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Since Theo James got his first big acting break in Downton Abbey just over a decade ago, his on-screen career has gone from strength-to-strength, with a string of varied roles in big blockbuster films, period dramas, indie movies and epic TV series.
Born Theodore Peter James Kinnaird Taptiklis in High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire (his paternal grandfather was Greek, and the actor later adopted Theo James as his stage name), the 37-year-old thespian earned a degree in philosophy from the University of Nottingham, where he took part in student plays and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.
He then trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where he met his now-wife, fellow actress - and Sanditon co-star - Ruth Kearney. The pair moved to Los Angeles for James’ first major Hollywood role in the Underworld films, and the couple now live between London and LA with their young daughter.
Theo James is next set to star in HBO's The White Lotus season 2 - coming soon to Sky Atlantic and NOW - in which he plays Ethan's college roommate Cameron Babcock, a businessman from a wealthy family, who is on holiday with his wife Daphne.
Here, we round up Theo James’ top five movies and TV shows, rating his best roles you need to watch - from the aforementioned Underworld: Awakening, to the Divergent film franchise, the period dramas Sanditon and Downton Abbey, and The Time Traveler's Wife.
1. The Time Traveler’s Wife - Henry DeTamble
Theo James plays the leading male role in the 2022 HBO adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's debut bestselling novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, which was previously adapted into a film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana.
James stars as Henry DeTamble, a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to travel forwards and backwards in time unpredictably, alongside Game of Thrones actress Rose Leslie as Henry's wife, Clare Abshire.
Fans of the book are already calling this TV adaptation better than the movie version, with one commenting on the trailer: "Theo and Rose are killing it. This will be the adaptation the book deserves" while another wrote: "I'm really excited to see Rose and Theo take on the roles of Clare and Henry… Their American accents are so on point."
Going by footage from the trailer, Gizmodo's TV and film critic said the TV series "already looks better than the movie" while “the images [of Theo James] in the trailer, of Henry disappearing at a sink or meeting his wife as a young child, are complex and interesting".
The six-part series has been adapted by Steven Moffat, the British writer and producer of Doctor Who and Sherlock.
Stream The Time Traveler's Wife on Sky Atlantic and NOW.
2. Divergent - Tobias ‘Four’ Eaton
Theo James’ breakthrough role was in The Divergent Series sci-fi feature film trilogy, based on Veronica Roth’s bestselling young adult (YA) novels of the same name, which were compared to the wildly successful The Hunger Games novels following their release.
James portrayed the character of Tobias ‘Four’ Eaton in all three films, namely Divergent (2014), Insurgent (2015) and Allegiant (2016). The final installment was set to be split into two parts, but the second part was never made, so the third movie ended on a cliffhanger.
The movies were based in a post-apocalyptic world, where residents were divided into factions based on personality types. James' character, Four, was the leading male role in the film, and played the love interest of Shailene Woodley's character, Tris Prior.
The books' author Veronica Roth praised James’ casting at the time, saying in an interview: "I was sure within seconds: this was 'Four', no question. Theo is able to capture Four's authority and strength, as well as his depth and sensitivity."
James scooped four Teen Choice Awards for his role as Four, including the Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Action Star, beating Tom Cruise and Mark Wahlberg to the nod.
Stream Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant on Netflix, Prime Video, and Sky Cinema with NOW.
3. Sanditon - Sidney Parker
Not shy to take roles across a variety of genres, James starred in the first season of period drama Sanditon, which aired on ITV in 2019. He played Sidney Parker, the main love interest to the show’s young heroine, Charlotte Heywood (played by Rose Williams), who was also the aloof brother to Tom Parker (played by Kris Marshall).
One TV fan praised James' performance on Rotten Tomatoes, writing: “Special mention to Theo [James] who transcends the screen in his interpretation of Sidney, a complex character to whom he brings an incredible charisma. This interpretation gives a remarkable intensity to the series."
However, in a huge blow to fans (including a fan group called the Sanditon Sisterhood, who campaigned to bring the show back for a second series), James didn’t return to the Sanditon season 2 cast. In a statement confirming his exit from the show, James explained:
“Although I relished playing Sidney, for me, I’ve always maintained that his journey concluded as I wanted it to. The broken fairy-tale-like ending between Charlotte and Sidney is different, unique and so interesting to me and I wish the cast and crew of Sanditon every success with future series.”
The end of the first season saw Sidney get engaged to the very rich Eliza Campion in order to save Sanditon from financial ruin - with Campion actually being played by James’ real-life wife, Ruth Kearney.
The story continued for season 2, without James, with Miss Heywood forging a path of independence after losing Sidney.
Sanditon Seasons 1-2 are available to stream now on ITV Hub and BritBox UK.
4. Underworld: Awakening and Underworld: Blood Wars - David
In 2012, James appeared in the action horror film Underworld: Awakening, the fourth installment in the Underworld franchise that follows characters who are caught up in a war between vampires and werewolves.
Starring alongside the film's lead Kate Beckinsale, who played Selene, James portrayed a young vampire named David. He reprised the role in the film's 2016 follow-up, Underworld: Blood Wars, playing one of Selene’s few allies in the film.
In a interview James did at the time to promote the launch of Blood Wars, he ruled out returning for a rumoured sixth film, explaining to ScreenRant:
"I think in all honesty Dave’s story has run its course, you know? Because he - I think the idea of this film was to introduce this plethora of new characters, and then for them to be able to take it to its next step in the story."
And in a 2020 interview with the Evening Standard to promote his latest theatre role in the West End, he revealed that he's no longer interested in working in big Hollywood movies like the Underworld and Divergent franchises.
Underworld: Awakening is available to stream on Netflix.
Underworld: Blood Wars is available to buy or rent on Prime Video.
5. Downton Abbey - Kemal Pamuk
Just a few years after finishing drama school, James landed a part in ITV’s landmark period drama series, Downton Abbey, in what was only his second professional acting job. He appeared in season 1 of the show - which aired in 2010 - playing the role of Turkish diplomat Kemal Pamuk.
His character will go down in history as the man who seduced Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) in her bed - but who didn’t make it out alive, his demise becoming a secret that spanned over several subsequent series.
It might have only been a minor part in just one episode, but it’s arguably one of his most famous roles as it’s such a beloved show. After all, millions of viewers have watched Downton Abbey all around the world. In an interesting plot twist, Rose Leslie - who he stars alongside in The Time Traveler’s Wife - appeared in season 1 of Downton Abbey too.
In an interview with That Shelf about his short-lived role on the show, he was asked whether he wished his character lasted longer than it did. He responded: “No, actually, but I did very briefly wish it. That was my second job, and they sent me this script and the character dies in the script.
“You know, I was a jobbing actor. I took a job. In a way at the time it didn’t change my life at all because that was a show that got big later. I did the job. I had to pretend I knew how to horse ride, which I couldn’t. (laughs) Then I left."
Stream Downton Abbey Seasons 1-6 on Netflix, BritBox and Peacock with NOW.
Best of the rest: Theo James’ movies and TV shows
The Inbetweeners Movie - James (2011)
Golden Boy - Detective Walter William Clark Jr. (2013)
London Fields - Guy Clinch (2018)
The Benefactor - Luke (2015)
War on Everyone - Lord James Mangan (2016)
The Secret Scripture - Father Gaunt (2016)
Archive - George Almore (2020)
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Ray (2010)
How It Ends - Will Younger (2018)
Lying and Stealing - Ivan (2019)
Zoe - Ash (2018)
The Witcher - Young Vesemir (voice) (2019)
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