10 by Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011)
(as King Lear, in 2008)
The rumbling, knob-nosed, rough-looking Pete Postlethwaite, who died yesterday, was the kind of integral character actor who could always rest assured that his ten minutes of a movie would be sensational. Americans tended to see him in little doses, not knowing how good he was as leads in films like Brassed Off, even if that coal-not-dole film was well known enough to be parodied on The Simpsons.
Here‘s the interview I did with him on the Brassed Off tour, in 1997; a few of the quotes below are taken from it. In addition to Brassed Off:
10: The dying tycoon Maurice Fischer in Inception. The heart of the film’s labyrinth, and yet an illusion…like so much else in it.
9: It didn’t take a world of talent to steal scenes from Ben Affleck, but Postlethwaite’s formidable crime boss (above) in The Town made it look as easy as shoplifting.
8: Valley of the Heart’s Delight (2006) Again the highlight of a film; plausible in as a small town editor who feels himself to be a pillar of the community, in this heavily fictionalized, low-budget look at the last lynching in California: San Jose’s claim to fame (and shame).
7: Romeo + Juliet (1996) Postlethwaite, a five year vet of the RSC, showed there were no small parts in his role as Father Laurence, tattooed on the back with a Celtic cross and giving way to the iambic pentameter. “If you try to go against the rhythm of those lines, they’ll eventually win. You have to go with them, but not in a sing-songy way. If you go with them, they’ll help you pull you along–you can do 10 lines without taking a breath. The more you do it, the better you get. He’s one of my favorite writers; he does write a good yarn.”
6. The Usual Suspects (1995) As the very intimidating Japanese surnamed lawyer (likely a name assumed in honor of a certain Star Trek conundrum), Postlethwaite turns up the heat in The Usual Suspects. “I met Brian Singer, the director, over lunch. I told him the script was fantastic; he asked me, “What do you want?” “I said, “Any part.” He said, “Why not? They’re all Keyser Soze.”
5. Among Giants (1998) Hardly a perfect movie, but memorable for a few things, including an early performance by the forceful and witty Rachel Griffiths (later the maddening lover on Six Feet Under). There have been few movies about the dangers of working on the high-tension electric lines, and Postlethwaite was very believable in this vertiginous and often-tense melodrama about a worker from Sheffield hired to paint the towers…though the real danger comes from the young Aussie girl who has been hired to work with him.
4. Martin Chuzzlewit (1994) To see this actor was to see a man that might have been physically created by Dickens; here playing Tigg Montague who goes from “the nadir of human respectability” (Arthur L. Hayward, The Dickens Encyclopedia) to a rich hustler peddling worthless stock.
3. In the Name of the Father (1993) Postlethwaite’s great early role in the bio-pic of Giuseppi Conlon, who was falsely convicted of an IRA bombing, due to the forced testimony of his son (Daniel Day-Lewis).
2. Postlethwaite had a true seafarer’s face; naturally, he was a fine George Merry against Charlton Heston’s Long John Silver in the made for TV Treasure Island (1990). Christian Bale played Jim Hawkins.
1. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) As a beloved but viciously raging Liverpudlian father in Terence Davies’ memory film, Postlethwaite made an indelible first impression. It’s Davies’ best film, and I’d like to borrow what Jonathan Romney from the Independent wrote in 2007: “that [Davies’] career seems permanently stalled remains the mystery of British cinema. The idea of a national film industry without space for a vision so personal and so penetrating is just an absurdity, and a scandal.”
It’s quite hard to imagine a film world without the terrific virility and bluntness Pete Postlethwaite brought to the screen. Even with the riches he left us, he left us too early.