Hollywood, Stage and TV Actor

Acclaimed Ammanford-born actor John Rhys-Davies is probably the best-known person world wide to have come from Ammanford due to his roles in some of cinema's best-selling movies of all time. He is best known to film audiences for his roles in the blockbuster 1980s Indiana Jones films, and the Lord of the Rings series. In the Indiana Jones films he worked alongside Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. In 2001 he re-entered cinemas worldwide as Gimli the Dwarf in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy is the highest grossing motion picture trilogy worldwide of all time, beating such other film franchises as the original Star Wars trilogy and The Godfather. The film trilogy grossed a total of $3 billion dollars. The three films together were nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, of which they won 17, a record for any movie trilogy.

He is (formerly) the star of the television time-travelling series Sliders as Professor Maximillian P. Arturo, and has also had leading roles in Victor, Victoria, The Living Daylights and King Solomon's Mine. He also had a recurring role in Star Trek: Voyager as Leonardo daVinci.

In 2001 he re-entered cinemas worldwide as Gimli the Dwarf in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. The role of Gimli involved Rhys-Davies having five hours of make-up each day. This was filmed in New Zealand and directed by Peter Jackson. The costume he wore when playing Gimli weighed more than 40 kilos and he needed two people to help him put it on. "The Fellowship of the Ring" which was released in 2001 was the first part of the Tolkein's trilogy, and it will be followed by "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King".

John Rhys Davies was born in Ammanford on 5th May 1944 and his parents, also from Ammanford, moved to Africa when he was a child, from where he was sent to school in Salisbury, England. In an interview given to a local newspaper in 2003 he said:

"My mother Phyllis was born in Coopers near Tycroes and my father Rhys was a local mechanical engineer from the area. I was born in Ammanford but when I was young we moved to Africa and I was educated in a private school in England. My childhood has influenced so much of my career because I have been fortunate enough to have experienced so many cultures. My parents moved back to Ammanford in the 1980s and I returned as often as possible." (South Wales Guardian, 30th April 2003.)

He became interested in classic literature at an early age and believes that this interest led to him deciding to be both an actor and a writer. At the age of fifteen he played his first Shakespearian role and it was then that he truly realised where his destiny lay.

Theatre Career
On leaving school he attended the University of East Anglia in Norwich where he read English. Following graduation his path lead him to London where earned a scholarship to study acting at London's prestigious Academy of Dramatic Arts. Since finishing his studies he has become an experienced character actor who, to date, has starred in more than 100 films. Upon graduating, Rhys-Davies He then worked briefly as a schoolteacher before joining the Madder-Market Theatre in Norwich. The actor, who eventually advanced to the Royal Shakespeare Company, performed in over 100 plays. His theatrical credits include starring roles in Shakespeare's Othello, The Tempest, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Henry the Fourth, Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, and Moliere's The Misanthrope.

TV Career
Rhys-Davies was 28 when he made his television debut in 1972 as Laughing Spam Fritter in the BBC's Budgie, a comedy starring former British pop star Adam Faith as an amusing ne'er-do-well. In 1975, he joined John Hurt in the cast of the television show The Naked Civil Servant, which chronicled the rich life of Quentin Crisp. One year later, Rhys-Davies re-teamed with Hurt, as well as Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart, for the BBC's unforgettable three-part adaptation of Robert Graves' I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Titled I, Claudius, the television mini-series appeared on PBS's Masterpiece Theater and gave American audiences their first glimpse of the actor. He subsequently starred as Vasco Rodrigues in NBC's adaptation of James Clavell's Shogun, which told the adventures of an English sailor stranded in Japan during the early 17th century. Rhys-Davies' performance earned him both an Emmy nomination and the attention of director Steven Spielberg. His television credits include James Clavell's Shogun and Noble House, Great Expectations, War and Remembrance, Archaeology and The Untouchables. Rhys-Davies is also known as one of the live action characters in the game Wing Commander 3 and the voice of a recurring character in the animated series Gargoyles.

Film Career
In 1981, Steven Spielberg cast Rhys-Davies as the comic, fez-wearing Sallah in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first instalment of the Indiana Jones movies. The film was an instant success and Rhys-Davies' comedic skill made Sallah an audience favorite. He went on to film Victor/Victoria (1982) with Julie Andrews, James Garner, Robert Preston, Leslie Ann Warren, and former pro-football player Alex Karras.

In 1999, Rhys-Davies read for the minor character of Denethor in the second installment of Peter Jackson's highly anticipated three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Jackson offered him the role of the warrior dwarf Gimli, a major figure in all three pictures. As Gimli, Rhys-Davies is utterly unrecognizable: The part required that he wear heavy facial prosthetics and perform on his knees in order to portray the 4 foot 2 inch dwarf (the actor, himself, is over six feet tall). The three films – The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003) – were shot simultaneously over an 18-month period in New Zealand, after which Rhys-Davies was asked to return to the set and record the voice of Treebeard, a computer-generated character in the second picture.

In his non-professional life he is an avid collector of vintage cars and a serious commercial investor. In the '80s, he invested heavily with his earnings and purchased a company that conducts genetic engineering feasibility studies. Due to work commitments he divides his time between Los Angeles and the Isle of Man.

Rhys-Davies is a member of the UK Conservative Party, an organisation with little, if any, support in coal-mining Ammanford, overwhelmingly a Labour voting town for most of the twentieth century. As a university student in the 1960s, he was a radical leftist, but he started to change his views when he went to heckle a young member of parliament from nearby Grantham in Lincolnshire: future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Rhys-Davies says that "she shot down the first two hecklers in such brilliant fashion that I decided I ought for once to shut up and listen." He is also a supporter of The Planetary Society.

In America, also, Rhys Davies has aligned himself with the right and in Hollywood, which strongly identifies with the Democratic Party, he is conspicuous in his support for the Republicans. He is an open and vociferous supporter of the George W. Bush presidency, including the invasion of Iraq. In contrast, the disturbing habit of the USA to invade any country that incurs its displeasure, or has large oil reserves, is welcomed by him. His views on Muslim population growth have earned him accusations of racism from some quarters. In an interview published in the American neo-conservative journal National Review on March 5th, 2004, he expressed his belief that the increasing Muslim birth rate "may eventually swamp or supplant the indigenous cultures of Europe ... There is a demographic catastrophe happening in Europe that nobody wants to talk about". The journey from radical left to the radical right is one that needn't take long to accomplish and Rhys Davies is one of a long list of former student radicals who've managed the transition pretty smoothly.

Source: Much of the above is from the All Movie Guide, and the BBC web site: l

Also, the National Review on:

A brief biography of Ammanford's other acting luminary, Hywel Bennett, can be found in the 'People' section of this website, or click HERE.

Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010