Jason Isaacs is a Jewish English actor best known for playing Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, Colonel William Tavington in The Patriot, and criminal Michael Caffee in the American television series Brotherhood.
Jason Isaacs was born in Liverpool, England to Jewish parents. His father was a jewelry-maker. Isaacs spent his earliest childhood years in an "insular" and "closely knit" Jewish community of Liverpudlians, of which his Eastern European great-grandparents were founder-members in the leafy Liverpool suburb, Childwall. The third of four sons, Isaacs attended a Jewish school, known then as King David High school and a cheder twice a week as a young adult. When he was 11, he moved with his family to Northwest London, attending The Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, in Elstree, Hertsmere, in Hertfordshire, where he was in the same year as film reviewer Mark Kermode. He describes the bullying and intolerance he observed during his childhood as "preparation" for portraying the "unattractive", villainous characters whom he has most often played.
Following his more traditionally inclined brothers, who became respectively a doctor, a lawyer and an accountant, Isaacs studied law at Bristol University (1982–85), but he became more actively involved in the drama society, eventually performing in over 30 plays and performing each summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, first with Bristol University and then, twice, with the National Student Theatre Company. After graduating from Bristol he went immediately to train at London's Central School of Speech and Drama (1985–88).
Isaacs' parents emigrated to Israel while he was attending university.
After completing his training as an actor, Isaacs almost immediately began appearing on the stage and on television; his film debut was in a minor role as a doctor in Mel Smith's The Tall Guy (1989). He was initially known as a TV actor in the UK, with starring roles in the ITV drama Capital City (1989) and the BBC drama Civvies (1992) and guest roles in series such as Taggart, Inspector Morse, and Highlander: The Series (1993). He also played Michael Ryan in ITV's adaptation of Martina Cole's novel Dangerous Lady, directed by Jack Woods and produced by Lavinia Warner in 1995.
On stage he portrayed the "emotionally waffling" gay Jewish office temp Louis Ironson in Tony Kushner's Pulitzer-Prize-winning Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes, at the Royal National Theatre, in its London première, performing the role in both parts, Part One: Millennium Approaches, in 1992, and Part Two: Perestroika, in 1993. When auditioning for that role, he told the producers, "Look, I play all these tough guys and thugs and strong, complex characters. In real life, I am a cringing, neurotic Jewish mess. Can't I for once play that on stage?"
His first Hollywood role was alongside Laurence Fishburne in the film Event Horizon in 1997. Subsequently, he appeared in the Bruce Willis blockbuster Armageddon (1998). After portraying a priest opposite Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes in Neil Jordan's acclaimed adaptation of Graham Greene's The End of the Affair (1999), Isaacs played the charismatic honourable priest opposite Kirstie Alley in the mini series The Last Don. He then shone as "memorable" villain, Colonel William Tavington, in Roland Emmerich's American Revolutionary War fictional film epic The Patriot (2000).
Isaacs has appeared in many other films, most notably as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter series of films (2002–2011). He has appeared in Dragonheart (1996), Event Horizon (1997), Black Hawk Down (2001), Jackie Chan's The Tuxedo (2002) and as George Darling and Captain Hook in P.J. Hogan's adaptation of Peter Pan (2003) and as the voice of Admiral Zhao in the animated Nickelodeon series Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005).
Isaacs played the leading role of Sir Mark Brydon, the British Ambassador to the US in the BBC Four miniseries The State Within (2006), for which he was nominated for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television for the 65th Golden Globe Awards. On American television, Isaacs appeared in three episodes of The West Wing in 2004, prior to developing his most notable TV serial role, as Michael Caffee in Brotherhood (2006–08).
In 2015, Isaacs took the lead role in the USA Network action adventure drama series Dig. Isaacs plays an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who uncovers a 2,000-year-old conspiracy while investigating an archaeologist's murder. The ten-episode series premiered March 5, 2015.
Isaacs has described himself a "Jewish man who does almost nothing Jewish in his life".