7 Actors Who Got Their Start At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe | Playbill

Playbill Goes Fringe 7 Actors Who Got Their Start At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The festival was the training grounds of Hugh Laurie, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and more.

Maggie Smith

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with over 3,000 shows. This year, Playbill will be going to Edinburgh in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along with us this spring and summer as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!

Every August, theatre artists and lovers travel to Scotland for Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. Offering over 3,000 productions at more than 300 venues, the festival has launched smash hit international shows like Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ SIX: The Musical and played a part in building the careers of many actors since it began in 1947.

READ: From Fleabag to Six: 7 Shows Launched by Edinburgh Fringe

Read below to learn about 7 famous actors who performed at Edinburgh Fringe before they became household names. It's another reason to attend the Fringe, you never know when you'll discover the next world superstar! 

Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman in Antony and Cleopatra

1. Alan Rickman

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the late Alan Rickman made his Edinburgh debut at the age of 30 in not one, but two, shows: Measure for Measure and The Devil is an Ass. Though known to many for his film roles, he became a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s. Starring as Vicomte de Valmont in RSC’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 1985, he transferred with the production to the West End and then to Broadway, for which he earned a Tony nomination. He returned to the Broadway stage in 2002 for Private Lives (earning him a second nomination), and again in 2011 for Seminar.

Emma Thompson Shutterstock

2. Emma Thompson

Another Cambridge University alumna, Emma Thompson was a part of the well-known Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club. She performed at Fringe in 1981 in the Footlights show The Cellar Tapes at St Mary Street Hall. It won the festival’s inaugural Perrier Comedy Award, since renamed the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and considered among the most prestigious of comedy prizes in the United Kingdom. Since then, Thompson has gone on to win two Oscars, three BAFTAs, two Golden Globes, and an Emmy.

Rachel Weisz

3. Rachel Weisz

While attending Cambridge University, English actor Rachel Weisz co-founded a student drama group with Sasha Hails called Talking Heads. Weisz and Hails created a two-hander improv show called Slight Possession, which they took to Fringe in 1991, for which Weisz received a Guardian Youth Drama Award. The show went on to play Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre, where an agent spotted Weisz and launched her career. Since then, she has starred on stage in the West End, including as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, which earned an Olivier Award. In New York, Weisz made her Broadway debut in Betrayal in 2013.

Judi Dench and Olivia Colman

4. Judi Dench

In 1959, two years after making her first professional stage appearance, Judi Dench performed at Edinburgh Fringe in The Double Dealer with Maggie Smith, which subsequently played The Old Vic. Becoming an established actor in the years following, Dench has since enjoyed a long career onstage and on-screen. She won a Tony Award in 1999 for performing in Amy's View, and has also won seven Olivier Awards and an Academy Award.

Maggie Smith

5. Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith began her acting career at the age of 17 in 1952 and made her Broadway debut four years later in the revue New Faces of ’56 at Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Three years after that, she starred with Judi Dench in The Double Dealer at Edinburgh Fringe and in its subsequent run at The Old Vic. In the show’s audience at The Old Vic one night was Laurence Olivier, who took notice of Smith and invited her to join his National Theatre Company, which formed at The Old Vic in 1962. Smith established herself throughout the 1960s at the Royal National Theatre. In addition to performing often in the West End and earning seven Olivier nominations, she has returned to Broadway three times to perform in Private Lives in 1975, Night and Day in 1980, and Lettice and Lovage in 1990. Smith won Best Actress in a Play for Lettice and Lovage.

Jude Law

6. Jude Law

While a teenager, Jude Law performed at Edinburgh Fringe in National Youth Music Theatre’s world premiere of The Ragged Child in 1986. Since his youth, Law has continued to perform onstage—in addition to his film and television work. He earned Olivier nominations for his performances in the 1994 production of Les Parents Terribles, as well as the 2010 Donmar production of Hamlet and Anna Christie in 2012. Hamlet transferred to Broadway’s Broadhurst Theatre, earning Law his second Tony nomination. He is also a Tony nominee for Indiscretions in 1995.

Hugh Laurie Denis Makarenko / Shutterstock

7. Hugh Laurie

Did you know that Laurie, best known in the States for playing the cantankerous genius Gregory House on the medical drama House, got his start on the Fringe as a comedian? Alongside his longtime collaborator Stephen Fry and the aforementioned Emma Thompson, he was a member of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club. Forty years later, he returned to the Fringe to receive an outstanding achievement award. In celebration, he participated in a one-night-only memory session; the 2019 recording can be viewed here.

READ: 10 Comedians Who Got Their Start At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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