Sunday, October 12, 2008

And The Name Is Melissa Leo!

She's getting a lot of Oscar buzz for her role in the indie "Frozen River"which is another in a long line of working class women she's played like...
...Benicio Del Toro's wife in "21 Grams"

...or Kay Howard, one of the gazillion characters on the genius nineties ensemble police show "Homicide: Life On The Streets"...

... and I remember seeing her on the first season of ABC's "Young Guns" knock-off "The Young Riders".
This year, she got a similar "character actor gets lead in indie" bump that Richard Jenkins got with "The Visitor", with "Frozen River".
It seemed like in the seventies, actresses like Leo could count on a low budget regional film to have a lead in (maybe directed by Martin Ritt, or on a larger scale, Robert Altman), while playing support in a gritty crime drama on TV or having a recurring role in "All In The Family". These days, even the indies are looking for stars who want to stretch, so the Melissa Leo's of the biz have to play support in the more character-driven pieces as well.
Which is why "Frozen River" is nothing short of a miracle for the over-forty character actress set.

The New York Times did a great write up on Leo last summer. Let's read and hope they don't sue me.

A Leading Role, With Room to Stretch

Published: July 27, 2008

EARLY one especially fine morning last month in Central Park, New Yorkers kept stopping to watch
Melissa Leo shoot a scene for a movie called “Veronika Decides to Die.” There wasn’t a lot to see, just Ms. Leo on a park bench trading lines with the English actor David Thewlis, who, like her, is known as an actor’s actor, which is to say, immensely talented and insufficiently famous. The movie, based on a Paulo Coelho novel and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, is an indie aimed for release next year. Ms. Leo does a lot of those, and her part is secondary. She does a lot of those too. But, she said later of the character she plays, “It’s a pretty classic supporting role, with several scenes throughout and her own arc in the film.”
That is larger than some of her parts, but her fans have long been hungry for more than a few scenes and the occasional arc. This week they are going to get it. Ms. Leo is, hands down, the unequivocal star of “Frozen River,” the first feature by the writer and director Courtney Hunt, opening on Friday. A drama with the plot and pace of a thriller, the movie is about a number of things, but they all revolve around Ray Eddy, an upstate New York working-poor single mother whose gambler husband has run off with the money she’d been saving for the down payment on a bigger, handsomer trailer home to replace the rusted hulk she’s been raising their two sons in. Faced with a particularly grim Christmas, Ray decides to join Lila, a local Mohawk woman, in the dangerous but lucrative business of smuggling illegal immigrants into the United States from Canada, across the ice-bound St. Lawrence River.
Awarding Ms. Hunt the grand jury prize for best feature at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Quentin Tarantino, one of the jurors, said, “It took my breath away, and then somewhere around the last hour it put my heart in a vise and proceeded to twist that vise until the last frame."
The women’s scary night trips across the ice in Ray’s beaten-up car could justify some of that hyperbole. But the biggest thrill for many fans will be watching Ms. Leo perform with enough room to explore one of the complicated, surprising women she’s so good at sketching in smaller roles. Ray is vulnerable to life’s punches, but she’s no sentimental construct. For one thing she’s a bigot, though not overtly — at least toward most of the people she and Lila shovel into the trunk of her car. But she’s furious at having to transport a Pakistani couple she suspects of being Muslim terrorists and soothes her conscience by treating them horribly. At the same time she embodies the almost invisible heroism of someone continually pecked at by poverty. She not only keeps going, but her dogged problem-solving concentration also makes it clear that the thought of quitting doesn’t enter her mind.
There’s also the weird pleasure of seeing how bad Ms. Leo is willing to look for the camera. Ray is old and haggard before her time, her gullied face framed by terrible hair, crimped and dyed a harsh, aging red with bangs that coil wormlike across her forehead but telegraph the message: I’m still trying.
“That was mine,” Ms. Leo said proudly. “Successful or not, Ray’s hair and mascara say that she’s a woman, and she cares to be pretty. It’s something she did in high school when she met her husband, and it worked then, so maybe it’ll work now.”
This may be Ms. Leo’s first starring role, but she has been in 70 film and television productions since 1984, when she made her debut on the soap opera “All My Children.” She’s also packed in a substantial amount of Off Broadway theater. And the work shows no signs of drying up. So far this year she’s done eight features, a short film and an episode of “Law & Order.”
The role that put her on the map, though, was in the groundbreaking NBC police drama “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Always in man-tailored pants but sporting a curly, light-red mane halfway down her back, Ms. Leo’s wry, sardonic cop, Kay Howard, was the squad’s avenging angel. Ms. Leo appeared in 76 episodes from 1993 to ’97, only to have network executives replace her with a series of more glamorous female characters. Fans still gripe about this on the Internet. At the time she issued a statement saying she was “surprised and saddened,” adding, “There were not enough women like Kay on TV, and now there are none.”
Her independence has deep roots. When she was 9, she and her mother moved from the Lower East Side to Putney, Vt., and eventually to London, where, at 15, she remained on her own to study acting for two years before coming back to get her high school equivalency diploma and enroll at Purchase College.
“My mom was a ’70s mom,” she said of her mother’s willingness to let her stay in London. “She paved a road that no one had yet walked. To get the hippie out of certain characters is probably the most difficult thing for me. I was not a hippie by choice but by birth.”
Ms. Leo, 47, has long lived in Ulster County, near Woodstock, N.Y., with her son by the actor John Heard, and now on her own. She’s a familiar presence at Woodstock’s indie-oriented film festival, and is part of the loose network of artists, performing and otherwise, who have gravitated there.
She explains her résumé by saying, “I do the work that’s in front of me.” But when there’s a part that excites her, she goes after it. One of her most memorable performances was in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “21 Grams,” in which she played the steadfast wife of Benicio Del Toro’s tormented ex-convict and former junkie. Even after submitting two taped auditions, Ms. Leo said, she probably wouldn’t have landed the role if she hadn’t offered to fly herself to California to audition in person.
That perseverance paid off with “Frozen River” as well. Not in the usual sense of a star attaching herself to an indie project in order to attract investors; she doesn’t have that kind of draw, she said, adding with a grin, “Maybe next week.” Instead, Ms. Leo agreed, as she has on other occasions with novice directors, to appear in a short film by Ms. Hunt, who was hoping to make a calling card to raise money for the feature.
“I didn’t realize she had a full-length script until after the short was finished,” Ms. Leo said. At which point enlightened self-interest kicked in. It took four years and a lot of bad meetings before the money was raised, and more than once Ms. Hunt nearly gave up. So Ms. Leo would call every so often and ask, “We still making our movie?”
The answer may have come slowly at times, but it was always, “Yes.”
Watching Leo in films like this or the honest work she's done in television is watching a tireless artist practicing her craft. The Academy should, at the very least, recognize the need for low-budget, gutsy storytelling that Melissa Leo produces in everything she does.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

And The Name Is Harvey Korman!

Another giant of showbiz (both physically and talent-ly*) has passed... how could you not recognize Harvey Korman from "The Carol Burnett Show"...
... Or the way he effortlessly meets the bar Mel Brooks sets in "Blazing Saddles"...
... and watch what he does in this You Tube clip here. The guy was a frickin' genius.

But I have a confession to make. For awhile, it seemed like it was fashionable in comedy to make fun of "The Carol Burnett Show", Korman and Tim Conway for being old-fashioned, out-of-date and a little contrived.

"C'mon they crack each other up everytime?"- the argument tended to go.

"Really? Harvey Korman, a decades-long professional, can't keep a straight face for one take?"

I have since gotten over this young comic wannabe's cynicism. Guys like Korman and Conway are national treasures who need to be celebrated. If I learned one thing living in LA, it's that I tend to take these talented people who I admired as a kid for granted. One of the reasons for this site is to balance out the snarky stuff I tend to automatically say on the other site with heartfelt, somewhat snarky tributes to some people who don't get a lot of recognition unless they die.

And these guys deserve more than that.

Let's take a look at what The New York Times wrote about Harvey Korman...

Harvey Korman of ‘Burnett Show’ Dies at 81

Published: May 30, 2008

Harvey Korman, the award-winning comedic actor who rose to fame playing second banana to Carol Burnett on her television variety series and who starred in hit movies like “Blazing Saddles” and “High Anxiety,” died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

The cause was complications from the rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm four months ago, his family said in a statement released by the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center.

A tall man known for his outlandish characterizations, Mr. Korman was nominated for seven Emmys for his television work and won four. He also was nominated for four Golden Globe awards, winning one.

“Everything he did on ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ especially the Mother Marcus character, was a special favorite,” his daughter, Katherine Korman, said in an interview on Thursday. Mother Marcus, which he played in drag, “was a Yiddish grandmother based on his own real-life grandmother,” she said.

Mr. Korman also considered Hedley Lamarr, his role in the 1974 film “Blazing Saddles,” as one of his favorites, she said.

A native of Chicago, Mr. Korman studied drama there and then tried, unsuccessfully, to break into show business in New York City.

"For the next 13 years I tried to get on Broadway, on off-Broadway, under or beside Broadway," he said in an 1971 interview.

Eventually he gave up and returned to Chicago, but he later went to California to try again. After subsisting as a car salesman and movie doorman, in the mid-1960s he began getting minor movie parts, doing voice-overs as the Great Gazoo on “The Flintstones” and winning a TV spot on “The Danny Kaye Show.”

The Kaye show, which he joined in 1964, proved to be a springboard. It went off the air in 1967, but Mr. Korman soon landed a job on the Burnett show, which turned into his breakthrough. He was a natural fit with Ms. Burnett, and their weekly comedy sketches won high ratings for the show and a national audience for him.

Their performing partnership lasted for a decade, and both of their television careers faltered after they split. He became the host of “The Harvey Korman Show,” which ended after one season. Ms. Burnett acquired a new cast member in Dick Van Dyke, but that partnership did not have the same chemistry. Her show ended soon after.

Crediting Ms. Burnett for giving him an opportunity, Mr. Korman once said: "We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away."

Ms. Burnett “loved Harvey very much," according to her assistant, Angie Horejsi, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Korman’s career was far from over after he left the Burnett show. He appeared as a guest star in dozens of television series, specials and movies as recently as 2004. His roles covered a range of styles and included voice-overs in “Garfield and Friends,”
Bud Abbott in “Bud and Lou,” co-host of “The Flintstones’ 25th Anniversary Celebration” and a guest appearance on “ER.”

Mel Brooks cast him not only in “Blazing Saddles” and “High Anxiety,” but also in “History of the World: Part I” (1981) and “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” (1995). His film career also included “Huckleberry Finn” (1974), “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” (1976), “Curse of the Pink Panther” (1983), “The Flintstones” (1994) and “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas” (2000).

Mr. Korman reunited with a Burnett alumnus, Tim Conway, and toured the country to give live performances, reprising skits from the old shows as well as creating new material. “They had a private jet and went all over,” Katherine Korman said.

Mr. Korman had two children, Maria and Christopher, by his first marriage, to Donna Elhart, and two more children, Katherine and Laura, by his second marriage, to Deborah Fritz.

Even when off stage and off camera, Mr. Korman still loved to clown, his daughter Katherine said. “He was always funny in real life,” she said. “He would like to see how far he could push the limits, making people laugh. If he were here now, he would want us to be joking.”

Give it up for one of the last of the greats.
*look it up.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

And The Name Is Sydney Pollack!

This is the first time I've ever posted the same posts in two different blogs and the reason is that Pollack was both a very good director and a great character actor! Sydney Pollack was one of those guys (like Coppola and Scorsese) who I assumed would be around forever. I love some of the movies he directed and some I don't, but he was one of the most solid character actors and film buff/film fan/film supporters show biz has ever seen.
As much as I enjoy "Three Days Of The Condor", "The Yakuza", and "Tootsie", there are many more of his films that I think are okay ("The Electric Horseman", the "Sabrina" remake) or not very good at all ("Out Of Africa" makes my teeth itch... or maybe it's just that my teeth are prone to itchiness). But have you seen him in "Death Becomes Her"? "Husbands and Wives"? "The Player"? An episode of "The Sopranos" playing an oncologist in a prison hospital for murdering his wife?

In each one, he is unmistakable. A big guy, lots of presence, but really showing what he's got in the quiet moments.

His last role was in a film he co-produced with the late Anthony Minghella, "Michael Clayton". His part as the head of a law firm, who probably knows what's going on, but has long ago made his peace with the gray areas of law is truly great, subtle acting.

Here he is winning an Emmy (he got his start directing television) for an episode of the Bob Hope Chrysler Theatre.

And here's the obit from the New York Times...

Sydney Pollack, Film Director, Is Dead at 73


Published: May 27, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Sydney Pollack, a Hollywood mainstay as director, producer and sometime actor whose star-laden movies like “The Way We Were,” “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa” were among the most successful of the 1970s and ’80s, died Monday at home here. He was 73.

The cause was cancer, said the publicist Leslee Dart, who spoke for his family.

Mr. Pollack’s career defined an era in which big stars (Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Warren Beatty) and the filmmakers who knew how to wrangle them (Barry Levinson, Mike Nichols) retooled the Hollywood system. Savvy operators, they played studio against studio, staking their fortunes on pictures that served commerce without wholly abandoning art.

Hollywood honored Mr. Pollack in return. His movies received multiple Academy Award nominations, and as a director he won an Oscar for his work on the 1985 film “Out of Africa” as well as nominations for directing “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” (1969) and “Tootsie” (1982).

“Michael Clayton,” of which Mr. Pollack was a producer and a member of the cast, was nominated for a best picture Oscar earlier this year. He delivered a trademark performance as an old-bull lawyer who demands dark deeds from a subordinate, played by George Clooney. (“This is news? This case has reeked from Day 1!” snaps Mr. Pollack’s Marty Bach.) Most recently, Mr. Pollack portrayed the father of Patrick Dempsey’s character in “Made of Honor.”

Mr. Pollack became a prolific producer of independent films in the latter part of his career. With a partner, the filmmaker Anthony Minghella, he ran Mirage Enterprises, a production company whose films included Mr. Minghella’s “Cold Mountain” and the documentary “Sketches of Frank Gehry,” released in 2006, the last film directed by Mr. Pollack.

Mr. Minghella died in March, at the age of 54, or complications from surgery for tonsil cancer.

Apart from the Gehry documentary, Mr. Pollack never directed a movie without stars. His first feature, “The Slender Thread,” released by Paramount Pictures in 1965, starred Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft. In his next 19 films — every one a romance or drama but for the single comedy, “Tootsie” — Mr. Pollack worked with Burt Lancaster, Natalie Wood, Jane Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Nicole Kidman, Ms. Streisand and others. A frequent collaborator was Robert Redford.

“Sydney’s and my relationship both professionally and personally covers 40 years,” Mr. Redford said in an e-mailed statement. “It’s too personal to express in a sound bite.”

Sydney Irwin Pollack was born on July 1, 1934, in Lafayette, Ind., and reared in South Bend. By Mr. Pollack’s own account, in the book “World Film Directors,” his father, David, a pharmacist, and his mother, the former Rebecca Miller, were first-generation Russian-Americans who had met at Purdue University.

Mr. Pollack developed a love of drama at South Bend High School and, instead of going to college, went to New York and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. He studied there for two years under Sanford Meisner, who was in charge of its acting department, and remained for five more as Mr. Meisner’s assistant, teaching acting but also appearing onstage and in television.

Curly-haired and almost 6 feet 2 inches tall, Mr. Pollack had a notable role in a 1959 “Playhouse 90” telecast of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” an adaptation of the Hemingway novel directed by John Frankenheimer. Earlier, Mr. Pollack had appeared on Broadway with Zero Mostel in “A Stone for Danny Fisher” and with Katharine Cornell in “The Dark Is Light Enough.” But he said later that he probably could not have built a career as a leading man.

Instead, Mr. Pollack took the advice of Burt Lancaster, whom he had met while working with Mr. Frankenheimer, and turned to directing. Mr. Lancaster steered him to the entertainment mogul Lew Wasserman, and through him Mr. Pollack landed a directing assignment on the television series “Shotgun Slade.”

After a faltering start, he hit his stride on episodes of “Ben Casey,” “Naked City,” “The Fugitive” and other shows. In 1966 he won an Emmy for directing an episode of “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.”

From the time he made his first full-length feature, “The Slender Thread,” about a social work student coaxing a woman out of suicide on a help line, Mr. Pollack had a hit-and-miss relationship with the critics. Writing in The New York Times, A. H. Weiler deplored that film’s “sudsy waves of bathos.” Mr. Pollack himself later pronounced it “dreadful.”

But from the beginning of his movie career, he was also perceived as belonging to a generation whose work broke with the immediate past. In 1965, Charles Champlin, writing in The Los Angeles Times, compared Mr. Pollack to the director Elliot Silverstein, whose western spoof, “Cat Ballou,” had been released earlier that year, and Stuart Rosenberg, soon to be famous for “Cool Hand Luke” (1967). Mr. Champlin cited all three as artists who had used television rather than B movies to learn their craft.

Self-critical and never quite at ease with Hollywood, Mr. Pollack voiced a constant yearning for creative prerogatives more common on the stage. Yet he dived into the fray. In 1970, “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?,” his bleak fable of love and death among marathon dancers in the Great Depression, based on a Horace McCoy novel, received nine Oscar nominations, including the one for directing. (Gig Young won the best supporting actor award for his performance.)

Two years later, Mr. Pollack made the mountain-man saga “Jeremiah Johnson,” one of three closely spaced pictures in which he directed Mr. Redford.

The second of those, “The Way We Were,” about ill-fated lovers who meet up later in life, also starred Ms. Streisand and was a huge hit despite critical hostility.

The next, “Three Days of the Condor,” another hit, about a bookish C.I.A. worker thrust into a mystery, did somewhat better with the critics. “Tense and involving,” said Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times.

With “Absence of Malice” in 1981, Mr. Pollack entered the realm of public debate. The film’s story of a newspaper reporter (Sally Field) who is fed a false story by federal officials trying to squeeze information from a businessman (Paul Newman) was widely viewed as a corrective to the adulation of investigative reporters that followed Alan J. Pakula’s hit movie “All the President’s Men,” with its portrayal of the Watergate scandal.

But only with “Tootsie,” in 1982, did Mr. Pollack become a fully realized Hollywood player. By then he was represented by Michael S. Ovitz and the rapidly expanding Creative Artists Agency. So was his leading man, Dustin Hoffman.

As the film — a comedy about a struggling actor who disguises himself as a woman to get a coveted television part — was being shot for Columbia Pictures, Mr. Pollack and Mr. Hoffman became embroiled in a semi-public feud, with Mr. Ovitz running shuttle diplomacy between them.

Mr. Hoffman, who had initiated the project, argued for a more broadly comic approach. But Mr. Pollack — who played Mr. Hoffman’s agent in the film — was drawn to the seemingly doomed romance between the cross-dressing Hoffman character and the actress played by Jessica Lange.

If Mr. Pollack did not prevail on all points, he tipped the film in his own direction. Meanwhile, the movie came in behind schedule, over budget and surrounded by bad buzz.

Yet “Tootsie” was also a winner. It took in more than $177 million domestically and received 10 Oscar nominations, including for best picture. (Ms. Lange took home the film’s only Oscar, for best supporting actress.)

Backed by Mr. Ovitz, Mr. Pollack expanded his reach in the wake of success. Over the next several years, he worked closely with both TriStar Pictures, where he was creative consultant, and Universal, where Mirage, his production company, set up shop in 1986.

Mr. Pollack reached perhaps his pinnacle with “Out of Africa.” The film, based on the memoirs of Isak Dinesen, paired Ms. Streep and Mr. Redford in a drama that reworked one of the director’s favorite themes, that of star-crossed lovers. It captured Oscars for best picture and best director.

Still, Mr. Pollack remained uneasy about his cinematic skills. “I was never what I would call a great shooter or visual stylist,” he told an interviewer for American Cinematographer last year. And he developed a reputation for caution when it came to directing assignments. Time after time, he expressed interest in directing projects, only to back away. At one point he was to make “Rain Man,” a Dustin Hoffman picture ultimately directed by Mr. Levinson; at another, an adaptation of “The Night Manager” by John le Carré.

That wariness was undoubtedly fed by his experience with “Havana,” a 1990 film that was to be his last with Mr. Redford. It seemed to please no one, though Mr. Pollack defended it. “To tell you the truth, if I knew what was wrong, I’d have fixed it,” Mr. Pollack told The Los Angeles Times in 1993.

“The Firm,” with Tom Cruise, was a hit that year. But “Sabrina” (1995) and “Random Hearts” (1999), both with Harrison Ford, and “The Interpreter” (2005), with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, fell short, as Hollywood and its primary audience increasingly eschewed stars for fantasy and special effects.

Mr. Pollack never stopped acting; in a recent episode of “Entourage,” the HBO series about Hollywood, he played himself.

Among Mr. Pollack’s survivors are two daughters, Rebecca Pollack and Rachel Pollack, and his wife, Claire Griswold. The couple married in 1958, while Mr. Pollack was serving a two-year hitch in the Army. Their only son, Steven, died at age 34 in a 1993 plane crash in Santa Monica, Calif.

In his later years, Mr. Pollack appeared to relish his role as elder statesman. At various times he was executive director of the Actors Studio West, chairman of American Cinematheque and an advocate for artists’ rights.

He increasingly sounded wistful notes about the disappearance of the Hollywood he knew in his prime. “The middle ground is now gone,” Mr. Pollack said in the fall 1998 issue of New Perspectives Quarterly. He added, with a nod to a fellow filmmaker: “It is not impossible to make mainstream films which are really good. Costa-Gavras once said that accidents can happen.”

Again, this has hit me like a ton of bricks. The talent pool just got a little shallower. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

And the Name Is Richard Jenkins!

Lately he's been on the "First time this character actor has ever played a lead" pr train, for his role in an indie called "The Visitor"...
...but you might remember him from the "Charlize Theron wants another Oscar" Oscar bait/revisionist 70's agitprop drama "North Country"...
...and if you watched the "not television" channel you probably caught him as the dead father in "Six Feet Under".

But to me, he has always been a comedic secret weapon, because no one ever expects him. Just watch him in "Flirting With Disaster" (the best thing about that movie), "Intolerable Cruelty" or even the "Fun With Dick And Jane" remake and see a guy who plays everything so real, you don't realize how funny he's being until a scene or two after.

Hey, let's see what the interview conducted in the New York Times with Jenkins has to say...

Stretching for a New Film Role: The Lead
Published: April 6, 2008


MOST of the time when people recognize him on the street, they ask if he was their high school classmate. No, he politely responds in his distinctive, gravelly baritone. Richard Jenkins is an actor — one you did not go to high school with, unless you happen to be from DeKalb, Ill., but have probably seen a dozen times on screens big and small. Try to place exactly where you saw him, though, and you might find yourself at a loss.

He has played characters created by John Updike and the Coen brothers. He was the psychiatrist in “There’s Something About Mary” who pretended to listen as Ben Stiller’s character droned on about his romantic problems. In “Flirting With Disaster” he was the gay federal agent who ran through the desert in his underwear after inadvertently eating a meal laced with drugs. He’s been the ghost of an undertaker who gets pulverized by a bus in “Six Feet Under” and Woody Allen’s doctor in “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

But now, after playing supporting roles for the better part of three decades, he is finally getting his shot at being the leading man.

In “The Visitor,” a new film by Thomas McCarthy that opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, Mr. Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a lonely, bored and widowed economics professor who finds his orderly life shaken and then transformed by two illegal immigrants he discovers in his Manhattan pied-à-terre.

Vale is in many ways a reflection and creation of Mr. Jenkins himself. Both are contemplative and earnest men, making it difficult to tell where Mr. Jenkins ends and Vale begins.

That is because Mr. Jenkins worked directly with Mr. McCarthy, who wrote the script with the actor in mind, to shape Vale’s character development. The actor and director collaborated on the character’s every trait, from the lines he speaks to the glasses he wears.

“I understood this man,” Mr. Jenkins, a slender-framed man of 60, said in an interview here at a cafe just a few blocks from Trinity Repertory Company, the theater where he spent almost 20 years as an actor and, eventually, artistic director. “I understood his reluctance to reach out, to become part of things.”

By his own admission Mr. Jenkins sometimes requires a jump-start to get into first gear. He’s perfectly content in his comfort zone. He often needs a little motivation from his wife, he said, even for the littlest things, like trying a new restaurant or taking a vacation someplace they have never visited.

Mr. Jenkins’s role in “The Visitor” began to take shape about four years ago, when he and Mr. McCarthy first sat down over lunch to discuss the possibility of working together.

“About a year and a half later he called me and said: ‘I wrote this script. Would you take a look at it?’ ” Mr. Jenkins recalled. “He sent me the script, and I read it, and I just loved it. I mean, I just loved it. And I said to him, ‘Nobody’s going to give you any money to do this movie with me in the lead.’ He said: ‘That wasn’t my question. My question was, do you want to do it?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ ”

Mr. McCarthy, an actor who made his directorial debut in 2003 with “The Station Agent,” did not see Mr. Jenkins’s lack of star power as a problem; he saw it as an asset. “I felt like I needed an actor who could really vanish into the role and maybe someone who wasn’t immediately recognizable as a Hollywood star,” Mr. McCarthy said in a telephone interview. “He could really play the everyman, the average American, and be really believable.”

A Hollywood stereotype Mr. Jenkins is not. For the last four decades he has lived in the Providence area, where he and his wife, Sharon, raised a son and a daughter. Ms. Jenkins, a dancer turned choreographer and his wife of 39 years, still works with Trinity Rep, where Mr. Jenkins got his start as a professional actor right after college in the Midwest. He spent 14 seasons with the theater and later four years as its artistic director, making time for the occasional small part in films like “And the Band Played On” and “Wolf.”

Mr. Jenkins, whose taste in cars tends toward Toyota Camry hybrids, tries as hard as he can to stay out of the limelight. That has been difficult lately. He is about to embark on a publicity tour for “The Visitor,” and it’s a part of the actor’s life he finds a little awkward. “I don’t do this,” he told a reporter as he fidgeted nervously with a piece of paper during an interview over lunch. “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to do lots of different things. And I don’t know why, but I have.”

He seems truly at home at Trinity Rep, which is housed in a majestic, renovated theater in downtown Providence. On a recent visit there the staff welcomed him with warm embraces and gleeful greetings. A black-and-white picture of him still hangs on a wall in the lobby.

“This is just a great little space,” he said, standing in the aisle of one of the auditoriums and taking in the smell of freshly cut wood from the set. “I love coming back here. I love the feeling.” The four seasons he spent as the theater’s artistic director seem to have carried over to his career as a screen actor. Mr. McCarthy recalled a scene in “The Visitor” in which Mr. Jenkins’s character tries to flirt with the mother of Tarek, one of the immigrants who has been living in his apartment. Vale, a creature of strict habit, arrives wearing new glasses.

Those spectacles — with sleek, thin frames compared with the big, clunky pair he wore earlier — were Mr. Jenkins’s idea and written into the script at his suggestion to show how the straight-laced Vale is taking baby steps toward loosening up. “It’s a lovely touch,” Mr. McCarthy said, “and it really reveals a lot about the character.”

Mr. McCarthy said Mr. Jenkins connected with his role at a level of intimacy he has rarely seen from actors. The night he screened “The Visitor” for Mr. Jenkins and his wife, Mr. McCarthy said, the bond of actor to character was obvious.

“He didn’t say anything for a long time,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Then he finally said, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole career to do a movie like this.’ And he said it in such a way that was so honest. For me, those are the moments you live for.”

I think it takes an independent writer/director like Thomas McCarthy to bring to the viewing public what someone like Jenkins is capable of. One thinks of Robert Altman shooting the film version of "Secret Honor" and making the actor Phillip Baker Hall suddenly visible to critics and art house audiences. Or Woody Allen putting the heretofore unknown Wallace Shawn in "Manhattan" as almost a sight gag, but giving Shawn a second career as an actor (in addition to Obie-award winning playwright).

And those are moments I live for.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

And The Name Is Richard Widmark!

Richard Widmark, who passed away on Sunday, March 24th, was an actor whose privacy offscreen fueled his intensity on...
...he got his start as a go-to for crime heavy, forties/fifties film noir in such films as "Kiss Of Death", "Night & The City" and "Pickup on South Street" ...
...eventually he would move on to become a great all-around actor/star and appear in a lot of the classic westerns of the time including "How The West Was Won", "The Alamo", and a film he researched and helped make, John Ford's "Cheyenne Autumn"... the sixties he moved on to more relevant material like Don Siegel's "Madigan", which Siegel did as a dry run (along with "Coogan's Bluff") for "Dirty Harry"...

... and yet he still had time for bad guys like "Ratchett" in "Murder On The Orient Express".

"Murder..." was the first thing I ever saw him in and I distinctly remember Albert Finney as Hercules Poirot, after a terse exchange with Widmark, saying he would not help him because he did not like his face. Widmark sets this up beautifully in his performance.

From The New York Times obituary...

Richard Widmark, Actor, Dies at 93

Published: March 26, 2008

Richard Widmark, who created a villain in his first movie role who was so repellent and frightening that the actor became a star overnight, died Monday at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 93.

His death was announced Wednesday morning by his wife, Susan Blanchard. She said that Mr. Widmark had fractured a vertebra in recent months and that his conditioned had worsened.

As Tommy Udo, a giggling, psychopathic killer in the 1947 gangster film “Kiss of Death,” Mr. Widmark tied up an old woman in a wheelchair (played by Mildred Dunnock) with a cord ripped from a lamp and shoved her down a flight of stairs to her death.

“The sadism of that character, the fearful laugh, the skull showing through drawn skin, and the surely conscious evocation of a concentration-camp degenerate established Widmark as the most frightening person on the screen,” the critic David Thomson wrote in “The Biographical Dictionary of Film.”

The performance won Mr. Widmark his sole Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actor.

Tommy Udo made the 32-year-old Mr. Widmark, who had been an established radio actor, an instant movie star, and he spent the next seven years playing a variety of flawed heroes and relentlessly anti-social mobsters in 20th Century Fox’s juiciest melodramas.

His mobsters were drenched in evil. Even his heroes, including the doctor who fights bubonic plague in Elia Kazan’s “Panic in the Streets” (1950), the daredevil pilot flying into the eye of a storm in “Slattery’s Hurricane” (1949) and the pickpocket who refuses to be a traitor in Samuel Fuller’s “Pickup on South Street” (1953) were nerve-strained and feral.

“Movie audiences fasten on to one aspect of the actor, and then they decide what they want you to be,” Mr. Widmark once said. “They think you’re playing yourself. The truth is that the only person who can ever really play himself is a baby.”

In reality, the screen’s most vicious psychopath was a mild-mannered former teacher who had married his college sweetheart, the actress Jean Hazelwood, and who told a reporter 48 years later that he had never been unfaithful and had never even flirted with women because, he said, “I happen to like my wife a lot.”

He was originally turned down for the role of Tommy Udo by the movie’s director, Henry Hathaway, who told Mr. Widmark that he was too clean-cut and intellectual. It was Darryl Zanuck, the Fox studio head, who, after watching Mr. Widmark’s screen test, insisted that he be given the part.

Among the 65 movies he made over the next five decades were “The Cobweb” (1955), in which he played the head of a psychiatric clinic where the staff seemed more emotionally troubled than the patients; “Saint Joan” (1957) , as the Dauphin to Jean Seberg’s Joan of Arc; John Wayne’s “The Alamo” (1960), as Jim Bowie, the inventor of the Bowie knife; “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), as an American army colonel prosecuting German war criminals; and John Ford’s revisionist western “Cheyenne Autumn” (1963), as an army captain who risks his career to help the Indians.

The genesis of “Cheyenne Autumn” was research Mr. Widmark had done at Yale into the suffering of the Cheyenne. He showed his work to John Ford and, two years later, Ford sent Mr. Widmark a finished screenplay.

Mr. Widmark created the role of Detective Sergeant Daniel Madigan in Don Siegel’s 1968 film “Madigan.” It proved so popular that he later played the loner Madigan on an NBC television series during the 1972-73 season.

As his blonde hair turned grey, Mr. Widmark moved up in rank, playing generals in the nuclear thriller “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (1977) and “The Swarm” (1978), in which he waged war on bees. He was the evil head of a hospital in “Coma” (1978) and a United States Senator in “True Colors” (1991).

He was forever fighting producers’ efforts to stereotype him. Indeed, he became so adept at all types of roles that he consistently lent credibility to inferior movies and became an audience favorite over a career that spanned more than half a century.

“I suppose I wanted to act in order to have a place in the sun,” he once told a reporter. “I’d always lived in small towns, and acting meant having some kind of identity.”

Richard Widmark (he had no middle name) was born on Dec. 26, 1914, in Sunrise, Minn., and grew up throughout the Midwest. His father, Carl Widmark, was a traveling salesman who took his wife, Mae Ethel, and two sons from Minnesota to Sioux Falls, S.D.; Henry, Ill.; Chillicothe, Mo.; and Princeton, Ill., where Mr. Widmark graduated from high school as senior class president.

Movie crazy, he was afraid to admit his interest in the “sissy” job of acting. On a full scholarship at Lake Forest College in Illinois, he played end on the football team, took third place in a state oratory contest, starred in plays and was, once again, senior class president.

Graduating in 1936, he spent two years as an instructor in the Lake Forest drama department, directing and acting in two dozen plays. Then he headed to New York City in 1938, where one of his classmates was producing 15-minute radio soap operas and cast Mr. Widmark in a variety of roles.

“Getting launched was easy for me — too easy, perhaps,” he said of his success playing “young, neurotic guys” on “Big Sister,” “Life Can Be Beautiful,” “Joyce Jordan, M.D.,” “Stella Dallas,” “Front Page Farrell,” “Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories” and “Inner Sanctum.”

At the beginning of World War II, Mr. Widmark tried to enlist in the army but was turned down three times because of a perforated eardrum. So he turned, in 1943, to Broadway. In his first stage role, he played an Army lieutenant in F. Hugh Herbert’s “Kiss and Tell,” directed by George Abbott. Appearing in the controversial play “Trio,” which was closed by the License Commissioner after 67 performances because it touched on lesbianism, he received glowing reviews as a college student who fights to free the girl he loves from the domination of an older woman.

After a successful, 10-year career as a radio actor, he tried the movies with “Kiss of Death,” which was being filmed in New York. Older than most new recruits, he was, to his surprise, summoned to Hollywood after the movie was released. “I’m probably the only actor who gave up a swimming pool to go out to Hollywood,” Mr. Widmark told The New Yorker in 1961.

He had never expected 20th Century Fox to pick up the option on the contract he was forced to sign to get the role of Tommy Udo. During the seven years of his Fox contract, he starred in 20 movies, including “Yellow Sky” (1948), as the blackguard who menaces Gregory Peck; “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1949), as a valiant whaler; Jules Dassin’s “Night and the City” (1950), as a small- time hustler who dreams of becoming a wrestling promoter; and “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952), in which the tables were turned and he was the prey of a psychopathic Marilyn Monroe.

A passionate liberal Democrat, Mr. Widmark played a bigot who baits a black doctor in Joseph Mankiewicz’s “No Way Out” (1950). He was so embarrassed by the character that after every scene he apologized to the young actor he was required to torment, Sidney Poitier.
In 1990, when Mr. Widmark was given the D.W. Griffith Career Achievement Award by the National Board of Review, it was Mr. Poitier who presented it to him.

Within two years after his Fox contract ended, Mr. Widmark had formed a production company and produced “Time Limit” (1957), a serious dissection of possible treason by an American prisoner of war that The New York Times called “sobering, important and exciting.” Directed by the actor Karl Malden, “Time Limit” starred Mr. Widmark as an army colonel who is investigating a major (Richard Basehart) who is suspected of having broken under pressure during the Korean War and aided the enemy.

Mr. Widmark produced two more films: “The Secret Ways” (1961) in which he went behind the Iron Curtain to bring out an anti-Communist leader; and “The Bedford Incident” (1964), another Cold War drama, in which he played an ultraconservative naval captain trailing a Russian submarine and putting the world in danger of a nuclear catastrophe.

Mr. Widmark told The Guardian in 1995 that he had not become a producer to make money but to have greater artistic control. “I could choose the director and my fellow actors,” he said. “I could carry out projects which I liked but the studios didn’t want.”

He added: “The businessmen who run Hollywood today have no self-respect. What interests them is not movies but the bottom line. Look at ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ which turns idiocy into something positive, or ‘Forrest Gump,’ a hymn to stupidity. ‘Intellectual’ has become a dirty word.”

He also vowed he would never appear on a talk show on television, saying, “When I see people destroying their privacy — what they think, what they feel — by beaming it out to millions of viewers, I think it cheapens them as individuals.”

In 1970, he won an Emmy nomination for his first television role, as the president of the United States in a mini-series based on Fletcher Knebel’s novel “Vanished.” By the 1980s, television movies had transformed the jittery psychopath of his early days into a wise and stalwart lawman. He played a Texas Ranger opposite Willie Nelson’s train robber in “Once Upon a Texas Train,” a small-town police chief in “Blackout” and, most memorably, a bayou country sheriff faced with a group of aged black men who have confessed to a murder in “A Gathering of Old Men.”

“The older you get, the less you know about acting,” he told one reporter, “but the more you know about what makes the really great actors.” The actor he most admired was Spencer Tracy, because, he said, Tracy’s acting had a reality and honesty that seemed effortless.

Mr. Widmark, who hated the limelight, spent his Hollywood years living quietly on a large farm in Connecticut and an 80-acre horse ranch in Hidden Valley, north of Los Angeles. Asked once if he had been “astute” with his money, he answered, “No, just tight.”

He sold the ranch in 1997 after the death of Ms. Hazelwood, his wife of 55 years. “I don’t care how well known an actor is,” Mr. Widmark insisted. “He can lead a normal life if he wants to.”

Besides his wife, Ms. Blanchard, Mr. Widmark is survived by his daughter, Anne Heath Widmark, of Santa Fe, N.M., who had once been married to the Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.

Well into his later years, the nonviolent, gun-hating Mr. Widmark, who described himself as “gentle,” was accosted by strangers who expected him to be a tough guy. There is even a story that Joey Gallo, the New York mobster, was so taken by Mr. Widmark’s performance in “Kiss of Death” that he copied the actor’s natty posture, sadistic smirk and tittering laugh.

“It’s a bit rough,” Mr. Widmark once said, “priding oneself that one isn’t too bad an actor and then finding one’s only remembered for a giggle.”

In the early eighties, I was obsessed with a movie* called "Fade To Black" that had the mighty Dennis Christopher in it as a movie fan who goes nuts and begins killing off everyone who's bullied him**, in disguise as various evil movie icons, like Cagney in "White Heat", Dracula and The Mummy. Tommy Udo from "Kiss Of Death" was the one I hadn't heard of. But seeing clips in "Fade To Black" made me realize how great Widmark is in the part, And then seeing the whole film later on confirmed that for me.

He will be missed.

*hard to believe, I know.
**it took a while for me to understand this wasn't a good lifestyle choice.

Friday, March 21, 2008

And The Name Is Ivan Dixon!

Sadly, Dixon passed away Sunday, March 17th. Reading his obituaries, it seems that most people remember this actor from...
... either playing Kinchloe in "Hogan's Heroes" or maybe as the moral center of the movie "Car Wash"...
... I also remember him in one of the more emotional episodes of "The Twilight Zone" for me, "The Big, Tall Wish"...
but did you know he produced and directed one of the most controversial of the blaxploitation era films "The Spook Who Sat by the Door"?

Yeah, neither did I. Shot, according to the author of the book, in Chicago outside without permits, this film tells the story of how an African-American who is recruited (and more importantly trained) by the C.I.A. for show, quits and takes his training to Chicago to form a revolutionary army out of the gangs there.

Dixon went from this to directing mostly TV, paving the way for African- American television actor-turned-directors like Thomas Carter, Eric Laneuville and Kevin Hooks.

Let's see the New York Times has to say...

Ivan Dixon, Actor in ‘Hogan’s Heroes,’ Dies at 76

Published: March 20, 2008

Ivan Dixon, an actor and director who was best known for playing Sgt. James Kinchloe on the 1960s sitcom “Hogan’s Heroes” but whose films included vivid portrayals of black struggles in the American South and insurrectionist inclinations in the North, died on Sunday in Charlotte, N.C. He was 76 and lived in Charlotte.

The cause was complications of kidney disease, said his daughter, Doris Nomathande Dixon.

Ms. Dixon said her father was always pleased to be recognized as Sergeant Kinchloe, the American radio technician in a World War II German P.O.W. camp who could adeptly mimic his captors. But he was most proud, she said, of the 1964 movie “Nothing but a Man,” in which he starred, and of the 1973 film “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” which he directed.

In “Nothing but a Man” Mr. Dixon played a young black railroad worker who gives up his job to marry a minister’s daughter, played by Abbey Lincoln, and then runs into trouble for not knowing his place in the Deep South. In a 1991 article on the history of black films, Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times that “Nothing but a Man” was “way ahead of its time.”

“Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lincoln give tough, moving performances as a couple making their way in a white world without apologies to anyone,” he wrote. “No thoughts of integration for them. They demand their own lives and are willing to fight for them.”

“The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” based on the novel by Sam Greenlee, tells the tale of Dan Freeman, the first black officer in the Central Intelligence Agency. After five years of menial assignments, Freeman quits, takes what he has learned about terrorist tactics and goes to Chicago, where he tries to put together a black guerrilla operation.

Although “The Spook” aroused controversy and was soon pulled from theaters, it later gained cult status as a bootleg video and, in 2004, was released on DVD. At that time Mr. Dixon told The Times that the movie had tried only to depict black anger, not to suggest armed revolt as a solution.

Mr. Dixon directed scores of television shows, including episodes of “The Waltons,” “The Rockford Files,” “Magnum, P.I.,” “Quincy” and “In the Heat of the Night.” In 1967 he played the title role in a CBS Playhouse drama, “The Final War of Olly Winter,” about a veteran of World War II and the Korean War who decides that Vietnam will be his final war. For that role he received an Emmy nomination for best single performance by an actor.

Ivan Nathaniel Dixon 3rd was born on April 6, 1931, in Harlem, where his family owned a grocery store. Besides his daughter, Doris, who lives in Charlotte, Mr. Dixon is survived by his wife of 58 years, the former Berlie Ray; and a son, Alan, of Oakland, Calif.

Mr. Dixon graduated from North Carolina Central University in 1954 with a drama degree. His big break came in 1957 when he appeared on Broadway in William Saroyan’s “Cave Dwellers.”

Two years later he played Joseph Asagai, the charming, mannerly Nigerian student visiting the United States in Lorraine Hansberry’s “Raisin in the Sun,” the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway.

What I liked in Dixon's performances was his intensity. He always had something going on in his eyes, something that let you know he (the character) was thinking, taking what was going on, making his mind up.

Yes, even "Hogan's Heroes", as much as the part would allow.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

And The Name Is Paul Scofield!

Another of the greats passed away this week, as we mourn the loss of Paul Scofield. His Oscartm-winning performance in "A Man For All Seasons" is probably his best known...
...but he was also a great foil for the mighty Burt Lancaster in "The Train"...
...probably the first time I saw him was as Ralph Fiennes father in Robert Redofrd's best directorial effort* "Quiz Show"...
...and Branagh-philes (all seven of you) will remember Kenneth finding space for him in "Henry V" as King Charles I of France.

A picky actor in terms of parts (he was someone who resisted playing against his range), he did only a few films, but the ones he did were cherce.

From the New York Times...

Paul Scofield, British Actor, Dies at 86
Published: March 21, 2008

Paul Scofield, the renowned British actor who created the indelible role of Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s “Man for All Seasons” and then recreated it on film in 1966 with an Oscar-winning performance, died on Wednesday near his home in southern England. He was 86.

Mr. Scofield had been hospitalized with leukemia, his agent, Rosalind Chatto, said in announcing his death.

Mr. Scofield was regarded by critics and his peers as one of the greatest actors in the English-speaking world, one who had brought freshness and power to Hamlet, King Lear and many other classic roles.

But he might have been better known to the public if he had been less withdrawn. He seldom gave interviews and never appeared on television talk shows. A shy, reclusive man, he refused to accept the knighthood that was offered him in the 1960s.

He became so used to being described by journalists as a private person that he once joked, “I half-expect people to phone me and say, ‘Hello, is that Paul Scofield, the very private person?’ ”

He was a wide-ranging actor who, thanks to his bearing and height — he stood six-foot-two — could project power and authority in one role and an air of inscrutability in the next. As early as 1949, the critic Harold Hobson wrote that all of Mr. Scofield’s performances had “something of the other world about them: invariably he looks as if he has been reading ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and seen ghosts at midnight.”

John Gielgud admired Mr. Scofield’s stillness and sense of mystery — “a sphinx with a secret,” as he put it. Peter Hall, who directed Mr. Scofield as Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” in London in 1979, said of him that there was always tremendous tension beneath the surface, “like a volcano erupting.”

To the director Richard Eyre, Mr. Scofield was “the best there has ever been.”

Mr. Scofield’s looks and voice were distinctive. Over time his stony face became more lined, giving the impression of a fissured cliff. The voice put the film director Fred Zinnemann in mind of “a Rolls-Royce being started.”

But the voice was adaptable. When Mr. Scofield played Othello, or Captain Shotover in Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” the voice rumbled majestically; when he played the title role in an adaptation of “Don Quixote,” it became a tormented falsetto. He was, he said, “prepared to sound ugly as long as the meaning is fresh.”

Mr. Scofield was physically adaptable, too. That was the case with the character he rehearsed while still playing Hamlet in 1956 — the “whiskey priest” in Graham Greene’s “Power and the Glory.” Peter Brook, who directed, described in his memoirs how the role had eluded Mr. Scofield until “Hamlet” closed and he cut his mane of hair.

“The door opened, and a small man entered,” Mr. Brook wrote. “He was wearing a black suit, steel-rimmed glasses and holding a suitcase. For a moment we wondered why this stranger was wandering on our stage. Then we realized it was Paul, transformed. His tall body had shrunk. He had become insignificant.”

The following performance in “The Power and the Glory” is remembered as one of his finest.

But the role that brought Mr. Scofield international renown was that of Sir Thomas More in “A Man for All Seasons,” which opened in London in 1960. The mix of moral strength, intelligence, melancholy and wily grace he brought to Henry VIII's Roman-Catholic lord chancellor, who went to his death rather than acknowledge the king’s claim to be the supreme head of the Church of England, won him a Tony Award for his Broadway debut in the role in the 1961-62 season. That was followed by an Academy Award as best actor when Mr. Zinnemann directed him in the movie version of the play in 1966.

As powerful as those performances were, many critics and colleagues thought he was even greater in other roles. In an opinion poll in 2004, members of the Royal Shakespeare Company rated his 1962 performance as King Lear as the greatest in a Shakespearean play.

There were many others: his titanically angry Timon of Athens in 1965, his brooding Uncle Vanya in 1970, his warm, doting Othello in 1980, his darkly embittered Salieri in “Amadeus.”

When the National Theater in London staged Zuckmayer’s “Captain of Köpenick” in 1971, with Mr. Scofield as Voigt, an ex-jailbird who poses as a military man, every part of him seemed to be acting, from his adenoidal voice to his dropped eyelids, from his slumped shoulders to feet that shuffled, danced or trudged, depending on the state of the character’s private war with German bureaucracy.

Despite his international fame, when the curtain fell, Mr. Scofield hopped the commuter train back to his family. He did not often mix socially with theater people. At home, only 10 miles or so from his birthplace, was his wife, the former Joy Parker, an actress he married in 1943 and remained with for 65 years, until his death; a daughter, Sarah, and a son, Martin. They all survive him.

“I decided a long time ago I didn’t want to be a star personality and live my life out in public,” Mr. Scofield once said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to wave personality about like a flag and become labeled.”

He could not avoid a public face, but he preferred to reserve it for his audiences. Stints as a director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and as an associate director of the National Theater were unfulfilling. He became a Commander of the British Empire in 1956 and, in 2001, a Companion of Honor, a title only about 65 living people now hold. But after years of refusing to discuss the matter, he acknowledged in 1996 that he had rejected knighthood.

“I have every respect” for people who are offered a knighthood, he said. “It’s just not an aspect of life I would want. If you want a title, what’s wrong with Mr.?”

Paul Scofield was born David Scofield on Jan. 21, 1922, in the Sussex village of Hurstpierpoint, where his father became the headmaster of the local school. At 13, as a student at Varndean School in nearby Brighton, he made his theatrical debut on the school stage, as Juliet in “Romeo and Juliet.” “I had to wear an embarrassing blond wig,” he said. “But it was a turning point because thenceforward there was nothing else I wanted to do.”

He enrolled at a small school attached to the Croydon Repertory Theater in 1939, later moved to the Mask School in London, and then fled with his fellow students when the school was evacuated to Bideford, Devon, during World War II. He was exempt from military service because of deformed toes.

His big break came in 1944, when, at 22, he was asked by Barry Jackson to join one of Britain’s most important companies, the Birmingham Repertory Theater. The next year, a 20-year-old director and enfant terrible named Peter Brook arrived at Birmingham, and a rare collaboration was struck.

Mr. Brook was introduced to Mr. Scofield by Mr. Jackson. “As we shook hands, I looked into a face that unaccountably in a young man was streaked and mottled like old rock,” Mr. Brook wrote in his memoirs, “and I was instantly aware that something very deep lay hidden beneath his ageless appearance.”

It was the start of a partnership that was to culminate in Mr. Scofield’s Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962, a character that, as redefined by Mr. Brook and his leading actor, was far from the majestic victim of theatrical tradition. For once, audiences could see the cruel daughters’ point of view. Here was a choleric, willfully arrogant, dangerously mercurial, semi-retired tyrant undergoing painful emotional re-education.

“This production brings me closer to Lear than I have ever been,” the critic Kenneth Tynan wrote.

The Brook-Scofield partnership led to a series of brilliant Scofield performances in Birmingham and at Stratford. Soon he was ready to storm London, and he did so first as Alexander the Great in Terence Rattigan’s “Adventure Story,” then in Mr. Brook’s production of Jean Anouilh’s “Ring Round the Moon,” in which Mr. Scofield played twins: one a heartless rogue, the other a retiring, ingenuous fellow.

By the early 1950s Mr. Scofield was established as the leading actor of his generation, the natural successor to the ruling triumvirate of Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and Gielgud.

It was inevitable that when Mr. Brook wanted a Hamlet that was strong enough for the West End as well as for a groundbreaking visit to Moscow during the cold war, he should turn to Mr. Scofield, and that Mr. Scofield should respond with a portrayal of the prince that was even deeper and more wounded than the one he had given to acclaim seven years before.
It was inevitable, too, that Mr. Scofield came to the attention of Hollywood. He made his screen debut in 1956, playing King Philip of Spain opposite
Olivia de Havilland in “That Lady.” His performance won him a British academy award.

But Mr. Scofield resisted the temptation to move to Hollywood. “Something told me, ‘Don’t go,’ ” he recalled. “Very, very few English actors managed to work successfully in Hollywood — the Basil Rathbones and Cary Grants.”

After “A Man for All Seasons” his film appearances were sparse. In 1971 he played the title character in film version of Mr. Brook’s “King Lear”; in 1973 he played opposite Katharine Hepburn in an adaptation of Edward Albee’s “Delicate Balance.” There were television movies, like a 1985 rendering of “Anna Karenina” with Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve. But Mr. Scofield remained largely a man of the stage.

When he took on a role, Mr. Scofield said, he listened only to an inner voice. Sometimes that led to disasters, as when he agreed to play a newspaper editor in Jeffrey Archer’s play “Exclusive” in 1989 and ended up assailed by critics for contributing little more than “a ridiculous nasal whine,” as one said, to a resounding flop.

His rehearsals were painstaking but ultimately based on instinct. Technique is “what you find yourself doing,” he said. He would arrive at rehearsals without preconceptions, trusting that he would discover some aspect of the character on which to build a performance — a voice, a walk, perhaps a hairstyle or a key phrase. As Mr. Brook noted, “On a simple word like ‘night’ he’ll pause, stirred up in some mysterious inner chamber, and his whole nature will respond.”

In the 1980s and ’90s, Mr. Scofield took fewer and fewer roles on the stage. But he did turn in some striking performances in television and feature films, notably opposite Mel Gibson as the Ghost in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Hamlet”; as the American professor Mark Van Doren in Robert Redford’s “Quiz Show” (1994); as Judge Thomas Danforth in “The Crucible” (1996), with Daniel Day-Lewis; and as both the wealthy grandfather and the amoral great-uncle of the title character in a 1994 television version of Dickens’s “Martin Chuzzlewit.”

His last great stage performance, in Mr. Eyre’s production of Ibsen’s “John Gabriel Borkman” at the National Theater in 1996, was a critical triumph. He then largely slipped out of public view, going for long walks in the Sussex hills, baking bread at home and occasionally visiting the Scottish island of Mull, where his daughter, Sarah, lived. He had come to a point, he said, where he found little work that attracted him.

And then there was his native caution. “As you get older,” he said, “the more you know, so the more nervous you become. The risks are much bigger.”

The little acting (you know what I'm talking about if you've ever seen me onstage) I've done, involves a technique of finding a voice or some kind of music that resonates for me when I think about the character. Seeing the amazing work Scofield produced from his painstaking process makes me admire what he accomplished all the more.

Yeah, that's right. I just compared myself to Paul Scofield.

Seriously, my thoughts and prayers got to his friends and family.

And my apologies for bringing any suggestion that what I did onstage was "acting", to a tribute to the memory of one of the profession's masters.

*it says so on the dvd cover!