Steven Berkoff (born 3 August 1937) is an English actor, writer and director.
Berkoff was born Leslie Steven Berks in Stepney, in the East End of London, the son of Pauline (née Hyman) and Alfred Berks, who was a tailor. His family is Jewish, originating in Russia, with their original surname, "Berkovitch", having been shortened by Berkoff's father. Berkoff was educated at Hackney Downs School and trained at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in 1958, and in 1965, at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris.
Berkoff is a playwright, actor and theatre director. In the 1970s and 1980s he wrote a series of verse plays including: East (1975), Greek (1980), Decadence (1981) and West (1983). Other plays in verse are: Sink the Belgrano! (1986), a critical take on the Falklands War; Massage (1997); Sturm und Drang and The Secret Love Life of Ophelia (2001). He has made several adaptations of Kafka's work: The Metamorphosis (1969), In the Penal Colony (1969) and The Trial (1971). In the late 1980s he directed an interpretation of Salome by Oscar Wilde in the Gate Theatre, Dublin and later in the UK. He trained in mime and physical theatre alongside Jacques Lecoq in Paris and also at Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. In 1998 his Shakespeare's Villains, produced and co-directed by Marc Sinden at London's Haymarket Theatre was nominated for a Society Of London Theatre Olivier Award as Best Entertainment. The two of them then worked together the following year on the 25th anniversary revival of East (Edinburgh Festival Fringe Stage Award for Best Ensemble work), Theatre de Silvia Monfort, Paris and Vaudeville).
He is an exponent of the style of heightened physical theatre for which the term 'total theatre' has been coined. Along with this highly physical style of theatre he also created complex psychological plays such as "The Trial"; these works were nightmarish and created a sense of alienation. These took everyday feelings (such as the feeling that no one is listening to you) and exaggerated them, adding to the disturbing nature of the plays.
Berkoff is patron at the Nightingale Theatre, home of the Prodigal Theatre Company in Brighton. He had a top 20 hit in the U.K. with dance band N-Trance called "The Mind Of The Machine" and was mentioned in the lyrics of the Brian May track "I'm Scared" from the album "Back to the Light".
Drama critic Aleks Sierz describes Berkoff's distinctive modernist voice as evidenced in his plays as follows;
"the language is usually filthy, characters talk about unmentionable subjects, take their clothes off, have sex, humiliate each another, experience unpleasant emotions, become suddenly violent. At its best, this kind of theatre is so powerful, so visceral, that it forces audiences to react: either they feel like fleeing the building or they are suddenly convinced that it is the best thing they have ever seen, and want all their friends to see it too. It is the kind of theatre that inspires us to use superlatives, whether in praise or condemnation." (Aleks Sierz, In-Yer-Face Theatre).
Berkoff is perhaps most notorious for "the cunt speech" in his first play, East.
In Hollywood, he took villainous roles such as the corrupt art dealer Victor Maitland in Beverly Hills Cop; a gangster in The Krays, the sadistic Soviet officer Col. Podovsky in Rambo: First Blood Part II and as General Orlov in the James Bond film Octopussy. He also appeared in the 1967 Hammer film Prehistoric Women and in the 1980 true-to-life prison break-out McVicar alongside Roger Daltrey. He was cast by Stanley Kubrick as a police officer in A Clockwork Orange and a gambler nobleman (Lord Ludd) in Barry Lyndon. He appears in the independent feature Naked in London (2006).
In 1990 Berkoff appeared in the biopic on the early life of Errol Flynn entitled Flynn (also known in some territories as My Forgotten Man).
As a television actor, an early TV role was in an episode of The Avengers. An early regular role was as a Moonbase Interceptor pilot in the Gerry Anderson TV series UFO. He has also appeared in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Hagath in the episode Business as Usual; in the 2003 miniseries Children of Dune as Stilgar; as a gangster (Mr Wiltshire) in episode 8 of the BBC's Hotel Babylon series; as a lawyer (Freddie Eccles) in an episode of ITV's Marple entitled By the Pricking of My Thumbs and as Adolf Hitler in the mini-series War and Remembrance. Berkoff also appeared as himself in the "Science" episode of the British current affairs satire Brass Eye (1997), warning against the dangers of the (fictional) environmental disaster "Heavy Electricity."
On Friday 20th June 2008, Berkoff was honoured by having a Performing Arts Centre named after him at Alton College, in North East Hampshire. He took part in a ceremony, before taking students for a drama masterclass, and then performed his acclaimed Shakespeare's Villains play in the evening before an intimate audience of just 100 people.
"I remember in my younger days questioning what life means. Finding a place like the Berkoff Performing Arts Centre, I found myself as a person. Having a place like this sowed the seeds of the man I think I am today. A place like this is the first step in changing the life of a person. There’s something about theatre that draws people together because it’s something connected with the human soul. All over the UK, the performing arts links people with a shared humanity as a way to open the doors to the mysteries of life. We should never underestimate the power of the theatre. It educates, informs, enlightens and humanises us all".
In 1996 Berkoff was involved in a civil action against journalist Julie Burchill after a comment she made in The Sunday Times suggested that Mr. Berkoff was "hideously ugly". The court held in his favour as Burchill's actions "held him to ridicule and contempt".
Berkoff starred in the opening sequence to Sky Sports' coverage of the 2007 Heineken Cup Final with a performance based on an Al Pacino speech from the 1999 film Any Given Sunday.
Most recently, he provided motion capture and voice alongside Andy Serkis and others for the PlayStation 3 game Heavenly Sword. He played General Flying Fox, one of the main villains in the game.
He made a brief cameo appearance in the 2008 film The Cottage, also with Serkis.
He is to star in the British Heart Foundation's two-minute short film, Watch Your Own Heart Attack, broadcast on 10 August 2008 on ITV.