Pete Postlethwaite, who died yesterday after a long bout with cancer, was the perfect character actor: you may not have known his name, but you damn sure knew his face. With his thick British accent, he was known for his subtle charm and lacerating intensity. Here are five of my favorite scene-stealing Postlethwaite performances.
In The Name of the Father (1993) - Giuseppe Conlon
Despite being blatantly innocent, British officials found it easy to convict thieving screw up, Gerry Conlon of a terrorist bombing. What’s worse, however, was the conviction of Gerry’s blameless, at-no-way-involved family, including his father Giuseppe. Postlethwaite plays Giuseppe as a kind man, willing to forgive and accept his ultimate fate behind bars. His scenes with Gerry (played flawlessly by Daniel Day-Lewis) earned them both Oscar nominations. It’s a remarkable performance, the highlight of an impressive career.
The Usual Suspects (1995) – Kobayashi
It’s impossible to recall the brilliance of The Usual Suspects without hearing Kobayashi’s soothing, relaxed demands. As the face of Keyser Söze, Kobayashi is responsible for laying down the law, consequences be damned. The scene when he gently threatens the lives of the people closest to the four main characters is utterly terrifying, and bloody brilliant. I can think of no better actor to share the last laugh with Mr. Söze.
James and the Giant Peach (1996) – Old Man
When I was compiling this list, I inadvertently put down James and the Giant Peach. But why? Postlethwaite only has one brief scene as a wounded Confederate soldier who gives James a bag full of green… crocodile tongues. Huh? For some reason, I’ve never been able to shake Postlethwaite from his moment in this film. Like most people my age, this was the first time I was exposed to that skinny, chiseled face of his. It isn’t his most showy performance, but it’s stayed with me.
The Lost World (1997) – Ronald Tempo
After filming this Jurassic Park sequel, Steven Spielberg called Postlethwaite the best actor in the world. Not too bad. This movie isn’t that good, but Postlethwaite, as a mild mannered and morally sound dinosaur hunter, is easily the best part of it. He delivers his smooth one-liners with a lack of spectacle. It’s like he knows that the sound of his voice is enough to soothe anyone, no matter what he’s saying.
The Town (2010) – Fergie the Florist
I’ve used the word subtle frequently in this post, usually bookended it with highlights of Postlethwaite’s charm and innocence. Such is not the case here. Postlethwaite does indeed play Fergie as subtle, but we know from his first moment on screen that Fergie is an awful, villainous man. Despite being bone skinny from his cancer, Postlethwaite was able to make Fergie instantly feared, which is enough to call the performance a revelation.
We kept seeing new depths to Postlethwaite’s craft. His slender, weathered face, soothing voice and mild mannerism will surely be missed.