Sir John Hurt, who won a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination for his iconic portrayal of the Elephant Man, has died. The star, one of Britain’s most treasured actors, died aged 77 at his home in Norfolk after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, it was revealed yesterday.
His widow, Anwen Hurt, today said it will be ‘a strange world’ with out the actor, whose death has prompted an outpouring of grief from the showbusiness industry, with director Mel Brooks and J K Rowling among those paying tribute. Mrs Hurt added: ‘John was the most sublime of actors and the most gentlemanly of gentlemen with the greatest of hearts and the most generosity of spirit. He touched all our lives with joy and magic and it will be a strange world without him.’
Despite revealing that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2015, Hurt was matter-of-fact about his mortality.
Speaking to the Radio Times, he said: ‘I can’t say I worry about mortality, but it’s impossible to get to my age and not have a little contemplation of it. We’re all just passing time, and occupy our chair very briefly,’ he said.
Born in Derbyshire in 1940, the son of a vicar and an engineer, Hurt spent what he described as a lonely childhood at an Anglo-Catholic prep school before he enrolled at a boarding school in Lincoln.
His acting aspirations were almost shattered forever by his headmaster’s insistence that he did not stand a chance in the profession. He left school to go to art college but dropped out, impoverished and living in a dismal basement flat.
He finally plucked up enough courage to apply for a scholarship and auditioned successfully for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, although he later recalled being so hungry he could hardly deliver his lines.
Hurt played a wide range of characters over the course of 60 years, was well known for roles including Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, the title role in The Elephant Man and more recently as wand merchant Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films. However, John Merrick notwithstanding here are a few of my personal favourte John Hurt roles:
Playing Timothy Evans, who was hanged for murders committed by his landlord John Christie, played chillingly by Richard Attenborough in 10 Rillington Place (1971), earning John Hurt his first BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actor/
Hurt was fantastic in Midnight Express (1978), for which he won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Around the same time, he lent his voice to Ralph Bakshi’s animated film adaptation of Lord of the Rings, playing the role of Aragorn. Hurt also voiced Hazel, the heroic rabbit leader of his warren in the exceptional film adaptation of Watership Down (both 1978) and later played the major villain, General Woundwort, in the animated television series.
His other role at the turn of the 1980s included Kane, the first victim of the title creature in the Ridley Scott film Alien (1979, a role which he reprised as a parody in Spaceballs). Gilbert Ward “Thomas” Kane is the Nostromo‘s executive officer, who during the investigation of a wrecked ship, moves closer to an egg to get a closer look. The now iconic ‘facehugger’ attaches to him and, unbeknownst to him and the crew, impregnates him with an Alien embryo. Kane remains unconscious until the facehugger dies and falls off. At dinner afterwards, Kane goes into convulsions; an infant Alien bursts through his chest, killing him in one of cinemas most famous scenes.
Hurt played Winston Smith in the film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eigthy-Four (1984). Also in 1984, Hurt starred in The Hit an under-rated British crime film directed by Stephen Frears which also starred Terence Stamp and Tim Roth.
Dead Man (1995) a twisted and surreal Western, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch which also starred Johnny Depp, Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Chrisin Glover and Robert Mitchum (in his final film role).
He also featured in a few graphic novel adaptations before they became big business for everyone, Hellboy (2004) and it’s sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) based on the graphic novels by Mike Mignola are great fun. He also took a similar role to that of Big Brother in the film V For Vendetta (2006), when he played the role of Adam Sutler, leader of the fascist dictatorship.
More than thirty years after The Naked Civil Servant, Hurt reprised the role of Quentin Crisp in An Englishman in New York (2009), which depicts Crisp’s later years in New York. Hurt also returned to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, playing the on-screen Big Brother for Paper Zoo Theatre Company’s stage adaptation of the novel in June 2009.
Of his latter years I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of the crotchety and bigoted Old Man Peanut in 44 Inch Chest (2009), and his support roles in Brighton Rock (2010) and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011).
Rest in Peace.
The Frighteners was regarded as a commercial failure. In February 1997, Jackson launched legal proceedings against the New Zealand Listener magazine for defamation, over a review of The Frighteners which claimed that the film was “built from the rubble of other people’s movies”. In the end, the case was not pursued further. Around this time Jackson’s remake of King Kong was shelved by Universal Studios, allegedly because Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla, both giant monster movies, that had already gone into production. Universal feared it would be thrown aside by the two higher budget movies.
Peter Jackson won the rights to film J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic in 1997 after meeting with producer Saul Zaentz. Originally working with Miramax towards a two-film production, Jackson was later pressured to render the story as a single film, and finally overcame a tight deadline by making a last minute deal with New Line, who were keen on a trilogy.
With the benefit of extended post-production and extra periods of shooting before each film’s release, the series met huge success and sent Jackson’s popularity soaring. The final installment, The Return of the King itself met with huge critical acclaim, winning eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film was the first of the fantasy film genre to win the award for Best Picture and was the second sequel to win Best Picture (the first being The Godfather Part II).
Universal Studios signed Peter Jackson for a second time to remake the 1933 classic King Kong, the film that inspired him to become a film director as a child. He was reportedly paid a fee of US$20 million upfront, the highest salary ever paid to date to a film director in advance of production, against a 20 percent take of the box-office rentals (the portion of the price of the ticket that goes to the film distributor, in this case Universal). The film was released on 14 December 2005, and grossed around US$550 million worldwide.
Jackson completed an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s bestseller, The Lovely Bones, which was released in the United States on 11 December 2009. Jackson has said the film was a welcome relief from his larger-scale epics. The storyline’s combination of fantasy aspects and themes of murder bears some similarities to Heavenly Creatures. The film was an anticipated Best Picture Oscar contender, but ended up receiving poor reviews and middling box office returns. It currently holds a 32% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes.
Jackson is the main producer on The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg. He is officially labeled as producer but helped Spielberg, before he began working on the script for The Hobbit. He also supervised Weta Digital on the post production of the film. In December 2011, Spielberg confirmed a sequel to his 3D movie will be made and are said to be based on The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun. He explained the Thompson detectives will “have a much bigger role”. The sequel will be produced by Spielberg and directed by Jackson.
Jackson’s involvement in the making of a film version of The Hobbit has a long and chequered history. In November 2006, a letter from Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh stated that due to an ongoing legal dispute between Wingnut Films (Jackson’s production company) and New Line Cinema, Jackson would not be directing the film. New Line Cinema’s head Robert Shaye commented that Jackson “…will never make any movie with New Line Cinema again while I’m still working at the company…” This prompted an online call for a boycott of New Line Cinema, and by August 2007 Shaye was trying to repair his working relationship. On 18 December 2007, it was announced that Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema had reached agreement to make two prequels, both based on The Hobbit, and to be released in 2012 and 2013 with Jackson as a writer and executive producer and Guillermo del Toro directing.
However, in early 2010, del Toro dropped out of directing the film because of production delays and a month later Jackson was back in negotiations to direct The Hobbit; and on October 15 he was finalised as the director, with New Zealand confirmed as the location a couple of weeks later. The film started production on March 20, 2011. On July 30, 2012, Peter Jackson announced via his Facebook page that the two planned ‘Hobbit’ movies would be expanded into a trilogy. The third film will not act as a bridge between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, but would continue to expand The Hobbit story by using material found in the Lord of the Rings Appendices. The films are The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and The Hobbit: There and Back Again (2014).
Jackson was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2002. He was later knighted (as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit) at a ceremony in Wellington in April, 2010.
Courtesy of DEADLINE: The Lord Of The Rings and Maniac tar Elijah Wood has partnered with Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller to form The Woodshed, an indie company that will focus on genre fare. While most people tend to associate Wood with the wholesome hobbit he reprises in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit films, he played a pretty awesome/awful cannibal in Sin City, and he plays a full-on serial killer in the Franck Khalfoun-directed remake Maniac, which IFC Midnight acquired after it premiered at Cannes. Not surprisingly, Wood is a horror fanatic. “I’ve been a fan of horror and genre cinema in general since I was a child and have become increasingly passionate about the idea of there being a space in which horror films that take their subject matter and characters seriously could be produced,” he said. “What was born out of a conversation of our mutual love for the genre and what we felt was lacking in a broad sense, especially from the U.S. market, became The Woodshed.”
The Woodshed has put together a fright slate and they will be co-directors of the upcoming festival Nightmare City, which will include Maniac, with the rest of the slate to be unveiled last week. Nightmare City includes 73 total events: 45 repertory screenings, 10 live music concerts, 8 LA film premieres, a blacklight poster art show, and magic and comedy events.
On the production side, Woodshed gets underway with:
– Curse The Darkness, a socio-political zombie film scripted by Brandon Maurice Williams to shoot in February in Florida in partnership with Cinipix Films. Building on the research of anthropologist Wade Davis, the film takes a grounded approach to Haitian zombie practices to tackle immigration issues. Lawrence Inglee is also a co-producer.
– Henley, a feature transfer of the 2012 Sundance short written by Clay McLeod Chapman and Craig Macneill. Macneill will direct and Noah Greenberg is producer as well as cinematographer. The film is described as an intimate portrait of a 9-year-old sociopath as he first discovers his taste for killing.
– The Ivan Ford-scripted Harrow, to be directed by Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe (Lost In La Mancha, Brothers Of The Head) chronicles an unlikely friendship between an earnest female doctor and a shady photojournalist as they become trapped together in a town that has been quarantined as it experiences a number of disturbing paranormal events.
– The Peter Charles Melman-scripted It Was Cruel, to be helmed by Shadow Of The Vampire‘s E. Elias Merhige. The film uses the horror genre to confront the spiritual corruption that many Jews were forced to accept in order to survive World War II.
Future Woodshed fare will include collaborations with filmmakers including Alex de la Iglesia (The Last Circus), Nimrod Antal (Predators), Panos Cosmatos (Beyond The Black Rainbow), and vid helmer Ace Norton.
In addition to doing films in the United Kingdom, Lee did movies in Mainland Europe: he appeared in Count Dracula, where he again played the vampire count, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, Castle of the Living Dead and Horror Express.
Since the mid 1970s, Lee has eschewed horror roles almost entirely. Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond spy novels and Lee’s stepcousin, had offered him the role of Dr No in the first official Bond film. Lee accepted, but the producers had already cast the role. In 1974, Lee finally got to play a James Bond villain when he was cast as the deadly assassin Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun.
In 1982, Lee appeared in The Return of Captain Invincible. In this film, Lee plays a fascist who plans to rid America (and afterwards, the world) of all non-whites. Lee sings on two tracks in the film (“Name Your Poison” and “Mister Midnight”), written by Richard O’Brien (who had written The Rocky Horror Picture Show seven years previously) and Richard Hartley.
In 1985, he appeared in Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch. In 1998, Lee starred in the role of Muhammad Al Jinnah, founder of modern Pakistan, in the film Jinnah. While talking about his favourite role in film at a press conference, he declared that his role in Jinnah was by far his best performance.
Lee played Saruman in the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. In the commentary, he states he had a decades-long dream to play Gandalf but that he was now too old and his physical limitations prevented his being considered. The role of Saruman, by contrast, required no horseback riding and much less fighting. Lee had met Tolkien once (making him the only person inThe Lord of the Rings film trilogy to have done so) and makes a habit of reading the novels at least once a year. Lee’s appearance in the third film was cut from the theatrical release. However, the scene was reinstated in the extended edition.
The Lord of the Rings marked the beginning of a major career revival that continued in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005), in which he played Count Dooku. His autobiography states that he did much of the swordplay himself, though a double was required for the more vigorous footwork.
Lee has also become a regular in many of Tim Burton’s films, five times since 1999. He had a small role as the Burgomaster in the film Sleepy Hollow (1999), Lee then went on to voice the character of Pastor Galswells in Corpse Bride (2005), and play a small role in the Burton’s reimagining of the Roald Dahl tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). His part was cut from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). He voiced the Jabberwocky in Burton’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice in Wonderland (2010). In 2012, Lee marked his fifth collaboration with Tim Burton by appearing in his film adaptation of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.
In 2011, Lee appeared in The Resident and the critically acclaimed Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese. Lee will be reprising the role of Saruman for the Lord of the Rings prequel film The Hobbit.
In 2001, Lee was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) and was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2009. In 2011, Lee was awarded the BAFTA Academy Fellowship by Tim Burton.