The Guardian has reported the death of John Neville, the renowned star of English and Canadian stage perhaps best known to American audiences for playing the title role in The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen as well as the Well-Manicured Man on The X-Files. Neville suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and died at the age of 86.
Hailed as a successor to John Gielgud and lionized alongside Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole while working in London’s Old Vic Company, Neville starred in numerous prestigious productions (including several of Shakespeare’s plays) before relocating to Canada in 1972. There he took on roles as the artistic director of both the Citadel Theatre and the Stratford Festival, becoming one of the most prominent leaders of Canada’s theatrical society, and more or less devoting his life to treading the boards to great acclaim.
But he also made frequent forays into film and television, most famously as the titular fanciful spinner of tall tales in Terry Gilliam’s Munchausen, a movie that utilized Neville’s regal self-possession amid the most outlandish of circumstances to great comic effect. Neville had numerous on-screen appearances prior to that—most notably as part of the very first Masterpiece Theater series, the BBC drama The First Churchills, and playing the famed detective Sherlock Holmes as he battled Jack The Ripper in the cult curiosity A Study In Terror—but few captured Neville’s deft command and twinkling charisma quite like Munchausen, and the film proved to be a late-career boost that led to a flood of other roles.
His most regular of these was the Well-Manicured Man, the sinister, quietly manipulative member of the Syndicate who occasionally aided and/or frustrated Mulder and Scully’s search for the truth on The X-Files. Neville appeared intermittently on the show from 1995 to 1998, as well as reprising his role for the feature film The X-Files: Fight The Future, providing a more unnervingly genteel opposite to William B. Davis’ Smoking Man (whom his character openly hated).
Among Neville’s many other credits: appearances in the films The Fifth Element, Road To Wellville, Dangerous Minds, Little Women, High School High, Urban Legend, and a small but memorable part in David Cronenberg’s Spider. He also turned up frequently on television, including playing Sir Isaac Newton on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and voicing “Eternity” in the animated Silver Surfer series, in addition to earning a Gemini nomination for his role on the Canadian family drama Emily Of New Moon. Neville leaves behind a six-decade legacy of authoritative, quietly surprising performances that invested every character and story with appreciable weight and enthusiasm, no matter the material.