Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pete Postlethwaite, acclaimed as 'best actor in the world', dies at 64

By Mark Hughes
The Independent, Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Postlethwaite: "In works like Brassed Off or In the Name of the Father, we were trying to say something"
Pete Postlethwaite, the former sheet-metal worker from Warrington described by Steven Spielberg as "the best actor in the world", has died after a lengthy period of cancer. He was 64.
The Oscar-nominated actor, who starred in films including The Usual Suspects and Brassed Off, died in hospital in Shropshire on Sunday. He is survived by his wife, Jacqui, his son Will, 21, and daughter, Lily, 14.
Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis said: "Pos was the one. As students it was him we went to see on stage time and time again. It was him we wanted to be like; wild and true; lion hearted; unselfconscious and deliciously irreverent. He was on our side. He watched out for us. We loved him and followed him like happy children, never a breath away from laughter.
"He shouldn't have gone. I wish so much he hadn't. There's a tendency to make lists at this time of the year. When we get to the Best of British if Pete isn't at the top of that list he shouldn't be far from it."
Yesterday, actors who worked with Postlethwaite at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, where he started his career in the 1970s, paid tribute.
Bill Nighy said he was "a rare and remarkable man", and added: "I was honoured by his friendship – he is irreplaceable."
Julie Walters, who also worked with Postlethwaite at the Everyman, said he was a "big part" of her early life as an actor. She added: "He was quite simply the most exciting, exhilarating actor of his generation. He invented 'edgy'. He was an exhilarating person and actor."
Twitter was also awash with tributes. Stephen Fry wrote: "The loss of the great Pete Postlethwaite is a very sad way to begin a year." The actor Simon Pegg wrote that Postlethwaite was "one of our finest actors", adding that he "first saw him at the RSC in 1986 – owned the stage he did".
Such praise may have embarrassed the self-effacing Postlethwaite. When told that he had been described by Steven Spielberg as "probably the best actor in the world today", he responded: "I'm sure what Spielberg actually said was, 'the thing about Pete is that he thinks he's the best actor in the world'."
Despite conquering Hollywood, Postlethwaite, who was awarded the OBE in 2004, was perhaps best known in this country for two films that portrayed historical events still raw enough for many to remember.
As environment secretary in the 1990s, John Prescott credited Brassed Off, in which Postlethwaite played Danny, the conductor of a colliery band whose pit was threatened with closure, with encouraging him to move to regenerate mining communities. Yesterday Lord Prescott wrote on Twitter: "So sad to hear of Pete Postlethwaite's death. Brassed Off & Age of Stupid had a real effect on me and our Government."
Securing leading roles in an industry increasingly obsessed by money and fame, Postlethwaite maintained that he remained guided by his working-class roots. He once said: "When we were back at the Everyman, everything had to relate to the community, it had to say something about people's lives. That never changed for me, that's why I said no to a lot of roles. In works like Brassed Off or In the Name of the Father, we were trying to say something, we were trying to convey a message."
  • Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
Postlethwaite gives a chilling performance as the father who terrorises his family in Terence Davies' film about a working-class childhood in a Liverpool tenement. Postlethwaite doesn't exactly make the character sympathetic, but he captures brilliantly the man's self-loathing. We understand that it's his frustration with himself and his circumstances that causes him to treat those closest to him in such a vicious way.
  • The Usual Suspects (1995)
He could be a saturnine and very enigmatic screen presence, but few of Postlethwaite's characters were more mysterious than the dapper but sinister lawyer, Kobayashi, the emissary of the inscrutable Keyzer Söze, in Bryan Singer's ingenious thriller. The film also displayed his range and versatility. He was equally comfortable playing gruff everymen in British realist dramas and in key character roles in big budget international films.
  • Brassed Off (1996)
He may have had a knack for portraying mean bastards and misanthropes, but Postlethwaite could also bring warmth and humour to the screen. He's at his best here as the colliery bandleader Danny in Mark Herman's rousing comedy drama, set in a North Yorkshire mining community in the early 1990s, still coping with Thatcher-era cuts and pit closures.
  • The Town (2010)
This was one of Postlethwaite's last screen performances. He looks gaunt and ravaged. His part isn't substantial, he is only on screen for a few minutes. However, he brings malice and intensity to his role as "the florist", the Boston underworld fixer who co-ordinates the gangland heists. For all his physical frailty, he is the most menacing character in Ben Affleck's muscular thriller.
  • In the Name of the Father (1993)
Postlethwaite received an Oscar nomination for his performance as Giuseppe Conlon in Jim Sheridan's docudrama about the Guildford Four. "My name is Giuseppe Conlon. I am an innocent man and so is my son!"
Geoffrey Macnab

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