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Actor Affinity: Ian McShane

Some people complain about European actors portraying American heroes. Yet no one seems the least bit perturbed that Ian McShane is set to embody the classic character Blackbeard in this summer’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Good for those naysayers too, as such a misgiving would be silly. McShane, a veteran actor from the United Kingdom, is skilled in stage, voiceover, and television acting. Although his career spans nearly fifty years, he is one of those performers who is known more by his face or his characters than as a big name star in his own right.

To most fans who do know his work, McShane is better recognized as Al Swearengen, the bar and brothel owner, pimp, and frequent murderer on Deadwood. His character, a beloved antagonist, was the primary focus of the series, despite the producers splitting the time with the romantic exploits of Timothy Olyphant’s good sheriff Seth Bullock. As the stars of the show, including Olyphant, began to take off in film careers, season 4 of the beloved series was cancelled, leaving no closer after the cliffhangers of the season 3 finale. David Milch, the creator, simply moved on to other projects. 

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McShane moved to network television starring in the short-lived television series Kings. The pilot was notoriously expensive, notably costing $4 million for the two-hour premiere. Unfortunately the show did not reign with audiences and was relegated to a Saturday night timeslot to die a slow death. McShane moved onto the mini-series The Pillars of the Earth. But more unusual to me, and the average person used to McShane’s penchant for playing the menace, is that he did voice work for multiple animated pictures.

His gravelly growl is useful for narrative. He used that timber to narrate a poem for Grace Jones’ album, open the scenes of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and even make a cameo on SpongeBob SquarePants. He does his best work as the bad boy, however, and so it is no surprise he played Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda. And the latest “Pirates" movie won’t be the only time he has played a swashbuckler. McShane played Captain Hook in Shrek the Third.

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Although he has taken on many kid-friendly projects lately, the steely Brit is getting better with age. His look and sound are all masculine making him one sexy mature man. Oddly enough, he played a homosexual character in 44 Inch Chest, a British revenge picture by the makers of Sexy Beast, a UK hit. McShane has had his highs and lows, coming from the English stage to American television and now a budding reemergence onto the domestic big screen. Watch him make himself known to the masses in Pirates of the Caribbean this Friday.

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