tue 25/10/2016

Pete Postlethwaite, 1946-2011 | reviews, news & interviews

Pete Postlethwaite, 1946-2011

Pete Postlethwaite, 1946-2011

'It's a face, that's for sure': Pete Postlethwaite on his natural features

Pete Postlethwaite, who has died from cancer at the age of 64, was an extremely amicable man whom Hollywood had down as a lugubrious baddie. It happened in Aliens 3, in The Usual Suspects, in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

You could see Hollywood's point. His greying itinerant preacher's hair flailed behind him wildly. His green irises blazed bright around pupils the size of pinpricks. And then there were the cheekbones jutting beneath them. "They are quite whopping, aren't they?" volunteered their owner when I met him. "Who was it said, 'He looks like he's got a clavicle stuck in his mouth'?" Postlethwaite couldn’t recall, nor did he know where they came from: neither of his parents were so well endowed. "It's a face, that's for sure."

The first 20 years of Postlethwaite's career were spent almost entirely in the theatre. He trained at the Bristol Old Vic, worked to the Liverpool Everyman in the years of intense creative boom when Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale were the resident writers and the fellow company members were Julie Walters, Antony Sher and Bill Nighy. He returned to Bristol, worked with the then-unknown Noble and designer Bob Crowley, and when the Colston Hall theatre was closed led a group of actors, among them the young Daniel Day Lewis (pictured below with Postlethwaite in In the Name of the Father), who peeled off from the Old Vic to form the Little Theatre Company.

sjff_03_img1282"It was a great spirit. You were responsible for your own work, your own errors, your own successes. It went on for six years after that. I was there for the first year. After that I couldn't keep going really. I burnt myself out. It was 24 hours a day, heady stuff."

For the RSC, he played a satisfying series of comic grotesques and extravagant gesticulators in the 1980s, but never in the lead role. He was a marvellously bucolic Bottom - that knobbly head could have been specifically designed for the addition of ass's ears. He was also made for Dickens: he was a glorious Montague Tigg in the BBC's Martin Chuzzlewit. But it was film which found out his inner darkness: he played the brutal father in Terence Davies's Distant Voices, Still Lives.

The trailer for Distant Voices, Still Lives

He could carbon-date his sudden international bankability to the appearance of Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father. Postlethwaite played the wrongfully imprisoned Guiseppe Conlon, he was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar and came to the attention of Spielberg and co. But his most delightful and characteristic film role was in Mark Herman’s Brassed Off, in which he played the fiery leader of a colliery brass band during the Miners’ Strike.

Postlethwaite's victory speech in Brassed Off

In his final year he appeared in Clash of the Titans, The Town and Inception but the role which towered over the last years of his career was King Lear, whom he played in a touring Liverpool Everyman production directed by Rupert Goold.

"I would do such things": Postlethwaite as Lear

  • Find the work of Pete Postlethwaite on Amazon

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I am so very sorry to hear about our friend's and colleague's death. I am a thespian myself, and like him, very keen and fond about Shakespeare's works. I am simply shocked that someone as talented and multi-faceted as Pete was, should leave us at such an early age (over sixty today, should not be considered old). I am convinced that he would still have astonished us all with many, many more roles to come. Alas, this will not become a reality now. We can only cherish at what he leaves behind for us to watch and watch again, to study, to understand and to admire. His particular appearance and unique face, but above all, his "speaking eyes" (he could say nothing and still say volumes with them) will stay impressed in all of our minds. My sincerest condolences go to all those who are and were close to him. For them, far more than for us, this is a true tragedy and an immense loss. People like Pete cannot ever be replaced by anyone else. His uniqueness will follow us as long as someone will have the gift of memory.

It sounds mean now the man has gone but, just to set the record straight, he wasn't always an amicable man to work with - in fact several friends thought he could be downright nasty. Still, he knew his craft, that's for sure, and he did understatement well.

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