James Nesbitt (born 15 January 1965) is an actor, presenter and comedian from Northern Ireland. Born in Ballymena, County Antrim, Nesbitt grew up in the nearby village of Broughshane, before moving to Coleraine, County Londonderry. He wanted to become a teacher like his father, so he began a degree in French at the University of Ulster. He dropped out after a year when he decided to become an actor, and transferred to the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. After graduating in 1987, he spent seven years performing in plays that varied from the musical Up on the Roof (1987, 1989) to the political drama Paddywack (1994). He made his feature film debut playing talent agent Fintan O’Donnell in Hear My Song (1991).
Nesbitt got his breakthrough television role playing Adam Williams in the romantic comedy-drama Cold Feet (1998–2003), which won him a British Comedy Award, a Television and Radio Industries Club Award, and a National Television Award. His first significant film role came when he appeared as pig farmer “Pig” Finn in Waking Ned (1998). With the rest of the starring cast, Nesbitt was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award. In Lucky Break (2001), he made his debut as a film lead, playing prisoner Jimmy Hands. The next year, he played Ivan Cooper in the television film Bloody Sunday, about the 1972 shootings in Derry. A departure from his previous “cheeky chappie” roles, the film was a turning point in his career. He won a British Independent Film Award and was nominated for the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor.
Nesbitt has also starred in Murphy’s Law (2001–2007) as undercover detective Tommy Murphy, in a role that was created for him by writer Colin Bateman. The role twice gained Nesbitt Best Actor nominations at the Irish Film & Television Awards (IFTA). In 2007, he starred in the dual role of Tom Jackman and Mr Hyde in Steven Moffat’s Jekyll, which earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination in 2008. Nesbitt has since appeared in several more dramatic roles; he starred alongside Liam Neeson in Five Minutes of Heaven (2009), and was one of three lead actors in the television miniseries Occupation (2009). He also starred in the movies Outcast (2010) and The Way (2010). He portrayed Bofur in Peter Jackson’s three-part film adaptation of The Hobbit (2012-2014).
Nesbitt is married to former actress Sonia Forbes-Adam, with whom he has two daughters. He is an advocate of numerous charities, and in 2010 he accepted the ceremonial position of Chancellor of the University of Ulster.
James Nesbitt was born on 15 January 1965 in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. His father, James “Jim” Nesbitt, was the headmaster of the primary school in Lisnamurrican, a hamlet near Broughshane, while his mother, May Nesbitt, was a civil servant. Jim and May already had three daughters—Margaret, Kathryn and Andrea. The family lived in the house adjoining the one-room school where Nesbitt was one of 32 pupils taught by Jim; the other pupils were all farmers’ children. Nesbitt grew up “completely” around women, and spent a lot of time alone, “kicking a ball against a wall”. He had ambitions to play football for Manchester United, or to become a teacher like his father. The family was Protestant, and Lisnamurrican was in “Paisley country. The Nesbitts spent Sunday evenings singing hymns around the piano. Jim marched in the Ballymena Young Conquerors flute band and Nesbitt joined him playing the flute. After the Drumcree conflicts, they stopped marching with the band. The family’s residence in the countryside left them largely unaffected by The Troubles, although Nesbitt, his father, and one of his sisters narrowly escaped a car bomb explosion outside Ballymena County Hall in the early 1970s.
When Nesbitt was 11 years old, the family moved to Coleraine, County Londonderry, where May worked for the Housing Executive. He completed his primary education at Blagh primary school, then moved on to Coleraine Academical Institution (CAI). In 1978, when he was 13, his parents took him to audition for the Riverside Theatre’s Christmas production of Oliver!. Nesbitt sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the audition and won the part of the Artful Dodger, who he played in his acting debut. He continued to act and sing with the Riverside until he was 16, and appeared at festivals and as an extra in Play For Today: The Cry (Christopher Menaul, 1984). He got his Equity card when the professional actor playing Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio broke his ankle two days before the performance, and Nesbitt stepped in to take his place. Acting had not initially appealed to him, but he “felt a light go on” after he saw The Winslow Boy (Anthony Asquith, 19When When he was 15, he got his first paid job as a bingo caller at Barry’s Amusements in Portrush. He was paid £1 per hour for the summer job and would also, on occasions, work as the brake man on the big dipper.
He left CAI at the age of 18 and began a degree in French at the University of Ulster, (formally Ulster Polytechnic) in Jordanstown. He stayed at university for a year before dropping out. In a 1999 interview, Nesbitt said, “I had the necessary in my head, but I just couldn’t be bothered. Being 18 is the worst age to expect people to learn things. There are other things to be bothered with, like girls and football.” He made the decision to quit when he was trying to write an overdue essay on existentialism in Les Mains Sales at 4 am one day. His father suggested that he should move to England if he wanted to continue acting, so Nesbitt enrolled at the Central School of Speech and Drama (CSSD), part of University of London. Nesbitt felt lost and misrepresented when he first arrived in London, on account of his Northern Irish background; “When I first came to drama school I was a Paddy the minute I walked in. And I remember going to drama school and them all saying to me, ‘Aww, yeah, Brits out’, and I was like ‘It’s a wee bit more complicated than that, you know. He graduated in 1987, at the age of 22.
Nesbitt is married to Sonia Forbes-Adam, the daughter of Reverend Sir Timothy Forbes Adam. The two met when Nesbitt went to the final call-back for Hamlet at Loughborough Hall in 1989, and they soon began dating. They split up for a year after the release of Hear My Song but reunited and married in 1994. They have since had two daughters, Peggy and Mary (both of whom appeared in the final two Hobbit movies as the daughters of Bard the Bowman, Nesbitt’s three sisters all became teachers. In 2002, a Sunday tabloid published an interview with a legal secretary who claimed to have had a two-month affair with Nesbitt. Shortly afterwards, another tabloid story revealed an affair with a prostitute, who claimed Nesbitt had boasted of liaisons with his Cold Feet co-star Kimberley Joseph, and Amanda Brunker, a former Miss Ireland. Commenting on the publication of details about his personal life, Nesbitt has said he feared that he would lose his marriage, though the exposing of his “dual life” allowed him to “take a long and considered look” at himself. In October 2013, Nesbitt announced that he and his wife Sonia Forbes-Adam would separate from each other after 19 years. The couple says that the filming of The Hobbit Trilogy has forced the couple to live separately for the past two years. The split came as a mutual decision and the couple says that infidelity was not one of the reasons for their decision.
Nesbitt is a patron of Wave, a charity set up to support those traumatised by the Troubles. The charity faced closure due to funding problems before Nesbitt encouraged celebrities and artists to become involved Since 2005, he has been a UNICEF UK ambassador, working with HIV and AIDS sufferers, and former child soldiers in Africa. He describes the role as “a privilege Writing in The Independent about his visit to Zambia in 2006, Nesbitt concluded that the children he met were owed a social and moral responsibility. The article was described in the Evening Standard as “moving and notably well-crafted Since 1999, he has been a patron of Action Cancer, a result of both his father’s affliction with prostate cancer and a storyline in the second series of Cold Feet, where his character suffered testicular cancer. He has been an honorary patron of Youth Lyric, one of Ireland’s largest theatre schools, since 2007.
He is a fan of football teams Coleraine and Manchester United. In 2003, Nesbitt made a donation of “thousands of pounds” to Coleraine, after the team came close to bankruptcy. He has called the team “a heartbeat” of Coleraine and encouraged more people to watch Irish League football Nesbitt was a vocal opponent of Malcolm Glazer’s 2005 takeover of Manchester United, though after the completion of that deal he acted in television advertisements promoting executive boxes at Old Trafford, for which he was criticised by fans. To counter the criticism, he pledged one half of his £10,000 fee to the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust and the other half to UNICEF.
Nesbitt is co-owner of National Hunt racehorse ‘Riverside Theatre’, named after the theatre of the University of Ulster in Coleraine, which won the Ryanair Chase at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival.
In March 2010, Nesbitt accepted the ceremonial position of Chancellor of the University of Ulster, succeeding former Lord Mayor of London Sir Richard Nichols. Gerry Mallon, the chair of the university ruling council, expected Nesbitt to “bring considerable energy, dynamism and commitment” to post. Following his official installation on 8 June 2010, Nesbitt said, “Rather than being just an informal role officiating at ceremonies, I think I can act as an ambassador. I have access to an awful lot of people and places because of my work. I hope to be a voice that can be heard, not just at the university, but also outside promoting the importance of the funding of education.