Many of us have a solid list of our favorite actors, whether it be because they're particularly dreamy (I'm looking at you Daniel Craig) or because they're incredibly talented (still looking at you Craig), and many of those names are best known for specific onscreen works. While movies and television shows can do wonders for a career, stunning critics and audiences in a Broadway play or musical will put an actor in a completely different category of talent — especially if they've perfected their Shakespearean delivery.
We all know about Hugh Jackman's musical talents and Daniel Radcliffe's go-for-broke nudity in Equus, but some names may surprise you. From Bradley Cooper's stage work prior to The Hangover to David Tennant's long-term Shakespearean gig, here are 12 of our favorite actors to ever grace the stage.
Photo Courtesy of The Royal Shakespeare Company
Best Known For: Playing the Tenth Doctor on BBC's Doctor Who
While many people fell in love with David Tennant when he played the Tenth Doctor, the Scottish actor has been a notable classical stage performer since the late 80s and has described theater as being his "default way of being." With some 50 titles under his belt (which have won him countless awards), Tennant is best known for his Shakespearean rolls and has performed in everything from Hamlet and King Leer to Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2007 and in 2012 was appointed to the RSC's board.
Starting October 10, 2013 at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Tennant can be seen playing the title role in Richard II. If you can't make it to England, keep an eye out for the play to be broadcast in cinemas worldwide on November 13. Denzel Washington
Best Known For: Training Day, Malcom X, Remember the Titans
Denzel Washington hasn't been in a large number of Broadway plays, but he has made an impact. The Golden Globe winner (oh yeah, Tony Award and Academy Award winner too) may be known for his serious dramatic film work, but he started out acting on stage while attending university, nabbing title roles in works like Othello, and continued his pursuit through graduate school. In 1982 he played Private First Class Melvin Peterson in an Off-Broadway production of A Soldier's Play, the whole cast winning a Distinguished Ensemble Performance Obie Award. Though he starting gaining major recognition for film work in the 90s, he made time to play the lead in Shakespeare's Richard III at the Public Theater. He didn't appear in another stage production until 2005, when he played Marcus Brutus in Julius Caesar.
He can next be seen playing Walter Lee Younger in the Spring 2014 revival of Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.Carey Mulligan
Best Known For: An Education and The Great Gatsby
If An Education put Carey Mulligan in the spotlight for critics, The Great Gatsby was what cemented her box office success. However, long before she became Hollywood's darling, Mulligan starred as Nina in Ian Rickson's 2008 production of The Seagull (one of Anton Chekhov's four plays about the relationship between four major characters). Her co-star in An Education, Peter Sarsgaard, also featured in the production — alongside Kristen Scott Thomas, Mackenzie Crook, and Zoe Kazan.
Mulligan earned rave reviews, including The New York Times who applauded her ability to capture the "raw hunger within Nina's ambition, the ravening vitality as well as the vulnerability." The play later helped her land the role of Sissy in Steve McQueen's Shame, promising the director she would get a seagull tattooed on her wrist if he gave her the job. Ben Foster
Best Known For: 3:10 to Yuma, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Kill Your Darlings, Six Feet Under
It's not often that a child actor grows up to be an applauded dramatic performer, but that's what Ben Foster did. If you were a kid in 1996, you may recognize him from the Disney Channel series Flash Forward (which also starred Jewel Staite of Firefly fame) or from his 1999 film Liberty Heights. Foster soon turned to characters rife with physical and emotional turmoil, becoming known for his ability to capture intense violence and vulnerability simultaneously — which is why he was so great in the April 2013 Broadway production of Orphans.
The role of Treat was originally slated to be played by Shia LaBeouf, but the actor was replaced due to supposed creative differences (though it's pretty clear that LaBeouf and co-star Alec Baldwin just couldn't work together). This marked Foster's first time acting on stage as a professional actor, his performance earning him some rave reviews, with NBC New York commending his ability to shift between "menacing and childlike." Though the play (which was scheduled through June 30) ended its run early on May 19, hopefully Orphans won't be the last Broadway sees of Foster. Cate Blanchett
Best Known For: The Lord of the Rings franchise, Elizabeth, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Australian actress Cate Blanchett, like everyone else on this list, definitely has her fair share of credited awards, including two Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Screen Actors Guild Awards, as well as an Academy Award. Though known for her film work, her first major stage role was in 1992 alongside Geoffrey Rush in Oleanna, winning her the Sydney Theatre Critics' Best Newcomer Award. Since, she has appeared in 18 stage productions, playing characters ranging from Ophelia in Hamlet and Miranda in The Tempest to Nina in The Seagull. One of her most applauded roles has been in The Sydney Theatre Company's A Streetcar Named Desire in 2009, where she starred as Blanche De Bois opposite Joel Edgerton's Stanley Kowalski. The New York Times praised Blanchett for bringing Blanche to life in a way unique to most productions: "What Ms. Blanchett brings to the character is life itself, a primal survival instinct that keeps her on her feet long after she has been buffeted by blows that would level a heavyweight boxer."
She was most recently seen in the French drama The Maids at The Sydney Theatre Company, which ran from June 4 to July 20, 2013. Viola Davis
Best Known For: The Help, Doubt, Traffic
You may know Viola Davis from her role in The Help (which got her over 20 awards and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress), but many have primarily known her as a stage performer for years. Having appeared in numerous productions since 1996, off and on Broadway, Davis has gotten the most acclaim for her Tony Award-winning work in August Wilson's King Hedley II in 2001 and for her Drama Desk Award-winning Intimate Apparel in 2004.
In 2010 she appeared alongside Denzel Washington in the revival of Fences, playing one half of a married couple struggling with the racial tensions in 1950 America. It was nominated for 10 awards and won three, including Best Actress for Davis and Best Actor for Washington. Patrick Stewart
Best Known For: Playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Professor Xavier in the X-Men film franchise
Possibly one of the coolest human beings to ever exist (aside from Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, of course), Sir Patrick Stewart is a legend who actually got his start acting for the stage. He joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) back in 1966 and stayed with them until the early 80s, though Star Trek made it difficult to do many side projects (he still found time to write several one-man shows to perform around California). One of his shows, a version of A Christmas Carol in which he played every character (that's over 40), won him a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show and Best Solo Performance, as well as the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment for Solo Performance.
With his smooth, strong voice, Stewart is especially fantastic in Shakespeare productions and has acted in over 60 RSC plays (which also include non-Shakespeare penned works). He's starred as Prospero in The Tempest, Othello (in a "photo negative" version with Othello being white and the rest of the cast black), Macbeth, Malvolio in Twelfth Night, as Claudius and the Ghost in Hamlet (which he starred in alongside David Tennant playing Hamlet), and Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Judi Dench
Best Known For: James Bond franchise, Mrs. Brown, Notes On a Scandal
I doubt anyone will be surprised to learn that Dame Judi Dench was a professional theater actress long before she made it big on screen. She first debuted with the Old Vic Company in 1957 and over the years became one of the best Shakespearean actors out there, playing roles like Ophelia in Hamlet, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. She has won 11 BAFTAs, seven Laurence Olivier Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Golden Globes, a Academy Award and a Tony Award (which she won for 1999s Amy's View).
Now that she's officially retired from the Bond franchise, Dench has plenty of time to get back on stage and thankfully she already started. Last year she signed on to play an aged Alice in Wonderland in John Logan's new play Peter and Alice, telling the story of when Alice Liddell (the inspiration for the famed character) met Peter Llewelyn Davies (one of the boys J.M. Barrie based Peter Pan on) at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932. The play, which starred her Skyfall co-star Ben Wishaw as Davies, opened March 25 at London's Noël Coward Theatre and ended June 1. Daniel Craig
Best Known For: James Bond franchise, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Layer Cake
An alum of the National Youth Theatre, the sixth James Bond is no stranger to the stage. In 1993 Daniel Craig played Joe in the Royal National Theatre's production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America and in 2008 paired up with Hugh Jackman for A Steady Rain. Craig can soon be seen in Mike Nichols' Betrayal, which opens November 3 at the Barrymore in New York. The play will run for only 14 weeks and will star Craig's wife, the talented Rachel Weisz, and Rafe Spall (making his Broadway debut). If you haven't already bought a ticket, you may want to get one now considering the New York Post reported that in the first two weeks of the tickets being on sale, the take was already near $5 million. Bradley Cooper
Best Known For: The Hangover trilogy, Silver Linings Playbook, The Place Beyond the Pines
When Bradley Cooper blew everyone away with his dramatic turn in Silver Linings Playbook (which got him a plethora of nominations, including one for an Academy Award) it was suddenly very clear that there's more to him than looks and comedic chops. What some may not know though is that in 2006, three years before The Hangover, Cooper starred in the Broadway production of Three Days of Rain with Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd. In 2012 he acted opposite Patricia Clarkson in Bernard Pomerance's play The Elephant Man, earning some pretty great reviews for his portrayal of John Merrick. The play ran from July 25, 2012 to August 5 at the Williamstown Theater Festival in Massachusetts. Cooper was hoping The Elephant Man would eventually make it to Broadway in a limited run, though so far there's no word on that actually happening. Helen Mirren
Best Known For: The Queen, Gosford Park, The Long Good Friday
Dame Helen Mirren has been acting since 1965 and is one of our most prized actresses alive today — just take a gander at her three Golden Globes, four Emmy's and four BAFTAs. She got her start acting with the Royal Shakespeare Company and over the years appeared in many productions, including The Revenger's Tragedy, All's Well That Ends Well, Troilus and Cressida, As You Like It, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Macbeth. She's even played Nina in The Seagull — which is definitely a popular play among stars — and Queen Margaret in Terry Hands' production of Shakespeare's Henry VI series.
Mirren made waves when she appeared in Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country in an Yvonne Arnaud Theatre 1994 production. Starring opposite Joseph Fiennes and John Hurt, Mirren enchanted reviewers and earned herself a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress (she was also nominated in 2002 for her performance in Dance of Death, which co-starred Sir Ian McKellen).
She was most recently seen playing Queen Elizabeth II (she won an Oscar for her portrayal in the 2006 filmThe Queen) in the West End production of The Audience, which ended its limited season run on June 15, 2013. Christopher Walken
Best Known For: Deer Hunter, True Romance, Seven Psychopaths
With some 100 acting credits and numerous awards, Christopher Walken has one of the most recognizable dramatic deliveries known to acting and I'm willing to bet you have at least one friend who thinks they do a good impersonation. What you may not know about him though is that he's an old friend of Broadway, having been nominated and awarded for numerous theater awards — including two Tony Award nominations for James Joyce's The Dead in 2000 and A Behanding in Spokane in 2010 (which was written by Martin McDonagh and co-starred Sam Rockwell).
Walken first started in an Off-Broadway revival of Best Foot Forward in 1963, continuing on to star in The Lion in Winter. It wasn't long before he moved onto Shakespeare, playing Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice in 1973, Antonio in The Tempest, the lead in Coriolanus in 1988, and Iago in Othello in 1991.
He also appeared in a revival of The Seagull in 2001, which co-starred Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline.