Pete postlethwaite: 1946-2011: A powerful, authentic presence on the screen and stage dies
There was no mistaking Pete Postlethwaite for anyone else. Postlethwaite, who died Sunday at age 64, was the kind of character actor who immediately impressed audiences with his distinctive features. Because of his broken-nosed profile and the wa...
There was no mistaking Pete Postlethwaite for anyone else. Postlethwaite, who died Sunday at age 64, was the kind of character actor who immediately impressed audiences with his distinctive features. Because of his broken-nosed profile and the way his bony cheeks protruded at comic-book angles, he appeared, one British writer noted, "chiseled as if by a cubist sculptor."
But he held audiences because of his art, craft and primal powers of empathy. He was at the vital center of one of the most profound father-son tales in all of movies: Jim Sheridan's bristling 1993 drama, "In the Name of the Father," starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a man wrongly accused of IRA terrorism and Postlethwaite as the dad he bonds with after both wind up in a prison cell. No actor has better caught the way the emotional commitment and honesty of a conventional parent can disarm a would-be rebellious son. Postlethwaite won a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for it.
Postlethwaite could be the most harrowing and realistic of actors -- he hit the bull's-eye of callous urban villainy last year as the Irish mobster operating behind the front of a flower shop in Ben Affleck's "The Town."
But he could also be otherworldly. In Henry Selick's 1996 "James and the Giant Peach," released on Blu-ray and DVD just a few months ago, he is instantly haunting as a mystery man with a clouded eye who shows up in a phantasmagoric '30s setting, hands a British orphan a bag of iridescent green squiggly things and tells him they're crocodile tongues.
In Bryan Singer's suspense masterpiece "The Usual Suspects" (1995), he created mystery with his detached presence, his formal speech, and the cryptic way he bore the name of his character, Kobayashi.
Postlethwaite was in some other good-to-great movies, including Steven Spielberg's 1997 "Amistad" (I prefer it to Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," also from '97, which also featured
Postlethwaite) and Michael Mann's 1992 "The Last of the Mohicans." (And, of course, the hottest blockbuster director of recent years, Christopher Nolan, gave him a brief but key part as the dying tycoon in "Inception" -- and Postlethwaite managed to make an impression even in a property antithetical to acting.)
I was always glad to see him no matter the circumstances. In the disappointing movie version of "The Shipping News" (2001), he instantly struck to the core of a certain type of newspaper managing editor -- he was alternately dictatorial and cowardly.
Postlethwaite could bring the vivid immediacy of a Dickensian caricature to any kind of comedy or drama. In fact, in his memory, I hope to rent or buy a copy of the 1994 BBC miniseries of Dickens' "Martin Chuzzlewit," in which Postlethwaite plays Montague Tigg/Tigg Montague, one of the ultimate two-faced characters (he runs a pyramid scheme).
Postlethwaite died after a long battle with cancer, The Associated Press reported. Its story about him noted that Postlethwaite was hardly conventionally handsome but had a powerful presence and authenticity on screen and on stage. Director Steven Spielberg once described him as "the best actor in the world."
Postlethwaite, who lived in rural Shropshire, England, at the time of his death, originally wanted to be a priest but was drawn to acting despite his father's objections about the insecurity of a career in show business. He worked first as a drama teacher before striking out on his own.
Despite the plaudits, and the steady flow of quality roles, Postlethwaite never fully embraced the Hollywood star culture and kept a good distance between himself and the film colony, The AP reported. Friends and colleagues described him as honest and down-to-earth in a profession filled with big egos.
"Anyone who worked with him felt great affection for him," actor David Schneider told BBC News. "He was very un-actory. Sort of like a national treasure. There is so much affection for him, a wonderful actor and a wonderful bloke."
Postlethwaite was honored by Queen Elizabeth II when he received an OBE award in 2004. He was a political activist known for his opposition to the war in Iraq and his calls for policies to fight global warming. He used a wind turbine at his home to generate electricity and made other "green" alterations to the property.
He is survived by his wife, Jacqui; his son, Will; and daughter, Lily.