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But he might have been better known to the public if he had been less withdrawn.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!


jen said...

I love your article. It's so nice to hear all about his work other than the films. And all those tidbits from other actors. Thanks!

your fiend, mr. jones said...

You're welcome! I wish I updated my blogs more (I would probably write about John Saxon next), but life gets in the way... :)

Thanks again!

Mr. J

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