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Dominic Purcell Biography


Home > Actors > P > Purcell, Dominic > Biography


Birth Name: Dominic Purcell
Born: 02/17/1970
Birth Place: England, GB


Dominic Haakon Myrtvedt Purcell was born on Feb. 17, 1970, in the northwest England town of Wallasey, at the mouth of the Mersey River. His bloodline split between a Norwegian father and an Irish mother, Purcell was raised in Australia, where his family emigrated when he was two. Landing in the Sydney surfing community of Bondi in New South Wales, his alcoholic father abandoned the family and disappeared from his life. An angry youth who sublimated his bitterness with extreme living, Purcell took work as a landscaper immediately following his high school graduation from McCarthy Catholic College. Quickly growing weary of the backbreaking labor, he cast about for another trade at which to try his hand and experienced an epiphany while watching Oliver Stone's Vietnam War chronicle "Platoon" (1986), knowing then that he wanted to be an actor.

Beginning his studies at the Australian Theatre for Young People, Purcell moved on to the Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts, where he was accepted on the strength of a single monologue. Though he balked at having to wear tights to participate in movement and dance classes, Purcell excelled at the academy, applying the fearlessness of his teenage years to the study of his craft. The first big break of his career came when he was cast on the series "Raw FM" (ABS, 1997-1998), centered around the lives of the staff of a youth-oriented radio station. Subsequent roles followed, most of them small, including a turn as the enigmatic Bullkington in the Australia-lensed miniseries "Moby Dick" (1998) starring Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab.

If Purcell thought he had arrived when he was cast as the villainous Ulrich in "Mission: Impossible II" (2000), which filmed extensively in New South Wales, his excitement cooled considerably when his part was downgraded to that of a glorified extra. Realizing that Hollywood had little to no use for local talent, Purcell made the bold move to relocate himself, his wife and young son to Los Angeles. Wearing a full beard and a menacing stare, he played the minor role of gangster Bob Gunton's bodyguard in "Scenes of a Crime" (2001), which was remaindered to DVD in lieu of a theatrical release despite the star power of Jeff Bridges in the lead. Purcell was director Kurt Wimmer's back-up for the lead role in his science fiction thriller "Equilibrium" (2002) when first choice Christian Bale seemed unavailable. When Bale ultimately agreed to sign on to the project just prior to the start of principal photography, Purcell was downgraded to the small role of an art-loving resistance fighter in the aerobic mash-up of Fahrenheit 451 and "The Matrix" (1999). After only three years in Hollywood, Purcell attracted enough attention within the American entertainment industry to be offered a development deal with Fox. The result was the short-lived weekly series "John Doe" (Fox, 2002-03), in which a clean-shaven Purcell appeared as an inexplicably omniscient amnesiac who assists the police while attempting to unravel the greater mystery of his own identity.

Established as a leading man, albeit in a minor key, Purcell starred in Scott Ziehl's indie noir "Three Way" (2004). Back in Australia he provided solid support to Richard Franklin's maritime thriller "The Visitors" (2003) and traveled to Quebec to play a buff Count Dracula in "Blade: Trinity" (2004), the poorly-received second sequel to the horror-action franchise starring Wesley Snipes. By this time the father of three children, Purcell self-diagnosed a penchant for alcohol abuse and put himself through Alcoholics Anonymous, haunted by the notion that he would bring shame to his family as his own father had done. Graduating from the 12-step program with a renewed sense of purpose, Purcell freshened his abilities with a guest role on the first season of the popular medical mystery series "House" (Fox, 2004-2012) and was a semiregular on the short-lived primetime soap opera "North Shore" (2004), filmed in Hawaii.

Purcell rebounded swiftly from the cancellation of "North Shore" with a starring role on the gritty new series "Prison Break" (Fox, 2005-09), as a man incarcerated for a crime he did not commit who is committed to proving his innocence by any means necessary. Though the series was considered self-limited by its parent network, which ordered only 13 episodes to be filmed, high ratings in its first weeks prompted Fox to agree to a full season. Key to the show's success was Purcell's chemistry with co-stars Wentworth Miller and Sarah Wayne Callies. Interrupted by the WGA strike of 2007, "Prison Break" ran for four seasons before being cancelled in 2009. Two of the season's unaired episodes were stitched together as the telefilm "Prison Break: The Final Break" (2009), which gave the show's fans much needed closure.

During his hiatuses from "Prison Break," Purcell loaned his marquee value to a scattering of independent horror movies. He seemed suitably ill at ease as a suburban lawyer bedeviled by the spirits of the restless dead in Mike Mendez' "The Gravedancers" (2006), ran afoul of a giant African crocodile in "Primeval" (2007), and trekked to Romania for "Blood Creek" (2009), a rare condescension by A-list director Joel Schumacher to low budget scaremongering. Following the cancelation of his series, Purcell returned to the ranks of supporting players, backing up pro wrestler-turned-actor David Bautista in "House of the Rising Sun" (2011), teaming with Jason Statham, Clive Owen and Robert De Niro for "The Killer Elite" (2011), and playing against type as a mental defective in Rod Lurie's 2011 remake of Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs."

By Richard Harland Smith