"One of the things that The Full Monty did came from that scene where we took our clothes off at the end," says British actor Tom Wilkinson of his breakthrough role. "None of us really wanted to do that. It was this thing that was there, that we knew we had to do... to take all your clothes off and stand in front of 300 women from Sheffield was daunting.
"Somehow the accomplishment of that scene made me wonder why I should ever worry about looking stupid or being bad about anything to do with acting again."
Tom is a tall character actor who has segued from the stage to the screen rather late in life, but since he took the role as a steel worker-turned-male stripper in The Full Monty his career has gone from strength to strength. The actor stood out as Mel Gibson's nemesis in 2000's The Patriot and earned himself an Oscar nomination for In The Bedroom in 2002.
Born in Leeds, England, in 1948, Thomas Wilkinson Junior spent five of his childhood years living in Canada. Despite returning to England with his family, his sojourn in North America instilled in him a knowledge of US pop culture and a desire to return one day.
Graduating from Kent University at Canterbury with a degree in English and American Studies, Tom enrolled in London's prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. From there he landed his first role with a professional theatre company in Camden, and by the Eighties the actor was a regular with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was singled out, in particular, for his work in a 1981 RSC production of Hamlet, and for his starring turn as the poet TS Eliot in the company's Tom And Viv.
In the mid Eighties, Tom made his first forays into television work. He was perfectly cast as the butcher"s son from Leeds with aspirations to become prime minister in a 1987 adaptation of Jeffrey Archer's First Among Equals. A year later, he made it onto American TV screens for the first time as Ernest Simpson, the husband who loses his wife Wallis to the future Duke of Windsor, in the CBS movie The Woman He Loved. The actor also turned up as the former husband of Helen Mirren in 1990's internationally acclaimed British detective series Prime Suspect.
Major film roles continued to elude him, however, until director Ang Lee cast Tom as Mr Dashwood in her 1995 adaptation of Sense And Sensibility. Two years later came The Full Monty for which he received a BAFTA and since then the actor's dance card has been fully booked.
By 1998, Tom was practically defining the oft-bandied term "versatile actor". First he cropped up as Jackie Chan's antagonist in the hit action flick Rush Hour. Then he landed a rare romantic lead opposite Minnie Driver in The Governess and went on to deliver a hilarious turn as a moneylender-turned-theatre producer in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In love. And as if to crown it all Tom married his long-time sweetheart, fellow actress Diane Castle the same year. The couple have two daughters.
In The Bedroom marked Tom's arrival on the celebrity A list. But, having had to wait so long for all the attention, he remains humble. "I don't know exactly how or if In The Bedroom will change things for me, and I am the last person to ask," he says. "I try to keep it to this: I generally read the scripts as they come in, and if I commit to it, I'll do the best job I possibly can, and when I finish I'll go home. I don't quite know what to say about the rest of it."