Innokentiy Mikhailovich Smoktunovsky was a Soviet actor acclaimed as the "king of Soviet actors". He was named People's Artist of the USSR in 1974 and the Hero of Socialist Labour in 1990.
Smoktunovsky was born in a Siberian village in a peasant family of Polish ethnicity and served in the Red Army during World War II. In 1946, he joined a theatre in Krasnoyarsk, later moving to Moscow. In 1957, he was invited by Georgy Tovstonogov to join the Bolshoi Drama Theatre of Leningrad, where he stunned the public with his dramatic interpretation of Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. One of his best roles was the title role in Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy's Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich.
His career in film was launched by Mikhail Romm's movie Nine Days of One Year. In 1964, he was cast in the role of Hamlet in Grigori Kozintsev's celebrated screen version of Shakespeare's play, which won him praise from Laurence Olivier as well as the Lenin Prize. Many English critics even ranked the Hamlet of Smoktunovsky above the one played by Olivier, at a time when Olivier's was still considered definitive. Smoktunovsky created an integral heroic portrait, which blended together what seemed incompatible before: manly simplicity and exquisite aristocratism, kindness and caustic sarcasm, a derisive mindset and self-sacrifice.