The word ‘versatile’ really doesn’t begin to describe the multi-faceted career of actor, singer, writer and director Clarke Peters. He penned and performed in the multi awardwinning musical Five Guys Named Moe which ran in London’s West End for five years and transferred to Broadway; starred in David Simon’s The Wire, Treme and most recently Show Me A Hero for HBO and has played everyone from Sky Masterson in Guys n Dolls, to Othello in the Sheffield Crucible production and Nelson Mandela in Channel 4’s Endgame.
In the New Year, this enormously gifted artist will be dominating our screens once again with a leading role in ITV Studios’ new series Jericho. He will also be seen in the British/French production of Sky Atlantic’s The Tunnel and Underground for WGN America. Clarke Peters can currently be seen in BBC2’s London Spy with Ben Wishaw and Charlotte Rampling and the Netflix production of Jessica Jones, based on the Marvel Alias Comics series published on Marvel’s MAX imprint with Krysten Ritter and David Tennant.
With a career spanning more than 4 decades, Clarke Peters’ works seamlessly across theatre, film and TV.
Theatre credits include Othello at the Sheffield Crucible, Race at the Hampstead Theatre, King Lear with the New Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park in New York, Trevor Nunn’s critically acclaimed 2006 production of Porgy and Bess, the 1999 production of The Iceman Cometh alongside Kevin Spacey and Paul Giamatti, Chicago, the National Theatre’s production of Guys n Dolls, Five Guys Named Moe, The Amen Corner, Blues in The Night, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Unforgettable,
Driving Miss Daisy with Wendy Hiller and in January 2016 he will return to New York to star in Marco Ramirez’ The Royale at The Lincoln Canter.
With an established and critically acclaimed career in the theatre it was the role of Lester Freamon in The Wire that catapulted him into the mainstream, introducing him to a whole new fan base in the process. Premiering as a cleverly told yarn about a putupon Baltimore police unit chasing a drug kingpin, The Wire developed into a powerful examination of municipal decay.
The Wire bowed out after five seasons and Clarke continued to be in great demand with roles in David Simon’s Treme, which ran for four seasons and follows the efforts of a group of musicians in a working class neighbourhood of New Orleans as they attempt to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina. Most recently he has worked with David Simon on Show Me A Hero about the rehousing programme in Yonkers circa 1985 – 1992.
He fulfilled a personal ambition in 2009 by playing Nelson Mandela in Endgame, the fascinating story of the groundbreaking secret talks that precipitated the end of apartheid in South Africa and in the same year teamed up with fellow Wire actor John Doman in Season 2 of the Glenn Close drama Damages. Signed to appear in just two episodes he was asked to stay for the rest of the season. With a wealth of TV credits he has recently been seen in the UK in Midsummer Murders and David Walliams’
Partners in Crime.
Clarke Peters has been making movies since he first stepped in front of the cameras for The Music Machine back in 1979. Since then, he’s starred in a host of critically acclaimed productions, alongside a veritable who’s who of acting talent – Mona Lisa with Bob Hoskins, K-PAX with Kevin Spacey, Notting Hill starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, and the comedy smash Marley and Me with Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, Freedomland with Samuel L. Jackson, and Spike Lee’s Redhook Summer to mention a few.
Aside from his acting credits, Clarke is also an accomplished director and musical book writer, most notably for Five Guys Named Moe. A tribute to the jazz-bluesman Louis Jordan, the show was playing a limited five-week engagement in October 1990 at the tiny Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in London when it was spotted by impresario Cameron Mackintosh. Mackintosh was so impressed that he negotiated contracts on the spot, enabling the production to transfer to the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue in December of that year. The show went on to become a massive smash in London, on Broadway and throughout the world, still touring to this day.
Peters co-wrote the book for Unforgettable, a Nat King Cole revue that ran at the Edinburgh Festival, the Garrick Theatre and toured Japan and was nominated for an Olivier Award.
As a director he made his debut directing James Baldwin’s Blues for Mr Charlie at the Sheffield Crucible and King the Musical in London’s West End.
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Born in New York Clarke moved to Englewood, New Jersey with his family – hailing from artistic stock – his father was a successful commercial artist – he quickly developed a passion for music and the stage. Deciding to train as an apprentice, Clarke learned about the theatre from the inside out, from backstage to the footlights.
Even from an early age however, his ambitions far outstripped those of his peers. “If you wanted to get into the arts, and particularly theatre, you had to go to London,” reveals Peters. “However, my first stop was in fact Paris. I had gone to visit my brother, Tony, who had moved there in about ’68 I think”.
Instructed to bring Tony back for Thanksgiving, the then 19-year-old Clarke instead landed his first professional job in the Paris production of the Broadway musical, Hair.
It took him another two years before he finally made it to the UK in 1973. Clarke immediately joined The Majestics and within weeks, the group found themselves playing at no less a venue than The Royal Albert Hall alongside Shirley Bassey. The Majestics also made several TV appearances, The Stanley Baxter Show among them. “If you look back in the archives, you might find a little nappy-headed Clarke doing some doo-wops. I had a really tacky afro back then”, laughs Clarke.
It was in 1976 that Clarke began to really hit the big time, lending his distinctive vocal talents to such now legendary tracks as Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection and the disco classic, Boogie Nights.
This was also the year that Clarke vowed to get serious about his acting. Realising that he had to join Equity, he found that his own name, Peter Clarke, was already taken by another member, and so he took the surname of Brock Peters, “who played Crown in the film version of Porgy and Bess and who was one of the great African-American actors”, and established himself as Clarke Peters from thereon.
Around this time Clarke had the good fortune to meet the legendary impresario, Ned Sherrin. Sherrin took the young American under his wing. Parts in musical theatre came thick and fast, most notably in I Gotta Shoe and Bubbling Brown Sugar. To this day, Peters credits Sherrin with getting his career rolling, and he was honoured to be asked to perform Talking to My Pal Joey at the great man’s star-studded memorial service in February 2008.
Following that early success, Clarke would go on to become the first black actor in the UK to take on major stage roles written for white performers. He has twice played Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, notably in the National’s celebrated revival, and played Billy Flynn in Chicago, not only in London but in New York and Las Vegas. Clarke also starred in the West End production of Driving Miss Daisy alongside the legendary Wendy Hiller.
Clarke is justifiably proud about the pioneering role he has played in British theatre over the last 4 decades. “Because I was a black American,” he says, “that opened up more doors to people who were here. But my getting a job also helped to inspire the next generation of young black actors. And I know it did. I’m not being big-headed about this.”
Clarke Peters credits his faith with keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “In this world of turmoil and unrest, I find peaceful meditation a tool to neutralise the negative. ‘Meditation’ as taught by the Brahma Kumaris from Mount Abu in Rajasthan, India. This is my path. One of peace and respect”.