Lester is known in the United Kingdom as the character of a big-time con artist Michael "Mickey Bricks" Stone in the first three series BBC TV series Hustle between 2004 and 2006. The character was written out of the fourth series and replaced by Ashley Walters, although he returned for the fifth and sixth series. In the United States, he played campaign manager Henry Burton in Mike Nichols's 1998 film Primary Colors, based on the novel by Anonymous (Joe Klein). His character is believed to represent George Stephanopoulos. This part earned him a Chicago Film Critics Association award nomination for "Most Promising Actor". Lester appeared in Kenneth Branagh's Love's Labour's Lost, an adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, set in the 1930s. The film itself was poorly received, but Lester received a British Independent Film Awards nomination for his performance.
He has appeared on stage in the musical Company, for which he won an Olivier Award, in the title role of Hamlet (Carlton TV Theatre Award) and as Rosalind in Cheek by Jowl's 1991 production of As You Like It for which he won a Time Out Award. In 2003, Lester played Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name at the Royal National Theatre. Also, in The Day After Tomorrow, Lester had a minor role as Simon, one of the three researchers who drink a toast of "twelve-year-old Scotch" shortly before freezing to death. Lester also appeared as Ellis in the hit sitcom Girlfriends from 2002 to 2003, playing a movie star who dated Tracee Ellis Ross' character, Joan. In late 2005, Lester had a major guest starring role in Channel 4's hard hitting police drama, The Ghost Squad. Lester also filmed scenes for 2007's Spider-Man 3, as a research scientist who is sought after by the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) to find a cure for his ailing daughter. He was seen in one teaser trailer for the movie; however, his scenes were cut from the final theatrical version.
Also in 2007, Lester took part in Empire's Children, a Channel 4 documentary exploring the journey taken by the Windrush Generation to the United Kingdom. Lester's grandfather, Kenneth Nathaniel Lester, was to be included in the documentary, but was unwell during filming in Jamaica and could not be interviewed. Kenneth Lester died soon after the documentary completed filming and never saw the program aired. In 2008, Adrian Lester starred in the BBC drama Bonekickers, a program focusing on a team of archaeologists. 2009 saw him return as Mickey Stone in Hustle. He also played the character Myror in the British television drama Merlin.
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