British actor Pete Postlethwaite, known for his work in films such as In The Name Of The Father, The Usual Suspects, and The Town, has died after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 64.
Postlethwaite was a former drama teacher and member of the Royal Shakespearean Company (among other esteemed British acting companies) who first broke out playing an abusive working-class patriarch in 1988’s Distant Voices, Still Lives. Postlethwaite’s intense, roughhewn features and jutting cheekbones often lent themselves to playing such menacing or crooked characters over the years, but it was his quiet, sympathetic performance as a wrongly imprisoned man in Jim Sheridan’s In The Name Of The Father that earned him his earliest acclaim, as well as an Oscar nomination for his role opposite Daniel Day-Lewis.
After In The Name Of The Father, Postlethwaite became a familiar craggy face in Hollywood productions, memorably turning up as the sinister, mysterious lawyer Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects—Keyser Soze’s coldblooded right-hand man who can make threats of murder and castration sound like an everyday business transaction—and in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet as Father Laurence, where he was the only actor to actually speak in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. He also proved he could do comedy (albeit dark comedy) in 1996’s Brassed Off, as a frustrated bandleader struggling to keep his musicians united in the face of ongoing coal mining pit closures. (Postlethwaite’s memorable line about realizing that it’s the people, not the music that matters would later achieve its own strange immortality when it was sampled for the album version of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping.”)
In 1997, Postlethwaite starred in two Steven Spielberg films—playing famed hunter Roland Tembo in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and the haughty District Attorney overseeing a case of slave mutiny in Amistad—prompting the director to famously remark that Postlethwaite was “probably the best actor in the world.” Ever humble, Postlethwaite later deflected this, saying, “I'm sure what Spielberg actually said was, 'The thing about Pete is that he thinks he's the best actor in the world.’”
Postlethwaite’s many other film and television roles included parts in The Last Of The Mohicans, Alien 3, The Shipping News, The Constant Gardener, and Sharpe. He went out on a high note, appearing in three of the biggest films of 2010: playing the dying father to Cillian Murphy’s “mark” character in Inception, the adoptive father to Sam Worthington’s Perseus in Clash Of The Titans, and the criminal mastermind/florist in The Town. In recent years, Postlethwaite had become a vocal political activist on behalf of global warming issues and stopping the war in Iraq. His last completed film, the rock ’n’ roll comedy Killing Bono, is due in the spring. In 2008, Postlethwaite returned to Liverpool's Everyman Theatre (where he'd first made his name working alongside Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, and former lover Julie Walters) and then London's Young Vic to play the lead in King Lear.