Rowan David Oakes is an English actor. He is best known for his roles in the series The Pillars of the Earth, The Borgias, The White Queen, Victoria, Vikings: Valhalla, and for his discursive Natural History podcast, Trees A Crowd.
Oakes began his career at Shakespeare's Globe, before taking roles at the Almeida Theatre and the Old Vic. Since appearing at Shakespeare's Globe at the outset of his career, Oakes has frequently performed in numerous rehearsed readings as part of their "Read Not Dead" initiative, including their landmark 200th reading of Philip Massinger's A New Way To Pay Old Debts; Oakes played Wellborn alongside a cast including Benjamin Whitrow, Alan Cox, and Nicholas Rowe.
In 2006, Oakes performed a 90-minute abridged version of Much Ado About Nothing as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company's "Complete Works" festival along with his final year graduates from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He alternated between playing Claudio and Verges alongside fellow graduate Matt Barber.
Oakes was present to accept the Jury Prize at the 2011 Romy Awards in Vienna alongside Donald Sutherland and Natalia Wörner.
Oakes came to prominence when he played the villainous William Hamleigh in the television miniseries The Pillars of the Earth (2010). The following year, Oakes was cast in the television series The Borgias (2011), airing on Showtime. Whilst shooting the second season, Oakes performed a cameo in the sequel to The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End (2012).
Between 2010 and 2013, Oakes had several roles playing villains on television—such as William Hamleigh in The Pillars of the Earth (2010), Juan Borgia in The Borgias (2011), and George, Duke of Clarence in The White Queen (2013). When he played Mr. Darcy in an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice at Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park in 2013, he said, "I've been playing bad guys back to back, so Darcy's a bit of an antidote!" In 2014, he starred in the original West End production of Shakespeare in Love at the Noël Coward Theatre as Christopher Marlowe. Oakes was nominated for both WhatsOnStage and Broadway World awards for his performance in Shakespeare in Love in 2015.
Other performances between 2008 and 2013 for "Read Not Dead" include an early quarto edition of Henry IV: Part One as Prince Hal opposite Benjamin Whitrow's Falstaff, Calderon's Life is a Dream (La Vida Es Sueno) as Segismundo, Taming Of A Shrew as Aurelias, The Spanish Tragedy as Lorenzo, The Return from Parnassus as Ingenioso, Bassianus as Geta, Gorboduc as a "smooth, almost oily" Arostus, John Lyly's Love's Metamorphosis as Montanus, and Thomas Middleton's Your Five Gallants as Tailby.
In a return to TV period dramas in 2015, Oakes guest-starred in both the third season of Endeavour with Shaun Evans and in BBC's limited series The Living and the Dead with Colin Morgan. He played Prince Ernest, brother of Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert, in the 2016 ITV series Victoria. The role reunited Oakes with his Trinity co-star Tom Hughes, and Pillars of the Earth co-star Rufus Sewell.
In 2017, Oakes starred in the film adaptation of Albert Sánchez Piñol's novel Cold Skin, directed by Xavier Gens and co-starring Ray Stevenson and Aura Garrido. He also starred as Thomas Novachek in the London West End premiere of David Ives's play Venus in Fur at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. This production was directed by Patrick Marber and co-starred Natalie Dormer as Vanda.
Oakes played Earl Godwin in Vikings: Valhalla, the spin-off of the show Vikings, for Netflix.
Oakes set up a theatre company called Dog Ate Cake with a long-term theatrical collaborator Henry Bell.
In 2015 Oakes starred as Banquo in a charity fundraiser for the Shakespeare Schools Festival. The event was largely improvised by the actors and lawyers involved, but based on a framework written by Jonathan Myerson. The cast also included Christopher Eccleston as Macbeth, Haydn Gwynne as Lady Macbeth, Paterson Joseph as MacDuff, and Pippa Bennett-Warner as one of the Weird Sisters. The event interrupted the events of the original play following the death of Duncan, placing Macbeth on trial for murder. Oakes, Joseph, and Gwynne appeared as witnesses for the prosecution while Eccleston and Bennett-Warner played witnesses for the defence. The event was overseen by High Court Judge Sir Michael Burton; the QCs were John Kelsey-Fry, Jonathan Laidlaw, Dinah Rose, and Ian Winter, and the foreman of the jury was Jeremy Paxman.
In 2019, Oakes played Hamlet at Shakespeare's Rose Theatre, York. The Stage wrote that he "plays Hamlet with natural ease: he is clearly comfortable with the cadences of the language and he conveys meaning well." Both WhatsOnStage and the British Theatre Guide praised Oakes' performance, particularly his rapport with the audience, despite the production's more light-hearted take on the play.
Oakes has directed a number of theatre pieces alongside his acting career. In 2003 he took a stage adaptation of The Wicker Man to the Epping Forest Theatre Festival. Rehearsing in and around his hometown of Salisbury, Oakes "got kicked out of the [Cathedral] Close for rehearsing pagan rituals for [his] open-air production of The Wicker Man."
While at university, Oakes directed numerous plays including Martin McDonagh's Beauty Queen of Leenane, Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and Anthony Minghella's Whale Music.
Also whilst at University in 2005, Oakes assisted director Natalie Wilson on a production of Smilin' Through that was co-produced by the Truant Company, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and Contact Theatre, Manchester. Later that year, Oakes once again turned to literary adaptation, taking a production of Stephen King's The Boogeyman to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
With his and Bell's theatre company, Dog Ate Cake, in 2009 Oakes directed a small tour revival of John Maddison Morton's Box and Cox.
Oakes frequently directs at Shakespeare's Globe extending their "Read Not Dead" series, a study devoted to performing fully staged readings of the entirety of the Early Modern Canon of Drama. Most recently Oakes directed Robert Greene's The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay and Lewis Theobald's "Happy Ending" version of John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, "The Fatal Secret".
Oakes recently directed an extract of Robert Daborne's A Christian Turn'd Turk as part of a special "Read Not Dead" event at Shakespeare's Globe. Four directors with four scholars were teamed up with actors and presented their arguments and selected scenes at a special hustings event on Thursday 29 May 2014. Winning the event, teamed with Dr Emma Smith of Oxford University, Oakes directed the full play on Sunday 5 October 2014 in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
In 2020, Oakes narrated an episode of Historic Royal Palaces' Outliers podcast. He appeared as Thomas Phelippes, a spy and code breaker in the court of Elizabeth I plotting the downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Oakes is the presenter of the natural history podcast Trees A Crowd. The first episode was released on 25 February 2019 and featured Mark Frith.