Mantle was educated at Kimbolton School, Cambridgeshire between 1970 and 1975 and at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) between 1978 and 1980. He appeared in 11 productions of the National Youth Theatre in five seasons between 1974 and 1978, and began carving a successful career as a stage actor in the 1980s, alongside various television roles. In 1984 he was nominated for an Olivier Award and was joint Best Newcomer in the Plays and Players Awards for his performance as Lennie in Of Mice and Men. In 1984 he was also cast as Little John in the cult 1980s fantasy series Robin of Sherwood, a role which he considers the most enjoyable of his career and which has remained one of his best-known roles. He was to appear as the first Nuclear Man in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace in 1987, but his scenes were cut from the film; they were later included with other deleted scenes when the film was released on DVD.
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