Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.
An Actor's Actor
There are some actors who think they are stars, demand marquee status, get by on charisma and good looks. And then there are others, who thrive on raw talent, who can quietly steal a scene from under the very handsome noses of those who think they are stars.
One only has to look at his picture to know which category, our beloved Pete Postlethwaite belonged to. He had the kind of face that made writers ache to carve out characters for. He had the kind of face that you would remember but couldn’t always put a name to. He wasn’t a diva or a rapscallion. He was honourable, unassuming and a craftsman of highest order.
He can inhabit a character totally, convey emotions with a gesture, a casual shrug, a steely look and the intonation of his voice. He didn't need histrionics nor high drama, he was a magnificent actor.
He has been quietly building up an astonishing repertoire of character roles others would kill for. But sadly, he was taken away from us after a long battle with Cancer this weekend., at the age of 64.
Steven Spielberg called him the ‘ best actor in the world’ to which, Pete in his own inimitable way, said, ‘ Steven probably said that Pete thinks he is the best actor in the world’, such was his humility and character.
A Brief Bio
Pete Postlethwaite was born in 1946 in Warrington ( then Lancashire, now in Cheshire) ,UK. After a career as a teacher and a sheet metal worker, Pete chose the path of acting after attending Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. It was in Liverpool Everyman Theatre that he built up a repertoire of character roles on stage along with his contemporaries Julie Walters, Bill Nighy, Anthony Sher and Jonathan Pryce. He continued his work on stage in The Royal Exchange in Manchester and also the Royal Shakespeare company in the mid 80’s.
He film career started in small roles at first ( A Private Function, Franco Zefirelli’s Hamlet) and brokethrough in a powerful role of an abusive head of the family in ‘Distant Voices, Still Lives’ in 1988.
He continued playing small roles in Alien 3 and The Last of the Mohicans in which he starred with his old pal from the repertory days, Daniel Day-Lewis. The latter recommended Pete for the role of Guiseppe Conlon in the award winning film in the Name of the Father. In this breakout role that was nominated for an Oscar, Pete confirmed his presence as an actor’s actor. Pete won many awards and was rightfully given the Order of the British Empire in the 2004 honour's list.
I was fortunate to see Pete Postlethwaite in Harold Pinter’s ‘The Homecoming’ at the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester. Stooped and dishevelled, with a flat cap, crumpled Cardigan and a cane, he played the role of Max with such conviction and physicality; he quickly wormed his way into my heart as one of my favourite actors.
He returned to his first love. the theatre, in the past few years, by playing King Lear at Liverpool and also touring with his role of a Clown who discovers he only has till midnight to live.
Pete died peacefully at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital in Shropshire after a long battle with Cancer. He never stopped working, turning out great performances in last years 'The Town' and 'Inception'. He even turned up to filming in what might be his last role, in 'Killing Bono' while still undergoing chemotherapy, showing courage, determination and a great love of the craft.
I am saddened at the loss of such a great actor and thought I would share some of his best roles for those who would appreciate great characters delivered with great aplomb.
You can see from this following selection that Pete brought depth and authenticity to his roles in films and Television roles that straddled genres and endeared himself to anyone who loves good acting.
In the Name of the Father
In this anguished and powerful drama of the falsely accused Guildford four. Pete plays the role of Guiseppe Conlon, the father of Gerry Conlon played by Daniel Day -Lewis. Bringing quiet dignity and pent up rage of a peaceful man drawn into the controversy as his son stands falsely accused of IRA bombing, Pete shines and forms the central heart to a this emotional tale.
He was rightly Nominated for an Oscar in the best supporting actor category for this rich and rewarding film directed by Jim Sheridan. The film was nominated for seven Oscars and won several critics awards across Europe and USA. Highly recommended for a brilliant screenplay, astonishingly good cast and a heart rending drama.
The Usual Suspects
This film needs no introduction. Bryan Singer's explosive , genre bending mind mash-up with a screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie, the film brought startling visuals, gripping and twisting screenplay and that almighty twist in the end that started endless discussions and debates. A cult and box office success.
Pete plays the mysterious lawyer 'Kobayashi' with a strange accent that cannot be placed, with a dry wit and hidden menace. As an ally and spokesperson for Keyser Soze, his role is central to the magnificent puzzle that the film is. If you haven't watched it, shame on you.
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Boasting Sean Connery's unmistakeable scottish burr as the Dragon's voice, this medieval fantasy starring Denis Quaid as a 'pretend' Dragon Slayer. Pete Postlethwaite turns in a fine comic performance as Brother Gilbert of Glockenspur, the cowardly narrator and chronicler of the mock kinght's chivalry.
The false knight and the last of the Dragons from an unlikely bonding to rid the land of tyranny and falsehood. A stirring adventure fantasy with a good cast and action.
This underrated fantasy is worth a watch, even if it just to see the wise old Dragon's CGI matched up to Sean Connery's curly lipped ack-shent. Will be enjoyed by children and adult alike.
Romeo & Juliet
Endearing himself to the MTV generation, Pete Postlethwaite plays Father Laurence in the bold and brash update on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet by that king of kitsch, Baz Luhrman.
To a marvellously mounted musical tragedy, Pete brings gravitas and depth to his role as the kindly Friar who attempts to help the starstruck lovers. The ensemble cast including young Leonardo Dicaprio and Clare Danes bring authenticity to the roles and make this one of the unmissable pleasures of the 90s.
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In this tailor made role of a dignified bandleader Danny, who brings together a brass band to keep the morale of a community that has lost so much, Pete is excellent. The film is a quintessentially British comedy drama in the vein of films like ' The Full Monty' ( another film where jobless British men resort to forming a band of male strippers),
Pete's stirring speech when he receives an award is truly inspirational and a master-class in delivery- see video below.
There is a scene where the band plays 'O Danny boy' below the window of the hospital room where the character Danny lays dying. It will bring a tear to any soul. A Great, under rated gem of a film.
Postlethwaite in stunning form
The Lost World
Steven Spielberg liked Pete so much he worked with him twice in the same year. One was a small but not insignificant role of the prosecutor William S Holabird in the anti-slavery drama Amistad. The other, perhaps Pete's most lucrative role was that of the 'philosopher- hunter' Roland Tembo. in the sequel to Jurassic PArk, The Lost World.
Postlethwaite brings a world weary cynicism to this gruff and tough role of a Dinosaur hunter, chewing scenery right under the scary noses of those CGI dinosaurs. A worthy sequel to a ground breaking film, perhaps not as good as the first time, but then the wonder of seeing all those Dinosaurs first time around was perhaps a bit jaded the second time. A gripping film, nonetheless.
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The Shipping News
One of my favourite books by Pulitzer prize winning writer Annie Proulx ( I urge you to read it) this fascinatng story of a loner who drifts into a small shipping town in New Foundland was made into a film by Lasse Hallstrom.
It has a brilliant cast with Kevin Spacey as Quoyle, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. Postlethwaite plays Tert Card, the editor of the local news the 'Gammy Bird' and quietly chews the scenery with all those veteran actors. A good film. Beautiful scenery and a heartwarming tale of loss and redemption.
The plot reveals layers upon layers of intricate story, emotions and depth.
Proving no genre is alien to him, Pete takes on the role of the building superintendent Mr Veeck in this remake of a Japanese spine chiller. Moving into a decrepit apartment block Jennifer Connelly and her daughter are terrorised by dark visions, leaking water that lead them to a terrifying mystery of untold sorrow.
A gripping spine chiller, this film is an antidote to many slasher films in its quite build up of thrills and human heart and a poignant and chilling finale. Well worth a watch, but careful if you live in an apartment block with dark stains on the ceiling...
The Constant Gardener
This tale of a man chasing the motives behind his wife's murder in Africa is a gripping thriller based on a John Le Carre novel of the same name. Starring Ralph Fiennes as the protagonist and Rachel Weisz as his beautiful wife murdered by mysterious forces, this complex and satisfying thriler slowly unravels from what looks like a simple act of murder to a convoluted cover up invlving multinational drug compnaies.
Pete plays Dr Brandt who is vital to the unravelling of the plot. This film is a very satisfying watch if you life a meaty story and the emergence of an underdog hero who brings down a goliath corporation.
In Ben Affleck's astonishing ensemble drama of 2010, The Town, a visibly frail looking Pete Postlethwaite manages to convey such menace and power as the florist/ crime boss Fergus 'Fergie' Colm.
A Boston set drama of immense power, excellent acting and a gripping storyline, The town has managed to convince critics and movie-goers as one of the best crime dramas of 2010. Starring and directed by Ben Affleck ( who has already proved his directorial chops in Gone baby Gone, another excellent thriller/drama) this film also boasts Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall, Blake Lively and Jon Hamm.
You have to watch this if you haven't already.
I would be remiss not to add some of Pete Postlethwaite's TV roles.He has starred in many TV dramas for for British and American TV. His stand out performances are in Martin Chuzzlewitt, Sharpe and in Criminal Justice.
Nominated for several awards including prime time emmys, this stunning BBC adaptation of Charles Dicken's Martin Chuzzlewit has a great cast and a splendid period setting. When BBC does Dickens its always worth a watch.
It starred veteran actor Paul Schofield in the title role. Surrounded by a great cast, Pete outshines each one as a conman trickser Montague Tigg that rightly won him the British Academy of Film and Television's best actor award ( BAFTA)
Sharpe's Company/ Sharpe's Enemy
In an amazingly villainous turn, Pete plays Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill that dark character hell bent on destroying sean Bean's Sharpe in the brillaint historical adventure series by Bernard Cornwell. The ITV TV series has been very successful and very well produced.
Richard Sharpe is a British soldier during the Napoleanic wars and his progress through the many ranks of British army and his adventures across the world form the theme for this remarkably successful series of books and TV films. If you are a lover of historical adventures full of intrigue , mayhem, heroism and villainy, don't miss them.
The character of Obadiah Hakeswill was so well portrayed by Pete that the author Bernard Cornwell, modelled the character in his subsequent books based on Pete's perfromance. The slimly evil Hakeswill believes he cannot die and Sharper's attempts to finish his villainy is constantly thwarted.
Sharpe and Hakeswill cross (s)words
In Peter Moffat's excellent BBC crime miniseries, Pete plays the role of the young hero's cell mate Hooch, the world weary inmate, offering mentorship and protection.
Broadcast over five successive nights this astonishing tale of crime and punishment revolves around one man's journey through the British Criminal Justice system and kept the viewers guessing as to the protagonists guilt or innocence.
The series won critical and commercial acclaim. It won the BAFTA for best British TV series for 2008 as well as garnering best actor and an international Emmy win for Ben Whishaw who portrayed the hero.
The series has been remade by HBO as the highly lauded 'In the Night Of...' starring Jon Turturro, Riz Ahmed and Michael Kenneth Williams.
Criminal Justice - Pete at 9.00 minutes
What started as a tribute has extended itself into a hub of considerable length. This is a testament to the man who picked his projects with care and dedication, who always delivered breakout performances and who has consistently starred in quality Drama.There are many other roles in TV and film but I have included ones that are my personal favourites and also because they show the breadth of his dramatic range and genre.
He was also a great supporter of many causes and starred in a climate change film with an environmental message, called 'Age of Stupid' recently.
Pete Postlethwaite will be sorely missed. But the greatest tribute one can give to any actor of his calibre is to go and watch his performances and marvel at the talent and craftsmanship.
So join with me in raising a toast to a great actor and a humble human being. We Salute you!
May your soul rest in peace, Pete. Our thoughts are with your family.
Please leave any comments below and thank you for your time.
If you think others may be interested in reading this hub, do share it.
Appreciate your visit.
Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2010
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James Kenny from Birmingham, England on September 18, 2012:
A fantastic tribute to a fantastic actor. I loved Pete as Roland in Jurassic Park: The Lost World. I also loved him as Hakeswill in Sharpe- surely there can be no greater tribute than to have the original author rewrite a character based on a performance. Great hub. Voted up etc.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on September 17, 2012:
This actor has been one of my favorites for a long time. There are two of his movies you mention I have not seen, but will: The Shipping News, and The Constant Gardener.
Great Hub, I voted it UP, etc. and will share.
UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on August 09, 2012:
This is an awesome tribute to one of the better character/supporting actors out there. He always seemed to make a movie better when he showed up. This hub is better than the wikipedia Postlethwaite page...as I learned many many things I did not realize about him.....I can not believe that this much time has passed since his death.
I think you can tell he was struggling near the end....he was very skinny in The Town. I think my favorite Postlethwaite movie is Braveheart....I love his character in that one....voted way way up and across the board.....your hubs continue to impress me.
cfin from The World we live in on July 22, 2012:
Not many actors can build your interest in a character as much as Postlethwaite did. Great article about an actor that was often overlooked, and one that I feel had more creative talent than a dozen of today's actors.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 17, 2012:
Thank you phdast7 - He certainly was one of the greats. A marvelous actor and a fine gentleman.
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on May 17, 2012:
A marvelous essay for a marvelous actor who is sorely missed. He was one of the greats, a truly fine character actor. Thank you for memorializing his work like this.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 26, 2011:
@amyjane- thank you for dropping by. He was a wonderful actor indeed.
@ahorseback - yes, The Shipping News is a great book and a marvellous but underrated film. thanks for visiting.
ahorseback on January 26, 2011:
Wow , I always liked pete , but knew so little about him, One of my all time favorite movies "The Shipping News " , Excellent hub! I'll miss pete.
amy jane from Connecticut on January 09, 2011:
This is beautifully done. Such a wonderful actor, he will be missed.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 08, 2011:
Thanks arthurchappell! Yes he was great in both of those.
arthurchappell from Manchester, England on January 08, 2011:
beautiful appreciation of a great actor - I loved his role in Sharpe - his performance in James & The Giant Peach is wonderful too.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 07, 2011:
Thanks Gypsy48.. I just watched The Town too. Amazing what screen presence he had in just 3-4 scenes.
Gypsy48 on January 07, 2011:
Great hub! Mr. Postlethwaite was one of my favorite actors and will be greatly missed. Just saw the movie, "The Town" and he was wonderful in it.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 06, 2011:
Thanks Malcolm, you'e right.. shame he didn't get more leads. I think he was happy doing such diverse characters and quietly going about his way.
Malcolm_Cox from Newcastle, England on January 06, 2011:
Possibly the most underrated British actor of his generation. Such as shame he didn't get more lead roles. A fantastic character actor.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 05, 2011:
Thanks Minstrel, much appreciated. I am sure you'll enjoy watching them.
The Minstrel on January 04, 2011:
This is the most thorough tribute I have ever read on an actor. Great job. I never followed this man's career, but now I feel obligated to view some of his old movies to find out what I missed. Thank you for this hub. Great job.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 04, 2011:
Thanks richtwf, He'll be sorely missed by the industry and the filmgoers.
drbj, your are right in how we could always recognise talent if not the name. He was a distinctive presence and it was hard not to notice his talent.
drbj and sherry from south Florida on January 04, 2011:
This was a marvelous tribute, Docmo, to a marvelous actor. He had a face that you could always recognize even if some of us were not too sure of his name. But we always recognized his talent.
richtwf on January 04, 2011:
Yes I was very saddened and shocked to find out the passing of this highly talented and versatile actor. He will be a great loss to film and his presence on our screens will be missed too.
You've written a wonderful tribute to him and may he now rest in peace.
God bless you my friend.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 04, 2011:
Thanks Doug, He could always pick a good role in a good script - A sign of an actor without airs and graces and who would do justice in any role. Appreciate your comments.
Doug Turner Jr. on January 04, 2011:
I may not be able to pronounce his last name, but I've always been a fan of this gentlemen. Growing up watching Last of the Mohicans brought him to my attention; my respect for him extended with In the Name of the Father (brilliant), Usual Suspects (intriguing), Constant Gardener (brilliant again), and even his part Inception (mind-boggling) was well-played. He was a great artist and a great man. Thanks for showing him such respect. Cheers.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 04, 2011:
I love Brassed off and it's dignity and the British sense of suppressed anger. A very under appreciated film. Thanks for dropping in. Always appreciated.
attemptedhumour from Australia on January 04, 2011:
Hi Docmo, i haven't seen most of the movies, or TV work you have listed as they are not easy to get hold of. In the name of the father was a powerful movie. Brassed off is one of my all time favourite movies. One of the most memorable scenes is when the band play orange juice. When i mention the movie to people about a colliery band they usually turn their nose up at it. Yes he was a great actor and your hub is much appreciated. Cheers.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 04, 2011:
Thanks Roy. He sure was.
Roy Barnes on January 04, 2011:
A beautiful tribute for a beautiful man.
Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on January 03, 2011:
Amy, thank you again for your support and appreciation. I am honoured that you think my writing skills are exemplary. I will keep working hard, though, in the spirit of Pete.
Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on January 03, 2011:
This tribute to the artistic life of Pete Postlethwaite is the finest and most comprehensive piece I have seen. Your writing skills are exemplary and I am sure Pete would be honored at the excellence you give to his extraordinary accomplishments. Bravo, Docmo!