Monday, 16 December 2013

Remembering Peter O'Toole

Actor Peter O'Toole died on Sunday, 15th December, aged 81. His breakthrough role was that of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean's epic, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), one of the greatest films ever made.

In her essay on 'Lawrence of Arabia', Sheila O'Malley comments on O'Toole's "sheer mystery and odd-ness":

"O’Toole’s [performance] becomes more mysterious the more you watch it. But it’s all there in his haunting bizarre eyes, which seem to take in all that is before him, but also appear to be always looking deeply inward. At what, we can never know. O’Toole is playing The Man, but he is also playing The Myth."

Gay Talese's interview with O'Toole in 1963 captured the actor's intensity:

"He could still be wild and self-destructive, and the psychiatrists had been no help. All he knew was that within him, simmering in the smithy of his soul, were confusion and conflict, and they were probably all linked somehow with Ireland and the Church, with his smashing up so many cars that his license had to be taken away, and with marching in Ban-the-Bomb parades, with becoming obsessed with Lawrence of Arabia; with being an aesthete, a horse player, a former altar boy, a carouser who now wanders streets at night buying the same book ("My life is littered with copies of MOBY DICK") and reading the same sermon on that book ("...and if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves..."); with being gentle generous, sensitive, yet suspicious ("You're talking to an Irish bookie's son, you can't con me!").

. . . In three years at the Bristol Old Vic, he played 73 roles, including Hamlet . . . until he got the movie role in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. "Lawrence! I became obsessed by that man, and it was bad. A true artist should be able to jump into a bucket of shit and come out smelling of violets, but I spent two years and three months making that picture, and it was two years, three months of thinking about nothing but Lawrence, and you were him, and that’s how it was day after day, and it became bad for me, personally, and it killed my acting later.. . . 

 . . . Christ, in one scene of the film I saw a close-up of me when I was 27 years old, and then 8 seconds later, there was another close-up of me when I was 29 years old! 8 goddamn seconds! and two years of my life had gone from me! Oh, it's painful seeing it all there on the screen, solidified, embalmed," he said, staring straight ahead "Once a thing is solidified it stops being a living thing. That's why I love the theatre. It's the Art of the Moment. I'm in love with ephemera and I hate permanence. Acting is making words into flesh, and I love classical acting because...because you need the vocal range of an opera singer...the movement of a ballet have to be able to's turning your whole body into a muscial instrument on which you yourself play...It's more than behaviorism, which is what you get in the movies...Chrissake, what are movies anyway? Just moving photographs, that's all. But the theatre! Ah, there you have the impermanence that I love. It's a reflection of life somehow. It'' building a statue of snow...."

Then he slumped down on the side of the mountain, tossed his head back against the grass. Then he held his hands in the air, and said, “See that? See that right hand?” He turned his right hand back and forth, saying, “Look at those scars, daddy,” and there were about thirty or forty little scars inside his right hand as well as on his knuckles, and his little finger was deformed.
“I don’t know if there’s any significance to it, daddy, but…but I am a left-hander who was made to be right-handed…Oh, they would wack me over the knuckles when I used my left, those nuns, and maybe, just maybe that is why I hated school so much.”
All his life, he said, his right hand has been a kind of violent weapon. He has smashed it through glass, into concrete, against other people.
“But look at my left hand,” he said, holding it high. “Not a single scar on it. Long and smooth as a lily…Look…” "

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