Jan 3, 2011 10:18 AM by Nichole Larkey
LONDON (AP) - He could have stayed in teaching. That's what his
parents wanted: it was the safe, secure route for a young man with
working-class roots and a face few would describe as handsome.
But Pete Postlethwaite wanted more. He wanted to pursue his
passion for acting and, at 24, he left teaching to train at the
Bristol Old Vic theater. His parents remained skeptical, but when
he was introduced to Queen Elizabeth II after a stellar 1980s
performance with the Royal Shakespeare Company, even his mother was
convinced he would make his mark.
It was an incredible ascent for Postlethwaite, a distinguished
character actor with a remarkably craggy, timeworn face whose death
at age 64 was confirmed Monday by Andrew Richardson, a longtime
friend and journalist who documented the actor's fight against
cancer. Richardson said the Oscar-nominated actor died Sunday.
Postlethwaite had little going for him when he started in an
industry where good looks - think Robert Redford or George Clooney
- are valued. He had few connections, a name that was hard to
pronounce, and could distinguish himself only by his talent.
It was a subtle talent, hard to define, marked by an ability to
completely inhabit a role, to convey a deep sense of burden with a
glance or a shrug. There were no pyrotechnics, nothing was
overstated. But he had a powerful presence and authenticity on
screen and on stage.
It was this that prompted director Steven Spielberg - who used
Postlethwaite twice - to call him "probably the best actor in the
Postlethwaite was part of a small coterie of British actors who
came up together through the theater and found a measure of success
in Hollywood. The group included Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma
Thompson, longtime friends who starred with him in "In the Name of
the Father," a 1993 classic that earned Postlethwaite a best
supporting actor Oscar nomination for his role as Day-Lewis'
That part drew heavily on Postlethwaite's ability to give a
victim's troubles wider meaning. His character is wrongly
imprisoned after his son implicates him in a deadly IRA bombing he
did not commit. Postlethwaite's quiet sense of hurt and injustice
helps carry the film, regarded as one of the finest to deal with
the long conflict in Northern Ireland.
He branched out into movies and television work in the 1980s,
most often taking roles as an occasionally menacing working-class
He was instantly recognizable for his piercing eyes and
prominent cheekbones, which gave him a lean, rugged look. One
critic said his cheekbones came "boiling out of his head like
swollen knuckles." He appeared in a wide variety of film and TV
roles, with many British fans remembering his work in period dramas
as well as his later Hollywood films
He had recently been seen in the critically acclaimed film
"Inception" and had worked with Spielberg on "The Lost World:
Jurassic Park" and "Amistad" in performances that sparked
Spielberg's extravagant compliment . He also drew high praise for
his starring role in "Brassed Off" in 1996.
Over the years, some British actors who moved into the Oscar
stratosphere were seduced by the glamour and moved to Hollywood.
But Postlethwaite stayed away, living in recent years with his wife
and two children in a farmhouse in rural England, where his comings
and goings drew little more than a friendly smile from neighbors
who took his presence for granted.
Postlethwaite did not become a household name in much of the
world - he is said to have resisted an agent's efforts to come up
with a stage name that would be easier to pronounce and remember -
but he was honored by Queen Elizabeth II when he received an OBE
award in 2004.
Friends and colleagues described him as down-to-earth in a
profession filled with overblown egos.
"Anyone who worked with him felt great affection for him,"
actor David Schneider told BBC News. "He was very un-actory. Sort
of like a national treasure. There is so much affection for him; he
was a wonderful actor and a wonderful bloke." He said Postlethwaite's skill and range would be appreciated
more in hindsight.
Two years before his death, the actor realized a lifelong goal
by playing King Lear at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, where he
had been part of the company during his formative years.
Postlethwaite was a political activist known for his opposition
to the war in Iraq and his calls to fight global warming. He used a
wind turbine at his home to generate electricity.
His extended battle against cancer was documented in the local
newspapers where he lived in rural Shropshire, 170 miles northwest
of London. He had recently thanked the staff at the Royal
Shrewsbury Hospital for their care.
"They have been wonderful and I am grateful to them," he told
the Shropshire Star newspaper. "I cannot thank them enough for
everything that they have done for me."
He is survived by his wife, Jacqui, his son Will and daughter,