Ben Daniels (birth name: David Trevor Daniels) was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England, UK on 10 June 1964.. His father was an engineer at Rolls-Royce and later a grocer, while his mother owned a children’s clothes shop. He has two sisters, both older and younger. He has recalled: “I was quite a shy child, but quite disruptive as well. I was very sneaky and underhanded.”
According to Daniels, drama lessons at O-levels gave him a voice, and when he attended sixth form studies at Stratford College between 1980 and 1982, doing A-levels in theatre studies and English literature, he attended Royal Shakespeare Company performances. A fellow student recalled that Daniels, whom he knew as Dave, “was very serious about his work, and struck me as incredibly intelligent… you got the sense his mind was working; the cogs were ticking over”. Daniels subsequently trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) for three years.
One of Daniels’ earliest roles was as Justin Hayward, the lead singer of the Moody Blues, as a teenager in two of the band’s music videos, “Your Wildest Dreams” (1986) and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” (1988). He has taken on parts in many British television dramas, such as Robin in The Lost Language of Cranes (1991), the Biblical character Jonathan in the 1997 Emmy-nominated TV film David, the philandering Finn Bevan in Cutting It (2002–2005), and Nicholas Brocklehurst in the BBC television miniseries The State Within (2006). The latter role was notable for an unexpected same-sex kiss between Daniels’ character and another person. Other notable television work includes four seasons of the acclaimed ITV drama, “Law & Order: UK” (2009-2011), as senior crown prosecutor “James Steel”.
In films, Daniels may be most recognisable to American audiences for appearing in the 1996 gay film Beautiful Thing. Daniels portrayed Tony, boyfriend of Sandra, the protagonist Jamie’s mother. In an independent film directed by Lavinia Currier titled Passion in the Desert (1997), Daniels played a French soldier named Augustin Robert. The film was nominated for a Golden Seashell award. Other feature films that Daniels has starred in are The Bridge (1992), I Want You (1998), Madeline (1998), and Doom (2005). He was offered roles in the 2000 releases The Patriot and Vertical Limit, but turned them down and stated that “the money was good, but it wasn’t for me.”
Daniels is also well-known in the theatre community with seeing acting on stage enjoyable because “it’s tough and keeps you on your toes as an actor,” taking roles in All’s Well That Ends Well and As You Like It (1999–2000), and played Mercutio in a 1994 TV adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Other theatre credits include Waiting for Godot (1994) and 900 Oneonta (1994), which earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Evening Standard Awards. He also acted in Martin Yesterday (1998), for which he was nominated as Best Actor in the Manchester Evening News Theatre Awards, Naked (1998), Tales From Hollywood (2001), Three Sisters (2003), Iphigenia at Aulis (2004), The God of Hell (2005), and The Wild Duck (2005–2006). In 2006, Daniels appeared in Thérèse Raquin as Laurent, for which a reviewer labelled his performance “riveting”.
Daniels won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Theatre Awards and the 25th Laurence Olivier Awards in 2001 for his performance in the Arthur Miller play, All My Sons. He was first nominated for the latter award earlier in his career, in 1991, for his performance as murderer Richard Loeb in the play Never the Sinner at the Playhouse Theatre. In 2008, Daniels fulfilled a lifetime ambition when he made his Broadway début, headlining as the Vicomte de Valmont in a revival of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The show opened on 1 May 2008. Daniels was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for his role.
Daniels is openly gay. He remarked: “Out? I’ve never been in.”He lives with actor Ian Gelder. They began seeing each other during a 1993 production of Joe Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane.Daniels was already sure of his sexuality in his teens, although he did not discuss the matter with his parents because they did not have a very close emotional relationship. He was “cautious about mentioning it when I left drama school, because AIDS was terrifying everyone and there was a huge homophobic backlash”. He decided to come out at the age of 24, while appearing in an all-star benefit performance of Martin Sherman’s Bent.
Daniels said in an interview: “Homophobia is still shockingly prevalent in film and TV. I know I’ve lost work because of being gay, and it is always an issue. Even on a serious BBC Two drama, there will be some suit in some office going, “Hmmm, isn’t he a poof?” I don’t consider myself politically gay, but whenever I catch a whiff of that now, I’m on it like a ton of bricks.” In 2007, Daniels was ranked number 79 in the annual Pink List of 100 influential gay and lesbian people in Britain published by The Independent on Sunday,down from number 47 in 2006.
In his spare time, he is an amateur painter and practitioner of Ashtanga yoga.
- [on what show he would have liked to guest star in] Six Feet Under (2001) if it was still on, that was the best TV program of all time, or Deadwood (2004) or “Carnivale” (2003), any of those HBO shows I just love, I think they are great.
- The older I get, the more of a recluse I turn into. I love the social aspect of my work. It’s like a commune and gets very intense and very sociable. Then when I am not working, I shut myself away, so I can see myself living up a mountain.
- I saw David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980) when I was 15. I was completely bowled over. I found it so beautiful, strange and mesmerizing that I went back to the cinema every night for a week to see it.
- [on playing troubled characters] I don’t think of myself as being troubled as a human being, but I guess I’m quite extreme, quite big and quite loud, and maybe people pick up on that when they cast me. I’m certainly not the quiet reflective type.
- I’m a great candidate for why arts funding shouldn’t be cut, because I had no experience other than what was at school, I’m from a working-class town, there were no theaters, and the cinema closed when I was a kid.Anything that gave me a voice or a way to express myself I went running headlong toward.