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Ben Cross (born 16 December 1947) is a British actor of the stage and screen, best known for his portrayal of the British Olympic athlete Harold Abrahams in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.

Early life

Cross was born Harry Bernard Cross in London to a working class Irish Catholic family. His mother was a cleaning woman and his father a doorman and nurse. He began acting at a very young age and participated in grammar school plays – most notably playing Jesus in a school pageant at age 12. Cross was educated at Devonport High School for Boys, a grammar school in the city of Plymouth in Devon, but was bullied by a teacher and left home at 15.

Early work

Cross initially worked in various jobs including work as a window cleaner, waiter and carpenter. He was master carpenter for the Welsh National Opera and property master at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham.

In 1970 at the age of 22, he was accepted into London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) - the alma mater of actors such as John Gielgud, Glenda Jackson and Anthony Hopkins, but later expressed little interest in pursuing the classical route.

After graduation from RADA, Cross performed in several stage plays at Duke's Playhouse where he was seen in Macbeth, The Importance of Being Earnest and Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. He then joined the Prospect Theatre Company and played roles in Pericles, Twelfth Night, and Royal Hunt of the Sun. Cross also joined the cast in the immensely popular musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and played leading roles in Sir Peter Shaffer's Equus, Mind Your Head and the musical Irma La Douce – all at Leicester's Haymarket Theatre.

Cross's first big screen film appearance came in 1976 when he went on location to Deventer, Netherlands, to play Trooper Binns in Joseph E. Levine's World War II epic A Bridge Too Far which starred an international cast, including Dirk Bogarde, Sean Connery, Michael Caine and James Caan.

In 1977, Cross became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and performed in the premier of Privates on Parade as “Kevin Cartwright” and played Rover in a revival of a Restoration play titled Wild Oats.

Cross's path to international stardom began in 1978 with his performance in the play Chicago in which he played Billy Flynn, the slick lawyer of murderess Roxie Hart.

Chariots of Fire

During Cross's performance in Chicago, he was recognized and recommended for a leading role in the multiple Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire.

Cross's starring role in Chariots of Fire has been credited with continuing a transatlantic trend in elegant young English actors that had been set by Jeremy Irons in Brideshead Revisited, and was followed by Rupert Everett in Dance with a Stranger, Rupert Graves in A Room With a View, and Hugh Grant in Maurice.

Cross followed up Chariots of Fire with performances as a Scottish physician, Dr Andrew Mason, struggling with the politics of the British medical system during the 1920s, in The Citadel, a 10-part BBC dramatisation of A. J. Cronin's novel, and as Ashton (Ash) Pelham-Martyn, a British cavalry officer torn between two cultures in the ITV miniseries The Far Pavilions.

In 1982, the U.S. union Actors' Equity, in a landmark reversal of a previous ruling, allowed Cross to appear in John Guare's off-Broadway play Lydie Breeze. The decision was tied to a joint effort by Actors' Equity, the League of New York Theaters and the British union Equity to allow British and U.S. actors unrestricted opportunities to work in both countries. The agreement eventually led to regular equal exchange agreements for equivalent acting jobs between London and New York.

During the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, Cross appeared in a commercial for American Express ('Don't leave home without it') with the 87-year-old Jackson Scholz, a sprinter for the 1924 American Olympic team whose character was featured in the film Chariots of Fire. When Cross says something about beating Scholz, the latter remarks, "You didn't beat me!" with mock indignation. Proving he is 'still pretty fast', Scholz beats Cross to the draw in picking up the tab with his credit card.

He subsequently replaced James Garner as the featured actor endorsing the Polaroid Spectra camera in 1986. Cross was also featured in GQ Magazine as one of the annual “Manstyle” winners in January, 1985 followed by a featured photo shoot in March, 1985.

In 1985, he played Barney Greenwald in a hit revival of Herman Wouk's courtroom drama The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial at the Queen's Theatre, London.

In a 1985 interview the actor admitted he preferred American roles because of their emotionalism, saying of English acting: 'Over here, people hide behind mannerism and technique and don't come up with any soul. American actors are much freer with the emotions. It's pretty hard in Europe not to have experience of Americans because we're exposed to a lot of American product.' Cross also said that he was sympathetic to the American dream of success: 'I am ambitious. There's no point of being ashamed of the fact that one has ambitions. Despite what a lot of people think in our profession, you can have ambitions and still turn in good work and still earn a living. There's no clash there.' Cross expressed the hope that his reputation would 'span the Atlantic,' and that those in the industry would not ignore him because he did not live in New York or Los Angeles. 'A prospective director would have to convince me that I could bring something new, fresh and exciting to a classical part that hundreds of other people have played,' he said.

Over the years, Cross has played Solomon in the 1997 Trimark Pictures production Solomon; Captain Nemo in the 1997 CBS movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea; vampire Barnabas Collins in the 1991 MGM miniseries remake of the cult classic soap opera Dark Shadows; another vampire in the 1989 USA Network movie Nightlife; Sir Harold Pearson in the 1994 Italian production Caro Dolce Amore (Honey Sweet Love); Iraqi pilot Munir Redfa blackmailed into flying a MiG from Iraq to Israel in the 1988 HBO spy movie Steal the Sky; and Nazi SS colonel and certified war criminal Helmut von Schraeder, who has his face and voice surgically changed, poses as a Jew, becomes a Zionist and ends up an Israeli major general in the 1989 NBC movie Twist of Fate.

2000 to present

Cross played Ikey Solomon in the Australian production The Potato Factory in 2000. In 2005, Cross, an anti-death penalty campaigner, starred as a death-row prisoner in Bruce Graham's play, Coyote on a Fence, at the Duchess Theatre. He played Rudolf Hess in the 2006 BBC production Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial.

In November 2007, Cross was cast in the role of Sarek, in the new Star Trek film directed and produced by J. J. Abrams. Cross spoke to Star Trek magazine following the film's release, saying, 'My agent put me forward for Star Trek, and he sent a couple of movies to J.J. I'm sure he was too busy to watch the whole of Species, but when we were on the set, he mentioned to me that there was one particular shot in it where I turned to the camera, and in that moment, it came to him how perfect it would be for me to play Sarek.' In order to prepare for the role, Cross drew on his experience as a parent as well as Sarek's previous on-screen appearances. Having been present when his daughter was born, he was able to 'call on all sorts of things' in the scene where Amanda has baby Spock, a scene which did not make it into the theatrical cut of the film. While he found the emotionless trait of a Vulcan a challenge to play, he found the father/son relationship between Sarek and Spock easier to play. 'As Sarek, I had to be true to the Vulcan cultural ethic, which in the beginning, I found very difficult. I got a lot of help with that from J.J. Dealing with the adult Spock (played by Zachary Quinto) was a much more mature relationship, and I found the father/son aspect one of the easier things to play.'

Other professions

Cross is a director, writer and musician as well. He has written music, screenplays and articles for English language publications and has also written the lyrics for an album with "Bulgaria's Frank Sinatra", singer Vasil Petrov, which will be released in late 2007. He also sang two Sinatra songs with Petrov in the Apollonia Festival at the Black Sea in September 2007. Among many of his original works is the musical Rage about Ruth Ellis, which was performed in various regional towns in the London area. He also starred in it and played the part of the hangman. Cross's first single as a lyricist was released by Polydor Records in the late 1970s and was titled Mickey Moonshine. The nom de guerre for the performance had occurred to Ben when he recalled an earlier involvement with the music industry as a session singer for Decca between 1972 and 1974. At this time, he had recorded at a moment's notice an uptempo number called 'Name it, You Got it', when the scheduled performer had failed to arrive at the studio on time. Interestingly, this recording achieved some play on the British Northern Soul scene and Ben intends to reprise his performance as Micky Moonshine at a forthcoming Northern event. Other works include The Best We’ve Ever Had and Nearly Midnight, both written by Cross and directed by his son Theo. In addition, the original soundtrack for Nearly Midnight was written, produced and performed by his daughter Lauren. These works were performed in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Square One, directed by Cross, was performed at the Etcetera Theatre in London in 2004.

Personal life

Cross has lived all over the world, including London, Los Angeles, New York, Southern Spain, Vienna, and, most recently, Sofia. He is familiar with the Spanish, Italian and German languages and enrolled in a course studying Bulgarian.

He has been married twice: first to Penny, from 1977 to 1992, with whom he has two children named Lauren and Theodore; and then to Michelle until 2005.

Filmography

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

The Flame Trees of Thika (TV Series) (1981)

Chariots of Fire (1981)

The Citadel (1983)

The Far Pavilions (1984)

L'Attenzione (1984)

The Assisi Underground (1985)

Paperhouse (1988)

Steal the Sky (1988)

The Unholy (1988)

The Jeweller's Shop (1988)

La Bottega dell'orefice (1989)

Nightlife (1989)

Twist of Fate (1989)

Eye of the Widow (1989)

Dark Shadows (Revivals) (1991)

Live Wire (1992)

The Criminal Mind (1993)

Cold Sweat (1993)

The Ascent (1994)

Temptress (1994)

Caro dolce amore (1994)

First Knight (1995)

El Último viaje de Robert Rylands (1996)

The Invader (1997)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1997)

The Corporate Ladder (1997)

Turbulence (1997)

Solomon (1997)

The Venice Project (1999)

The Order (2001)

Young Blades (2001)

She Me and Her (2002)

Trial and Retribution 7 (2003)

Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)

Icon (2005)

The Mechanik (2005)

Wicked Little Things (2006)

Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006)

Finding Rin Tin Tin (2007)

When Nietzsche Wept (2007)

War, Inc. (2008)

Hero Wanted (2008)

Star Trek (2009)

William and Kate (2011) - TV Movie

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