Jason Isaacs (born 6 June 1963) is an English actor born in Liverpool. He is known for his performance as the Death Eater Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, the brutal Colonel William Tavington in The Patriot and as lifelong criminal Michael Caffee in the American television series Brotherhood. Though most of his work has been in film and television, it also includes stage performances; most notably as Louis Ironson in Declan Donnellan's 1992 and 1993 Royal National Theatre London premières of Parts One (Millennium Approaches) and Two (Perestroika) of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, and as Ben, one of two hitmen, playing opposite Lee Evans as Gus, in Harry Burton's 2007 critically acclaimed 50th-anniversary revival of Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter's 1957 two-hander The Dumb Waiter at Trafalgar Studios. He starred in the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) drama Awake as Detective Michael Britten from March to May 2012.
Early life and education
Jason Isaacs was born on 6 June 1963, in Liverpool, to Jewish parents. His father was a jewellery-maker. Isaacs spent his earliest childhood years in an "insular" and "closely knit" Jewish community of Liverpudlians, of which his Eastern European great-grandparents were founder-members. The third of four sons, Isaacs attended a Jewish school and a cheder twice a week as a young adult. When he was 11, he moved with his family to Northwest London, attending the Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, in Elstree, Hertsmere, Hertfordshire, where he was in the same year as film reviewer Mark Kermode. He describes his childhood as "preparation" for portraying the "unattractive", villainous characters whom he has most often played. National Front members frequently harassed Isaacs and his friends throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Following his more traditionally inclined brothers, who became respectively a doctor, a lawyer, and an accountant, Isaacs studied law at Bristol University (1982–85), but he became more actively involved in the drama society, eventually performing in over 30 plays and performing each summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, first with Bristol University and then, twice, with the National Student Drama Company. After graduating from Bristol he went immediately to train at London's Central School of Speech and Drama (1985–88).
Isaacs' parents eventually repatriated to Israel.
After completing his training as an actor, Isaacs almost immediately began appearing on the stage and on television; his film debut was in a minor role as a doctor in Mel Smith's The Tall Guy (1989). He was initially known as a TV actor in the UK, with starring roles in the ITV drama Capital City (1989) and the BBC drama Civvies (1992) and guest roles in series such as Taggart, Inspector Morse, and Highlander: The Series(1993). He also played Michael Ryan in ITV1's adaptation of Martina Cole's novel Dangerous Lady, directed by Jack Woods and produced by Lavinia Warner, in 1995.
On stage he portrayed the "emotionally waffling" gay Jewish office temp Louis Ironson in Tony Kushner's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, at the Royal National Theatre, in its London première, performing the role in both parts, Part One: Millennium Approaches, in 1992, and Part Two: Perestroika, in 1993. When auditioning for that role, he told the producers, "Look, I play all these tough guys and thugs and strong, complex characters. In real life, I am a cringing, neurotic Jewish mess. Can't I for once play that on stage?"
His first Hollywood role was alongside Laurence Fishburne in the film Event Horizon in 1997, in which he played a crew member ultimately killed by the protagonist-turned-antagonist acted by Sam Neill. Subsequently, he appeared in the Bruce Willis blockbuster Armageddon (1998). Initially called upon to take a fairly substantial role, Isaacs was eventually cast in a much smaller capacity as a planet-saving scientist so that he could accommodate his commitment to Divorcing Jack (1998), a comedy thriller he was making with David Thewlis.
Isaacs has appeared in many other films, most notably as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series of films (2002–2011). Regarding the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling, Isaacs has said: "I went off and read the books after the audition and I read the first four books in one sitting – you know – didn't wash, didn't eat, drove around with them on the steering wheel like a lunatic. I suddenly understood why my friends, who I'd thought were slightly backward, had been so addicted to these children's books. They're like crack." In "The Naked and the Dead", an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle, on 26 November 2006, Neva Chonin names the character Lucius Malfoy one of the 12 "Sexiest Men Who Were Never Alive" and Isaacs one of the 13 "Sexiest Men Who Are Real and Alive".
Isaacs has lived with his partner BBC documentary filmmaker Emma Hewitt since 1988. The couple began dating at the Central School, and have two daughters, Lilly and Ruby.
Despite Isaacs' screen celebrity as Lucius Malfoy, he maintains a relatively modest, "calm, sedate and suburban" life, which he prefers to the "hideously compromised lives" of the more rich and famous: "I imagine like most of us that I'd like obscene amounts of money but the people I met and worked with who have those obscene amounts of money and have obscene amounts of fame have awful lives. Really. I mean hideously compromised lives...." Described as an "invisible star" who can still travel by the London Underground to film premières unrecognised, he has observed: "They just think, who's that t*** in black tie? As soon as I get on the red carpet they start screaming and screaming. ... It's laughable because when it's all over I go home on the Tube as well." "I can go anywhere. No one knows who I am. I can go on the tube and bus and wander through the streets."