Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Peter O'Toole

(I didn't get a chance to write a proper post earlier, so…)

Peter O'Toole was one of the all-time greats, a true master of the craft and art of acting. There were better fits for specific roles or projects, but you couldn't ask for anyone of higher caliber. He didn't start out as an actor, and his career was the result of risk-taking, fortuitous chance and immense talent. He didn't like to give interviews, but he was a wonderful raconteur and charming guest. He said acting had always been very hard for him, yet in his performances, he made it all seem completely natural. He garnered headlines for his off-screen carousing, but his work remained impeccable, and this was no contradiction; he was a bon vivant who didn't do anything by half-measures. He must have done meticulous preparation and thinking before a role, but when actually performing, he was fully present, electric, a high-wire act, a presence.

One of the many stories he told about Lawrence of Arabia centered on the scene where Lawrence tries out his new Arab garb for the first time. It’s a character moment without dialogue, and director David Lean asked O'Toole to improvise. It was O'Toole's first big movie role and he felt a bit stranded, then started thinking, what would a young man do in this situation? He would want to see how he looked. And how would he do that? O'Toole seized on the idea of Lawrence using his dagger as a mirror. O'Toole heard Lean say quietly off-camera, "Clever boy." O'Toole smiled as he told the tale, and he had many great ones.

My favorite O'Toole performances are Lawrence of Arabia (no surprise) and My Favorite Year (which needs a good, new, affordable disc version). I'm also fond of his work in Ratatouille and as King Henry II in both The Lion in Winter and Beckett (I don't like some directorial or studio-driven choices in Beckett, but O'Toole himself in superb). Troy is a so-so film, but O'Toole is marvelous in it, as he was in many not-so-great films. (Venus is the second film I reviewed here.) O'Toole didn't win a Best Actor Oscar despite his eight nominations mainly due to extraordinary bad luck, but honorary Oscar were devised for precisely his situation, and his is one of the best deserved.

Here's the dagger moment from Lawrence and the scene that follows:

Here's one of O'Toole's best talk show segments, telling tales of Lawrence:

Here's O'Toole presented with his honorary Oscar:

Relevant links:

New York Times obituary.

Los Angeles Times obituary.

The Guardian obituary.

The Washington Post obituary.

Irish Examiner: Peter O' Toole: ‘I will stir the smooth sands of monotony’

The New Yorker appreciation.

Peter O'Toole's 1993 interview on Fresh Air, covering his films, Shakespeare and much more.

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