In 1980, his performance in the title role of Hamlet at the Royal Court Theatre won him an Olivier Award, and was acclaimed by some critics as the definitive Hamlet of his generation. That year he also appeared in the film Breaking Glass, a film that is remarkable in that it featured in the cast (sometimes in small roles) many actors who would eventually become stars of film and television, such as Jim Broadbent, Richard Griffiths and Phil Daniels.
In 1983, Pryce played the role of the sinister Mr. Dark in Something Wicked This Way Comes, based on the Ray Bradbury novel of the same title. After appearing mostly in TV films, such as the Ian McEwan-scripted The Ploughman's Lunch, and Martin Luther, Heretic, he achieved a breakthrough with his role as the subdued protagonist Sam Lowry in Terry Gilliam's 1985 film, Brazil, which has since become a cult film. After Brazil, Pryce appeared in the historical thriller The Doctor and the Devils and then in the Gene Wilder-directed film Haunted Honeymoon. During this period of his life, Pryce continued to perform on stage, and was particularly noteworthy as the successful but self-doubting writer Trigorin in a London production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull in late 1985. From 1986 to 1987 Pryce played the lead part in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Macbeth, which also starred Sinéad Cusack as Lady Macbeth. Also in 1986 he starred in the film Jumping Jack Flash.
In 1988 Pryce worked once again with Gilliam in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, playing "The Right Ordinary Horatio Jackson". The film was a notorious financial fiasco, with production costing more than $40 million, when the original budget was $23.5 million, but has gained cult favorite status over time. The following year Pryce appeared in three of the earliest episodes of the improvisation show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, alongside Paul Merton and John Sessions, and in another play by Chekhov, Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre.
After a series of dramatic roles on stage, most notably Vanya and Macbeth, Pryce decided he wanted to do musicals after seeing his friend Patti LuPone in the original London production of Les Misérables. He would successfully return to the stage originating the role of The Engineer, a Eurasian pimp, in the award winning West End musical Miss Saigon. His performance was praised in England where he won the Olivier and Variety Club awards, but when the production transferred to Broadway the Actors' Equity Association (AEA) would not allow Pryce to portray The Engineer because, according to their executive secretary, "the casting of a Caucasian actor made up to appear Asian is an affront to the Asian community". Cameron Mackintosh, the show's producer, decided to cancel the $10 million New York production because, he said, he would not let the freedom of artistic expression be attacked. Realizing that its decision would result in the loss of many jobs, and after Pryce received much support from the acting community (both Charlton Heston and John Malkovich threatened to leave the union if Pryce was not allowed to perform) the AEA decided to make a deal with Mackintosh, allowing Pryce to appear in the production. He would then, in 1991, win a Tony Award for his performance.
Also in 1991, Pryce starred in the ITV mini-series Selling Hitler as Gerd Heidemann. Pryce returned to the London stage the following year to star for one night only at the Royal Festival Hall for an AIDS charity alongside Elaine Paige and Lilliane Montivecchi in the 1992 revival of the Federico Fellini-inspired musical Nine.
In 1993 Pryce featured, alongside Kathy Burke and Minnie Driver, in the BBC mini-series Mr. Wroe's Virgins, directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle. Later that same year Pryce was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and for a Golden Globe Award for his work as Henry Kravis in the HBO produced made-for-TV movie Barbarians at the Gate. Also during 1993, Pryce was set to star alongside River Phoenix and Judy Davis in the film Dark Blood, but production had to be shut down when, 11 days shy of completing production, Phoenix died of a drug overdose. Director George Sluizer, who owns the rights to what has been filmed, has made available some of the raw material, which features Pryce and Phoenix on a field in Utah, on his personal website.
Between 1993 and 1997, Pryce, on a multi million dollar contract became the spokesman for Infiniti in a series of American television commercials, notably for the Infiniti J30 and Infiniti Q45. These advertisements were notable for their sophistication with Pryce even appearing alongside jazz singer Nancy Wilson in a Prague nightclub. These commercials were hilariously parodied on Saturday Night Live in 1993, with Mike Myers doing an impersonation of Pryce, spokesmodelling for sleek luxury toilets instead of automobiles.
In 1994, Pryce portrayed Fagin in a revival of the musical Oliver!, and would star the following year alongside Emma Thompson in the film Carrington, which centres on a platonic relationship between gay writer Lytton Strachey and painter Dora Carrington. Pryce's portrayal of Strachey gained him the Best Actor Award at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival.
The following year Pryce starred with Madonna and Antonio Banderas in his first musical film, Evita. In this Oscar-winning adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage musical, Pryce portrayed the Argentinian president Juan Perón. The movie's soundtrack was an international success. It contains over 30 songs sung mainly by Madonna, Banderas and Pryce, of which two are solos for Pryce: "She Is A Diamond" and "On The Balcony Of The Casa Rosada". After Evita, Pryce went on to portray Elliot Carver in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
During the rest of the decade Pryce would play to his new acquired fame as a villain, portraying an assassin in Ronin, a corrupt Cardinal in the controversial Stigmata and for comic relief, the Master in the Doctor Who special, Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. About this time Pryce sang at The Hollywood Bowl alongside opera singer Lesley Garrett in highlights from My Fair Lady and in 1998, he performed in Cameron Mackintosh's gala concert Hey, Mr Producer!, also as Professor Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady and reprising his role as the Engineer from Miss Saigon.
During the early 2000s Pryce starred and participated in a variety of movies, such as The Affair of the Necklace, What a Girl Wants, Unconditional Love and Terry Gilliam's unfinished The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. While the success of some of these films was variable, the 2001 London stage production of My Fair Lady and his portrayal of Professor Henry Higgins was being acclaimed by the media. This production turned out to be very stressful for Pryce because Martine McCutcheon, who portrayed Eliza Doolittle, was sick during much of the show's run. McCutcheon was replaced by her understudy Alexandra Jay, who would also fall sick hours before a performance, forcing her understudy, Kerry Ellis, to take the lead. Pryce was understandably upset and on her first night introduced Ellis to the audience before the show by saying "This will be your first Eliza, my second today and my third this week. Any member of the audience interested in playing Eliza can find applications at the door. Wednesday and Saturday matinee available." Pryce ended up dealing with four Elizas during the course of 14 months. Nevertheless, the show was nominated for four Laurence Olivier Awards on 2001: Best Actress in a Musical for Martine McCutcheon, Outstanding Musical Production, Best Theatre Choreographer and Best Actor in a Musical for Pryce. Pryce lost to Philip Quast, although ironically McCutcheon won in her category having played fewer performances than any of her understudies. Pryce did express interest in doing My Fair Lady in New York, but when asked if he would do it with McCutcheon he said that "there's as much chance of me getting a date with Julia Roberts as doing My Fair Lady in New York with Martine McCutcheon".
In April 2003 Pryce returned to the non-musical stage with A Reckoning, written by American dramatist Wesley Moore. The play co-starred Flora Montgomery and after premiering at the Soho Theatre in London was described by The Daily Telegraph as "one of the most powerful and provocative new American plays to have opened since David Mamet's Oleanna." That year Pryce also landed a role in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, where he portrayed a fictional Governor of Jamaica, Weatherby Swann, a movie he described as "one of those why-not movies".
After Pirates Pryce has appeared in several large-scale productions, such as De-Lovely (Pryce's second musical film), a chronicle of the life of songwriter Cole Porter, for which Kevin Kline and Pryce covered a Porter song called "Blow, Gabriel, Blow". The Brothers Grimm, Pryce's third film with Terry Gilliam, starred Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, and The New World, in which he had a cameo role as King James I.
In 2005, Pryce was nominated for another Olivier Award in the best actor category for his role in the 2004 London production of The Goat or Who is Sylvia?, where he played Martin, a goat-lover who has to face the recriminations of his cheated-on wife, played by his real life wife Kate Fahy. Pryce's performance was highly praised, but he lost the Olivier to Richard Griffiths.
The following year, Pryce voiced over the French animated film, Renaissance, which he stated he wanted to do because he had never "done anything quite like it before". That same year he reprised the role of Governor Weatherby Swann for the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Both were filmed at the same time but released a year apart. Also, during 2006, Pryce returned to the Broadway stage replacing John Lithgow, from January to July, as Lawrence Jameson in the musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
During early 2007 Pryce played Sherlock Holmes in a TV miniseries, the BBC production Sherlock Holmes and The Baker Street Irregulars. From September 2007 through June 2008, he returned to the theatre scene appearing as Shelly Levene in a new West End production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at London's Apollo Theatre. He later appeared in the BBC Three comedy series Clone as Dr. Victor Blenkinsop also starring Stuart McLoughlin and Mark Gatiss.
In 2009 he appeared at the Donmar Warehouse theatre in the title role of Dimetos written by Athol Fugard, and later that year made a sentimental journey back to Liverpool to appear as Davies in Harold Pinter's The Caretaker directed by veteran director Christopher Morahan. This transferred to London's Trafalgar Studios in early 2010. On television in 2009 he appeared as Mr Buxton in the critically acclaimed Return to Cranford and was nominated for an Emmy Award as Best Supporting Actor in a Mini Series.
In 2006, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Liverpool. He is a fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and a Companion of the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. He is a patron of the children's charity Friendship Works and of the surgical charity Saving Faces. Pryce was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours.
Most recently, he was seen on the HBO hit series, Game of Thrones, followed by the FX Limited Series, Taboo.