Larger than life

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OBITUARY - By Ken­neth tu­ran

WAS there ever an ac­tor who aged more grace­fully, more beau­ti­fully than Peter O’Toole, who died Satur­day at age 81?

I know the con­ven­tional wis­dom is oth­er­wise, in­sist­ing that, phys­i­cally at least, O’Toole bore the rav­ages of a hard-lived life. I said as much my­self writ­ing about 2006’s Venus, not­ing that it was “wrench­ing” to see his char­ac­ter “sit­ting on his bed, rum­pled and frag­ile and with­out the will to get up un­til he slaps him­self hard and says, ‘ Come on, old man.’”

That per­for­mance earned O’Toole his eighth Os­car nom­i­na­tion, the most for any non win­ning ac­tor. It was also con­fir­ma­tion of the self-con­fi­dence and con­tin­u­ing skill of a per­former who had ini­tially turned down an hon­orary Os­car three years ear­lier, in­sist­ing he was “still in the game.”

In­deed, in Venus, his last great role, O’Toole used his life­time of tal­ent, craft and sim­ply liv­ing to turn the part of an age­ing ac­tor who forms a con­nec­tion with a young woman into a mas­ter class of seem­ingly ef­fort­less screen act­ing.

This per­for­mance was in some ways the op­po­site of the young and vi­tal work that made O’Toole an in­ter­na­tional star in 1962, eight years af­ter he grad­u­ated from the Royal Academy of Dra­matic Arts, re­port­edly in the same class with Alan Bates, Al­bert Fin­ney and Richard Har­ris.

No one needs to be told that that was the ti­tle role in David Lean’s Lawrence Of Ara­bia, a film whose scope and in­tel­li­gence were so for­mi­da­ble I fear we will never see its like again.

Not only was O’Toole young and lithe enough at age 30 to bring the phys­i­cal elan of T.E. Lawrence to life, he had the gifts of con­vey­ing al­most ca­su­ally both the as­tute­ness and the ec­cen­tric­ity of this highly un­usual leader of men.

Peter O’toole (1932-2013)

A key scene here is the one in which Lawrence puts out a burn­ing match be­tween two fin­gers with­out so much as blink­ing an eye.

When a Bri­tish of­fi­cer tries, howls in pain and asks how the trick is done, Lawrence enig­mat­i­cally replies that the an­swer is “not mind­ing that it hurts.”

When I think about Venus and Lawrence, in my mind the bookends of O’Toole’s ca­reer, I don’t see the de­cline but the con­ti­nu­ity.

Yes, he aged, but he was al­ways O’Toole, a su­pe­rior be­ing with the gen­eros­ity to bring ev­ery­one along for the ride.

If it could be ar­gued that all his char­ac­ters were as­pects of him­self, O’Toole’s per­son­al­ity was so mul­ti­fac­eted that each per­for­mance felt in­di­vid­ual.

Aside from those films, my favourite O’Toole per­for­mances were both from the same pe­riod, the 1980s, and both had the ac­tor play­ing larger-than-life char­ac­ters with the movie busi­ness in their blood.

In 1980’s The Stunt Man, he plays crazy-like-a-fox di­rec­tor Eli Cross, whose motto is “If God could do the tricks that we can do, he’d be a happy man,” a film­maker who has a weak­ness for act­ing like the de­ity him­self.

In 1982’s My Fa­vorite Year, O’Toole be­came Alan Swann, a wild and crazy movie ac­tor mod­eled loosely on Er­rol Flynn who has to be kept sober for an ap­pear­ance on a TV va­ri­ety show in­spired by Sid Cae­sar’s Your Show Of Shows.

O’Toole, who was an Os­car nom­i­nee for both roles, also ap­peared in his share of dread­ful films – I’d al­most for­got­ten he played Tiberius in the be­nighted Caligula – but he could al­ways be counted on to sur­prise you just when you’d counted him out.

The last time the ac­tor made me smile was in 2007, when, in a part writer-di­rec­tor Brad Bird wrote with him in mind, he voiced ca­dav­er­ous food critic An­ton Ego, aka The Grim Eater, in the de­light­ful Rata­touille.

In think­ing back over O’Toole’s ca­reer, I kept com­ing back to a line from My Fa­vorite Year, when the des­per­ate Swann in­sists, “I’m not an ac­tor, I’m a movie star.” Peter O’Toole was mag­nif­i­cently both, and he proved it time and time again. – Los An­ge­les Times/ McClatchy-Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

Con­sum­mate ac­tor: Peter O’Toole re­ceived eight Os­car nom­i­na­tions in his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer which spanned over 50 years.

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