which offer opportunities for underrepresented talent both in front of and behind the camera.
Matriarch’s first project was Phillip Barantini‘s 2021 BIFA-winning Boiling Point, a technically brilliant white-knuckle one-take restaurant nightmare for Graham’s troubled and increasingly frantic chef, a role which earned him his second BIFA nomination and a BAFTA nomination in the Lead Actor category too. Due to its success, a “Boiling Point” BBC TV series followed to critical acclaim. Matriarch is currently working on “A Thousand Blows” with Disney+, an epic 12-part series set in the perilous world of illegal boxing in 1880s Victorian London, in which Stephen will also take a lead role.
Graham can currently be seen starring in Netflix’s global hit “Bodies,” an adaptation of Si Spencer’s mind and time-bending graphic novel. Stephen will lead opposite Daisy Ridley in Disney’s Young Woman and the Sea, chronicling the daring journey of the first woman to swim across the English Channel in 1926 and will also be seen starring with Saoirse Ronan in Steve MacQueen’s highly anticipated London-set WWII drama Blitz. He was appointed OBE for his services to Drama in 2023.
Commenting on the news, Graham said: “To be recognised for this year’s Richard Harris award alongside the immense talent of the previous recipients, is truly humbling and overwhelming. I’d like to give a heartfelt thanks to BIFA and the Harris family for this acknowledgement.”
Damian, Jared and Jamie Harris, in whose father’s memory the award is presented, commented: “Throughout his long and successful film career both at home and abroad, Stephen always brings an edge to his characters, something that our father would have appreciated very much. He is a British independent national treasure and we’re delighted to present him with the Richard Harris Award this year.”
The 26th British Independent Film Awards take place on Sunday 3 December at Old Billingsgate. A full list of this year’s nominations and 2023 Craft winners is here.