M.R. Gopakumar was born on 24 September 1951 in Thiruvattar, a small village in the Kanyakumari district of the present-day Tamil Nadu, but a part of the erstwhile Travancore Kingdom and Thiru-Kochi state (Kerala). He was born as the elder son of N. Ramakrishnan Nair, a school teacher in Thiruvattar High School, and B. Kamalabai Amma.
Gopakumar did his primary school education in Thiruvattar Lower Primary School and completed his High School education from Thiruvattar High School. His college education was done in Christian College, Marthandam (Pre University Course), Pioneer Kumaraswamy College, Nagercoil (B.Com) and Mar Ivanios College, Thiruvananthapuram (M.Com). He migrated to Thiruvananthapuram when he joined Mar Ivanios college.
After earning his master’s degree (M.Com), Gopakumar joined Indian government service in 1973 as an auditor with P&T Audit under Controller and Auditor General of India. Post bifurcation of this department, Gopakumar moved into the Postal Accounts department under Government of India. He retired from Postal Accounts as an Assistant Accounts Officer in September 2011.
Gopakumar has been married to L. Indira Devi since 1975. The couple has a daughter – Soumya, and a son - Sreejith.
M.R. Gopakumar started his acting career as an amateur actor in 1974 in G. Sankarapillai’s drama ‘Rakshapurushan’ (രക്ഷാപുരുഷൻ). The play was staged by the recreation club members of P&T Audit. This helped Gopakumar identify his passion for acting and he found himself being a part of five more plays staged by the club. Towards the late 70’s, a few young aspiring artists in Thiruvananthapuram came together to form an amateur drama troupe, which was named ‘Natyagruham’ (നാട്യഗൃഹം). The troupe that was headed by Professor Narendra Prasad soon became very popular among a vibrant art-loving society in Thiruvananthapuram. Gopakumar was one of the founding members of Natyagruham. The association with like-minded artists in Natyagruham helped Gopakumar polish his acting skills. During the next 15 years with the troupe, he associated himself with several stage plays that won the accolades of many art-lovers across Kerala.
In 1986, Doordarshan started telecasting telefilms in Malayalam language under their own production. ‘Kunjayyappan’ (കുഞ്ഞയ്യപ്പൻ) was one of the first Malayalam tele-films produced and telecasted by Doordarshan. Gopakumar played the title role in that tele-film. In 1988, Doordarshan aired the 13-episode television serial ‘Mandan Kunchu’ (മണ്ടൻ കുഞ്ചു). Gopakumar played an important role in this serial along with renowned Malayalam actors like Nedumudi Venu and Kaviyoor Ponnamma. Gopakumar’s professional acting career took off from then and is still very active after completing around 100 serials and telefilms.
Gopakumar’s first movie appearance was in 1989 in Mathilukal (മതിലുകൾ), the movie adaptation of Vaikom Muhammad Basheer’s novel of the same name, directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Gopakumar played the role of a random prison inmate who explains the story of a hole on the prison wall to his fellow inmate, the lead character, Basheer.
His role in Mathilukal was not significant or large enough to be noticed by many. Although, Gopakumar’s acting prowess did not go unnoticed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan when he happened to watch a stage play that Gopakumar took part in. Adoor Gopalakrishnan called Gopakumar again in 1993, this time to play the title role in his next movie Vidheyan (വിധേയൻ), the movie adaptation of the novel Bhaskara Pattelarum Ente Jeevithavum (ഭാസ്കരപ്പട്ടേലരും എന്റെ ജീവിതവും) by Malayalam writer Paul Zacharia. This turned out to be the big break that Gopakumar was looking for in his career. The outstanding performance in Vidheyan earned him the Special Jury award from Kerala State Government for the year 1993.
Kerala State Film award came to Gopakumar again in the year 1999 when he won the award for Second Best Actor for his role in the movie Gopalan Nairude Thaadi (ഗോപാലൻ നായരുടെ താടി).
After having acted in more than 50 movies and around 100 telefilms and television serials, Gopakumar is still active in both professional and amateur acting.
In 1996, when Hollywood director Steven Spielberg was looking for an Indian actor to play a role in his next movie The Lost World, his casting agents in India were directed towards M.R. Gopakumar by Adoor Gopalakrishnan himself. After multiple rounds of discussions and reviews of acting clips, Gopakumar was chosen to play the role of the Indian character in the movie. The news attracted national attention almost immediately, as Gopakumar was set to become the first Indian actor to act in a Steven Spielberg movie. Although, Gopakumar was unable to join the production unit in Los Angeles as his Work Permit could not be processed within time. The role in the movie was later played by another actor from outside India.
Kerala State Film Awards:1993 Special Jury Award for Outstanding Performance - Vidheyan
1999 Second Best Actor - Gopalan Nairude Thaadi
Kerala State Television Awards1994- Best Actor - Koodaaram
Best Actor 1998 - Pattolapponnu
Best Actor 1999 - Pulari, Baalyakaala Smaranakal
Best Supporting Actor 2004 - Fiction
Second Best Actor 2008 - Aranaazhika Neram