Pete Postlethwaite is a classic example of a great character actor whose face (with prominent nose and cheekbones) many would recognize without necessarily knowing his name. The British actor is dead at 64, after a 18-year bout with cancer. (A round-up of obits is below.)
The stage actor could embody both the extremes of human decency and powerful violence; he broke out in Jim Sheridan’s In the Name of the Father in 1994, for which he nabbed an Oscar nomination. Steven Spielberg called him “probably the best actor in the world today”; he directed him in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Amistad. In the last year alone Postlethwaite starred in Inception, Solomon Kane, Clash of the Titans and The Town. In 2009, he revealed his political bent by not only starring in the hugely influential climate-change agit-doc The Age of Stupid, but pulling into the premiere on a bicycle.
EW’s Owen Gleiberman writes:
“Pete Postlethwaite, in his long, sturdy, and vibrant career as an actor…was the face of a great many things: rage, fatherly tenderness, criminal brilliance. Whatever he was playing, though, Postlethwaite, who died yesterday at 64, was always a face: a face so lumpen and craggy you could never forget it, with its ruddy broken nose and thin-lipped scowl of protest, its flesh that hung down over cheekbones that were prominent enough to look like a pair of jutting apples, and those eyes that burned with some fierce dark private anguish that seemed to reach back into the centuries. It was a face that was all angles and emotion — one that could have been drawn by Picasso. It was a face that haunted you with how haunted it appeared to be.”
The Guardian’s John Prescott:
“For an actor I imagine the greatest acclaim must be for your performance to be so good as to make people think. Better still, to make them get out and do something. Pete Postlethwaite made me do the latter – twice. He was a fine actor, a devoted campaigner and a good man. Pete will be missed but his art changed the lives of many for the better. I can’t think of a better compliment than that.”
“Equipped with prominent cheekbones and equally conspicuous penetrating eyes, he was able to convey, with the most imperceptible shifts in emphasis, whole worlds of pride, perturbation, suffering, resignation, wonder and warmth. The quiet mournfulness of his flinty physiognomy anchored many of the roles he undertook with a rare quality of humanity, integrity and vulnerability.”
Actress Sue Johnston via The Guardian:
“His family and mine have been friends for a long time through a church club in Warrington. I loved him very much, as everyone who has worked with him and knows him does, because he was a great friend for everybody, a sort of leader of the company. He’d wrap his arms around everyone. He was an incredibly talented guy. He was also a Liverpool supporter, which endeared him to me even more…He was always funny, witty and kind and I feel sad that I won’t get to work with him again, see him again or have a drink with him again. He made you feel very, very special.
He had such a great presence. He’s got that wonderful lived-in, been-there, done-it face and entirely fills a screen – you only want to watch him. On the set, there was no difference between the supporting artist and him as the lead. People were just working together – he wasn’t the star. He had time for every single person. He was that northern salt of the earth.”