Gabriel Byrne Biography

Television Actor, Theater Actor, Actor, Film Actor (1950–)
Actor and producer Gabriel Byrne has been a part of many successful films, including 'Miller's Crossing,' 'The Usual Suspects' and 'In the Name of the Father.'


Gabriel Byrne was born on May 12, 1950, in Dublin, Ireland. Before diving into acting, he explored several careers, including teaching and archaeology, and he strongly considered becoming a priest. He embarked on stage work at age 29, and his Hollywood career took off when he starred in the 1990 film Miller's Crossing. Byrne later appeared in The Usual Suspects and The End of Violence, and produced the film In the Name of Father, which was nominated for seven Oscars.

Early Life

Gabriel Byrne was born on May 12, 1950, in Dublin, Ireland, the eldest of six children. His mother was a nurse and his father was a barrel maker for Guinness, the Irish brewer. When Byrne was just a boy, a Catholic priest came to his tell students about serving as a missionary in the South Pacific. Byrne was hooked on the idea, and it wasn’t long before he was moving to England to study to become a priest.

Byrne left the seminary after a few years and went back to Ireland to resume traditional schooling. Years later, in 2011, Byrne revealed that while at the British seminary, he was sexually abused by Christian Brothers, episodes that would lead him into depression years after the fact.

Byrne ended up receiving a scholarship to University College Dublin, and earned a degree in archaeology. He became a teacher after graduating, and also took on a series of odd jobs that included working as a plumber and in a teddy bear factory.

Acting Success

When he was 29, Byrne took a lifelong interest in acting and put it to use on stage at Dublin’s Focus and Abbey theaters. Two years later, Byrne made a splash in his first recurring role on the Irish TV show The Riordans. The show was in its final season, but Byrne would go on to star in its spin-off, Bracken. Also in 1981, Byrne made his big-screen debut in the Arthurian epic Excalibur, a movie that put the Irish actor on the Hollywood map.

Despite Excalibur’s success, Byrne remained busy in television, starring in shows and miniseries such as Christopher Columbus (1985). In 1986, he made the leap to the big screen, almost exclusively, and the film roles came fast and furious.

Those roles were in such films as Gothic (1986), Lionheart (1987), Julia and Julia (1987) and Siesta (1987). On Siesta, Byrne worked with actress Ellen Barkin, and in 1988, he moved to New York to marry her. The pair eventually split in 1999, but not before having two children, son Jack (born in 1989) and daughter Romy (1992).

The 1990s started off with a bang for Byrne, as his film Miller’s Crossing, written and directed by the Coen brothers, was released to wide praise. Miller’s Crossing cemented Byrne’s standing as a certified star, and he subsequently appeared in more than two dozen movies over the course of the decade. Among the more notable works were Little Women (1994), The Usual Suspects (1995), The End of Violence (1997), The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and Enemy of the State (1998).

Later Roles

The early 2000s found Byrne back on stage, and in 2000 he was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in Eugene O'Neill's Moon for the Misbegotten. He also received glowing reviews for his work in another O'Neill play, A Touch of the Poet (2005), and played King Arthur in Camelot (2008) with the New York Philharmonic, a performance featured on an episode of Live From Lincoln Center on PBS.

On screen, Byrne skillfully portrayed the privileged Marquess of Steyne opposite Reese Witherspoon's ambitious Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (2004). He was prominently featured in the action film Assault on Precinct 13 (2005), and starred in the Australian indie drama Jindabyne (2006). Following years of acclaimed work, he won a Golden Globe in 2009 for his role in the HBO drama series In Treatment

Byrne's busy 2014 included appearances in the film Vampire Academy and the miniseries Quirke, as well as his second marriage, to TV producer Hannah King. The following year, the actor saw more of his films hit the big screen, including Nobody Wants the Night, Louder Than Bombs and The 33.

Other Endeavors

Byrne has also produced several films, notably 1993’s In The Name of the Father, which was nominated for seven Academy Awards and four Golden Globes. Always connected to his native Ireland, in 2004 Byrne was appointed a UNICEF Ireland Ambassador, and in 2007 he received an honorary degree from the National University of Ireland, Galway, which recognized his "outstanding contribution to Irish and international film."

Also in 2007, Byrne was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the 5th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, and was awarded honorary patronage of the University Philosophical Society, from Trinity College in Dublin.

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