At 62 years old, Simon Russell Beale has this physical status:
Beale first came to the attention of theatre-goers in the late 1980s with a series of lauded comic performances, which were on occasion extremely camp, in such plays as The Man of Mode by George Etherege and Restoration by Edward Bond at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). He broadened his range in the early 1990s with moving performances as Konstantin in Chekhov's The Seagull, as Oswald in Ibsen's Ghosts, Ferdinand in The Duchess of Malfi and as Edgar in King Lear. At the first annual Ian Charleson Awards in January 1991, he received a special commendation for his 1990 performances of Konstantin in The Seagull, Thersites in Troilus and Cressida and Edward II in Edward II, all at the RSC.
It was at the RSC that he first worked with Sam Mendes, who directed him as Thersites in Troilus and Cressida, as Richard III and as Ariel in The Tempest, in the last of which he revealed a fine tenor voice. Mendes also directed him as Iago in Othello at the Royal National Theatre and in Mendes's farewell productions at the Donmar Warehouse in 2002, Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, in which Beale played the title role, and Twelfth Night, in which he played Malvolio. He won the 2003 Laurence Olivier Award for Uncle Vanya.
Since 1995, he has been a regular at the National Theatre, where his roles have included Mosca in Ben Jonson's Volpone opposite Michael Gambon, George in Tom Stoppard's Jumpers and the lead in Humble Boy by Charlotte Jones, a part written specially for him. In 1997, he played the pivotal role of Kenneth Widmerpool in a television adaptation of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, for which he won the Best Actor award at the British Academy Television Awards in 1998. The following year, he was a key part of Trevor Nunn's ensemble, playing in Leonard Bernstein's Candide (Voltaire/Pangloss), Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Money and Maxim Gorky's Summerfolk at the National. In autumn 2006, he played Galileo in David Hare's adaption of Brecht's Life of Galileo and as Face in The Alchemist.
In 2000, he played Hamlet in a production directed by John Caird for the National Theatre, a role for which he was described by The Daily Telegraph as "portly [and] relatively long in the tooth". In 2005, Beale was directed by Deborah Warner as Cassius in Julius Caesar alongside Ralph Fiennes as Antony. That same year, he played the title role in Macbeth at the Almeida Theatre. In 2007, he reprised his 2005 Broadway role as King Arthur in the Monty Python musical Spamalot at the Palace Theatre, London.
From December 2007 to March 2008, he played Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre and from February to July 2008, he played Andrew Undershaft in Hytner's production of Shaw's Major Barbara; he then appeared in Harold Pinter's A Slight Ache and Landscape.
In 2008, he made his debut as a television presenter, fronting the BBC series Sacred Music with Harry Christophers and The Sixteen. Various specials and a second series have since been produced; the most recent episode (Monteverdi in Mantua: The Genius of the Vespers) was broadcast in 2015. In spring 2009, Beale and Sam Mendes collaborated on The Winter's Tale and The Cherry Orchard, in which Beale played Leontes and Lopakhin respectively, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, later transferring to the Old Vic Theatre.
From 2009 to 2010, he played George Smiley in the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of all the John le Carré novels in which Smiley featured. These were broadcast in nineteen 90-minute or 60-minute full cast radio plays. From March to June 2010, he played Sir Harcourt Courtly in London Assurance, again at the National. In August 2010, he appeared in the first West End revival of Deathtrap by Ira Levin. In March 2011, he made his debut with The Royal Ballet in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as the Duchess. In October 2011, he returned to the National to star as Joseph Stalin in the premiere of Collaborators, for which he won Best Actor at the 2012 Evening Standard Awards.
In 2010–11, Beale played the Coalition Home Secretary William Towers in the two final series of BBC One's spy drama, Spooks. He played the title role in Timon of Athens at the National Theatre from July to October 2012. The production was broadcast to cinemas around the world (as was Collaborators earlier) on 1 November 2012 through the National Theatre Live programme. He starred in a revival of Peter Nichols' Privates on Parade as part of Michael Grandage's new West End season at the Noël Coward Theatre from December 2012 to March 2013.
In 2013, he won the British Academy Television Award (BAFTA) for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Falstaff in the BBC's The Hollow Crown series of TV films about Shakespeare's historical dramas Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V. That same year he appeared in National Theatre Live: 50 Years On Stage (2013).
Beale appeared alongside John Simm in Harold Pinter's The Hothouse at the Trafalgar Studios from May to August 2013, directed by Jamie Lloyd. From January 2014, he played the title role in King Lear at the National Theatre, directed once again by Sam Mendes. Also from 2014 to 2016 he starred as a main cast member in Showtime's Penny Dreadful, in which he played an eccentric Egyptologist. In 2014, Beale was appointed the Cameron Mackintosh Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Oxford University, based at St Catherine's College.
From May to July 2015, he starred in Temple, a new play at the Donmar Warehouse about the 2011 United Kingdom anti-austerity protests. In September and October 2015, he played Samuel Foote in Mr Foote's Other Leg at the Hampstead Theatre. It transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket from October 2015 to January 2016.
In November 2016, Beale returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, to play Prospero in The Tempest. In June 2017, it transferred to the Barbican Centre in London. In July 2018, Beale returned to the National, starring opposite Ben Miles and Adam Godley in The Lehman Trilogy, again directed by Mendes. It transferred to the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End in May 2019. Beale starred in the title role of Richard II at the Almeida Theatre from December 2018 to February 2019.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Beale contributed as a guest speaker to The Show Must Go Online's performance of Timon of Athens.
In the summer of 2021, Beale played JS Bach in the world première of Nina Raine's Bach and Sons, directed by frequent collaborator Nicholas Hytner at his company's Bridge Theatre in London.
During this time he re-rehearsed for the post-COVID return in late September of the Broadway transfer of the National Theatre production of The Lehman Trilogy whose run had been halted on 12 March 2020 by the pandemic. Beale reprised his role (along with Adam Godley) but, due to stage commitments in London for the RSC in the third part of the Wolf Hall trilogy, Ben Miles was replaced by Adrian Lester. Beale won a Tony Award for The Lehman Trilogy.
- 2003 – Appointed a CBE in the 2003 Birthday Honours
- 2005 – Hon DLitt (Warwick)
- 2010 – Honorary Bencher of Middle Temple
- 2010 – Hon DUniv (Open University)
- 2011 – Honorary Freedom of the City of London for services to drama
- 2015 – Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre, St. Catherine's College, Oxford
- 2018 – Premio Shakespeare Award
- 2019 – Made a Knight Bachelor in the 2019 Birthday Honours for services to drama