Learn more about Ben Whishaw's career ahead of 'Bluets' at the Royal Court

The James Bond and Paddington actor is co-starring in this new adaptation of Maggie Nelson's book Bluets with Emma D'Arcy and Kayla Meikle.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

The acclaimed screen and stage actor Ben Whishaw is back in town, starring in the premiere of Margaret Perry’s Bluets at the Royal Court. The play is an adaptation of Maggie Nelson’s book and follows someone obsessed with the colour blue – taking in artists like Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday as they navigate a devastating heartbreak.

Whishaw is joined in Bluets by House of the Dragon star Emma D’Arcy and The Girl Before’s Kayla Meikle in this intriguing new production directed by the great Katie Mitchell (Anatomy of a Suicide).

It’s an exciting return to the London stage for Whishaw, who has constantly balanced Hollywood movies and fantastic TV work with plays. Learn all about his varied career ahead of your trip to Bluets.

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Ben Whishaw’s beginnings

Whishaw was born in 1980 in Clifton, Bedfordshire. He had an interest in drama from an early age, becoming a member of the local Bancroft Players Youth Theatre. He then became involved with the Big Spirit Youth Theatre, and the company took a show to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1995.

After finishing at his local community college, Whishaw applied to the prestigious drama school Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and won a place, graduating in 2003.

Ben Whishaw on stage

Whishaw had a pretty extraordinary start to his career. Right after drama school, he was cast in the supporting role of Brother Jasper in the National Theatre’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials.

Trevor Nunn then cast him in the lead role of his 2004 Old Vic production of Hamlet, capitalising on Whishaw’s youthful appearance to create a striking interpretation of the role. Whishaw was highly praised, and won an Olivier nomination for his work.

He next chose a challenging, in-yer-face contemporary play, Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur, at the Menier Chocolate Factory. It sharply divided critics due to its relentless violence, but showed that Whishaw was interested in exploring a wide range of work.

In 2006, Whishaw returned to the National to play Konstantin in Chekhov’s The Seagull, and then the following year he was back to Ridley with Leaves of Glass at the Soho Theatre. In 2009 he starred in the provocatively named Cock at the Royal Court, alongside Andrew Scott, Katherine Parkinson, and Paul Jesson, playing a gay man who becomes confused about his sexual identity.

In 2010 Whishaw made his New York debut, starring in the Off-Broadway transfer of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s new play The Pride. His cast at the Lucille Lortel Theatre featured Andrea Riseborough and Hugh Dancy, directed by Joe Mantello.

Whishaw co-starred with Judi Dench in another premiere in 2013, in the West End. John Logan’s play Peter and Alice, directed by Michael Grandage, was about the meeting between Alice Liddell (the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) and Peter Llewelyn Davies (likewise for JM Barrie’s Peter Pan). The show was nominated for an Olivier Award.

Later that year, Whishaw starred in a West End revival of Jez Butterworth’s Soho gangster play Mojo, alongside Daniel Mays, Rupert Grint, Colin Morgan, Brendan Coyle, and Tom Rhys Harries. Whishaw played the mentally unstable Baby.

In 2015, Whishaw joined the cast of Bakkhai, Anne Carson’s version of Euripides’s hedonistic tragedy, directed by James Macdonald. Bertie Carvel co-starred in this experimental take on a great classical work.

Whishaw made his Broadway debut the following year, playing John Proctor in Arthur Mitchell’s indelible allegory The Crucible. Ivo van Hove’s production divided opinion, as it made literal some of the witchcraft, but the cast – which also included Saoirse Ronan, Sophie Okonedo, and Ciaran Hinds – was praised. The production was nominated for four Tonys.

Whishaw was back in London again in 2018 for Nicholas Hytner’s thrilling promenade production of Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre. He played Brutus, sparring with Michelle Fairley and David Morrissey in this bold, immersive Shakespeare staging.

Again choosing a very different project, in 2019 Whishaw joined the opera singer Renée Fleming for Carson’s musical version of Euripides’s Troy at The Shed in New York. Katie Mitchell directed Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, which merged the Greek myth with the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Whishaw will now reunite with Mitchell for Bluets at the Royal Court, co-starring with Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle. This beguiling meditation on the colour blue is another bold choice from the actor, and promises to be a fascinating theatrical event.

Julius Caesar - LT - 1200

Ben Whishaw on screen

Whishaw made his film debut in the 1999 war movie The Trench, about the Battle of the Somme. He later appeared in the Matthew Vaughn gangster film Layer Cake, in 2004, and he played The Rolling Stones’s Keith Richards in the 2005 film Stoned.

In 2006, Whishaw starred as the murderer with an unusual sense of smell in the period drama Perfume, based on the bestselling novel. He was part of the group cast for Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not There in 2007, alongside Cate Blanchett, Heath Ledger, and more.

Whishaw played the enviable but tortured aristocrat Lord Sebastian Flyte in the 2008 big-screen adaptation of the iconic Brideshead Revisited. The cast also featured Matthew Goode, Emma Thompson, Hayley Atwell, and Michael Gambon. Whishaw then played poet John Keats in Bright Star.

In 2012, Whishaw joined the James Bond franchise, playing gadget specialist Q in Skyfall. He has since reprised the role in Spectre and No Time to Die.

Whishaw also became the voice of Paddington Bear in the gorgeous movies Paddington (2014) and Paddington 2 (2017). A third movie, Paddington in Peru, is on the way.

He returned to period drama for The Danish Girl in 2015, and played a grown-up Michael Banks in the Emily Blunt-starring Mary Poppins Returns, in 2018. He also played Uriah Heep in The Personal History of David Copperfield in 2019.

Whishaw recently won acclaim for the 2023 romantic film Passages (which has a rather similar premise to Cock), and he stars as Russian dissident Eduard Limonov in the upcoming Limonov: The Ballad.

On TV, Whishaw made his start in 2000 in the series Other People’s Children – an adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s novel. He appeared in the Channel 4 sitcom Nathan Barley, and in Peter Moffat’s legal drama Criminal Justice.

Whishaw then co-starred with Dominic West and Romola Garai in The Hour, an acclaimed BBC drama about a current affairs TV show in the 1950s (plus a feverish conspiracy subplot). Loyal fans were furious when it was cancelled after two seasons.

In 2012, Whishaw played Richard II in The Hollow Crown, the BBC’s series based on Shakespeare’s history plays. Whishaw won a BAFTA for Leading Actor.

Whishaw starred in another BBC effort, the serial London Spy, in 2015, which featured a love affair and revelations concerning the Secret Service. It was based on the real-life death of MI6 agent Gareth Williams.

Another true story inspired A Very English Scandal, Russell T Davies’s 2018 dramatisation of politician Jeremy Thorpe’s affair with – and attempted conspiracy to murder – Norman Josiffe. Whishaw played Norman, opposite Hugh Grant as Thorpe. Whishaw won a BAFTA, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy Award.

Whishaw had a role in the fourth season of the anthology drama Fargo, inspired by the Coen Brothers film of the same name. Most recently he starred as junior doctor Adam in This Is Going to Hurt, the powerful BBC dramatisation of Adam Kay’s bestselling book about the mental health pressures on NHS workers. Whishaw won another BAFTA for his lead role.

Don’t miss your chance to see this garlanded actor on stage when he stars in Bluets. Book Bluets tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Whishaw with his co-stars in Bluets. (Photo courtesy of production), and Julius Caesar. (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

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