In his youth, Gambon did play romantic leads, notably in the early 1970s BBC television series, The Borderers, in which he was swashbuckling Gavin Ker. However, his craggy looks soon made him into a character actor, and it was not until Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective (1986) that he became a household name. Even after this success, for which he won a BAFTA award, his career was patchy, with big hits such as the 1989 film, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover interspersed with less notable work.
In recent years, films such as Dancing at Lughnasa (1998) and Plunkett and Macleane (1989), as well as television appearances in series such as Wives and Daughters (1999) (for which he won another BAFTA) and Perfect Strangers (2001) have made him one of Britain's most sought-after actors, as well as revealing his talent for comedy. He has been announced as the successor to Richard Harris in the role of Dumbledore in the next Harry Potter film.