In The Prisoner, McGoohan plays a British secret agent who attempts to resign from his job for unknown reasons, only to be abducted to a mysterious place known only as The Village. Never known by name but only the number assigned to him by his genial captors, McGoohan’s character tries to determine if his incarceration is at the hands of his own government or another as well as plots his escape. His captors, for their part, subject him to numerous brutal psychological tortures.With the cry of “I am not a number, I am a free man!” The Prisoner was simultaneously off-beat and thought provoking, dealing with numerous social issues in allegorical form- from the notion of individuality in modern society to the conciencious objection of the Vietnam War. The show was also seen by some as a sequel to Mcgoohan’s previous and popular series Danger Man, known in the United States as Secret Agent.
Although born in New York City, McGoohan grew up in Ireland, giving him a neutral accent which he could easily modify for American or British characters.Dropping out of school at age 16, he drifted through jobs until he landed a job as the stage manager of the Sheffield Repertory Theatre at 19. In two years, he would be starring productions at the playhouse. Stage work would lead to some small television and film roles. His first big break came in 1957’s Hell Drivers. In the early 1960s, he would star in two projects at Walt Disney Studios- The Three Lives Of Thomasina (1964) and the three-part The Scarecrow Of Rominy Marsh which aired on Disney’s The Wonderful World Of Disney television series.
Although he played both heroes and villains, many of McGoohan’s roles can be characterized as having a barely kept in check sens of ruthlessness and danger about them. In 1968 he played a British spy in MGM’s big budget Cold War thriller Ice Station Zebra while in 1976’s comedy adventure Silver Streak, he played a ruthless gangster opposite Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. He also appeared in such films as Scanners (1981), Braveheart (1995), The Phantom and A Time To Kill (both 1996).
McGoohan is also noted for having turned down several roles. He passed on playing James Bond when producers were casting Diamonds Are Forever following Sean Connery’s departure from the series. He also turned down the lead role in British televisino network ITV’s adaptation of Leslie Chartie’s gentleman thief hero The Saint. Coincidentally, both roles would ultimately be filled by Roger Moore. More recently, McGoohan had been approached with but declined the roles of the wizard Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the wizard schoolmaster Dumbledore in the film adaptations of the popular Harry Potter novels.
His last film work was a return to Disney Studios, providing the voice of Billy Bones for 2002’s science-fiction treatment of Robert Louis Stevens, Treasure Planet.