Brent Carver | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Brent Carver

Brent Christopher Carver, actor (born 17 November 1951 in Cranbrook, BC; died 4 August 2020 in Cranbrook). Brent Carver was one of Canada’s most versatile and soulful actors. He tackled the classics at the Stratford Festival (1980–87) and gave critically acclaimed performances in musical theatre, cabaret and film. The New York Times described him as “sensitive, soft-spoken yet nakedly emotional.” His performance in the 1993 Broadway production of Kiss of the Spider Woman earned him a Tony Award. Associated with Robin Phillips, who directed him both at Stratford and at Theatre London (1983–84), Carver also worked closely with John Neville at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre. Carver received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2014.

Early Years and Career

Brent Carver grew up with seven siblings in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, where his father was a truck driver and his mother worked as an office clerk or waitress. He learned to sing with his father, who played guitar, and also sang in school and church choirs.

Carver’s acting career began in 1972; he dropped out of the drama program at the University of British Columbia after his third year to join the Vancouver Playhouse Holiday touring children's theatre, under the direction of Don Shipley. That same year, he was cast in his first professional theatre role in the Arts Club Theatre production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. He also appeared in an episode of The Beachcombers.

Career Highlights

Carver worked throughout Canada, as well as on Broadway and in London’s West End. However, he forged his reputation at the Stratford Festival, where he debuted in 1980 as Edmund Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. He demonstrated his considerable adaptability with The Pirate King in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance (1985) and the title role in Shakespeare's Hamlet (1986). He further cemented his popularity among theatre audiences with Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, for which we won the 1990 Dora Award for Best Actor. Other diverse stage roles included Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest (1979), in Los Angeles with Anthony Hopkins; Horst in Martin Sherman's Bent (1981), for which Carver won his first Dora; and Dr. Frankenfurter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1976). He also  starred in the short-lived CBC sitcom Leo and Me (1978), co-starring a young Michael J. Fox.

Carver’s film roles include Rafe in Carol Bolt's One Night Stand (1978), for which he won a Canadian Film Award; Robert Ross in Robin Phillips's adaptation of Timothy Findley's novel The Wars (1983); and John Greyson's adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard's stage play Lilies (1995). His television credits run the gamut from Street Legal, in which he gave a Gemini Award-winning performance as an AIDS patient, to principal roles in the mini-series Love and Hate (1988) and Love and Larceny (1984).

Carver made his Broadway debut in 1993 as Molina in Kiss of the Spider Woman, a performance that earned him a Tony Award for outstanding actor in a musical. In 1996, Carver toured his highly acclaimed cabaret show, Brent Carver in Concert, at Toronto's Royal Alexandra Theatre and at Vancouver's Ford Centre for the Performing Arts. He also guest starred as a dancer in an hour-long CBC tribute to Canadian dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis and received raves for his portrayal of psychotic thief Donnie in Lee MacDougall's High Life, a new Canadian play that played Broadway later that year. In the summer of 1998, Carver played the title role in a production of Schiller's Don Carlos, directed by Phillips. And at the end of the year he was back on Broadway, starring in the Garth Drabinsky musical Parade, which earned him a Tony Award nomination.

He starred as Tevye in the Stratford Festival’s production of Fiddler on the Roof in 2000, and in 2002 he appeared in Atom Egoyan’s Ararat. He co-starred with Christopher Plummer in the Stratford Festival’s New York production of King Lear in 2004, and drew rave reviews for his performance as Gandalf in the otherwise panned musical version of Lord of the Rings in 2006–07. His last performances at Stratford were as Feste the clown in Twelfth Night and as the servant Rowley in The School of Scandal in 2017.


  • Performance by a Lead Actor, Non-Feature (One Night Stand), Canadian Film Awards (1978)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male, Leading Role, Play (Bent), Dora Awards (1982)
  • Outstanding Performance (Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love), Dora Awards (1990)
  • Best Actor in a Musical (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Tony Awards (1993)
  • Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Kiss of the Spider Woman), New York Drama Desk Awards (1993)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Musical (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Dora Awards (1993)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series (Street Legal) Gemini Awards (1996)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Play (High Life), Dora Awards (1996)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Guest Role in a Dramatic Series (Due South), Gemini Awards (1998)
  • Best Performance or Host in a Variety Program or Series (Young at Heart), Gemini Awards, (1998)
  • Outstanding Actor in a Musical (Parade), New York Drama Desk Awards (1999)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series (Elizabeth Rex), Gemini Awards (2004)
  • Outstanding Performance – Male (Elizabeth Rex), ACTRA Toronto (2004)
  • Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement (2014)