His first acting job was in a play entitled Buddy Holly at the Regal in Greenwich. Thewlis' first major film role was as the rambling street philosopher Johnny in Naked (1993; dir. Mike Leigh), for which he was named best actor by the National Society of Film Critics (United States), the London Film Critics Circle, the Evening Standard, the New York Film Critics' Circle and the Cannes Film Festival. Despite the dark nature of the film, he has been critically acclaimed for the role and it is seen as one of his best roles. The same year he appeared on television as the sexual predator James Jackson in Prime Suspect 3, opposite Helen Mirren and Ciaran Hinds. Prior to this Thewlis' first television appearance was alongside the Ken Jones in Valentine Park.
Through the 1990s, Thewlis appeared in a variety of films, mostly fantasy and period, including Restoration (1995), Black Beauty (1994), Total Eclipse (1995) with Leonardo DiCaprio, The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), Dragonheart (1