Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Late Great Sir John Hurt

If ever an actor was a chameleon, it was Sir John Hurt. He was Quentin Crisp in the TV movie The Naked Civil Servant. He was Caligula in the TV mini-series I, Claudius. He was the title character, John Merrick, in The Elephant Man (1980), Winston Smith in 1984 (1984), Stephen Ward in Scandal (1989), Montrose in Rob Roy (1995), and Chancellor Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta (2005). He even played The Doctor on Doctor Who. Sadly Sir John Hurt died on January 27 2017 at the age of 77. He had been diagnosed with  pancreatic cancer in 2015.

Sir John Hurt was born on January 22 1940 in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. He attended St Michael's Preparatory School in Otford, Kent. It was there that he developed his love of acting. Afterwards he attended Lincoln Grammar School. Even though his mother was an amateur actress, his parents discouraged him from pursuing an acting career and encouraged him to become an art teacher instead. When he was 17, then, he enrolled at Grimsby Art School. In 1959 he won a scholarship to attend Saint Martin's School of Art in London. Despite this, the lure of acting proved too strong, and in 1960 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He attended RADA for two years.

It was in 1962 that Sir John Hurt made his television debut in an episode of Z Cars (1962). He made his film debut in The Wild and the Willing in 1962. In the Sixties he guest starred on such shows as Probation Officer, Once Aboard the Lugger..., Drama 61-67, First Night, Armchair Theatre, Love Story, Gideon's Way, and ITV Playhouse. He appeared in such films as This Is My Street (1964), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Sailor from Gibraltar (1967), Sinful Davey (1969), Before Winter Comes (1969), and In Search of Gregory (1969). In 1962 he made his stage debut in Infanticide in the House of Fred Ginger.

The Seventies would see Sir John Hurt's career begin to flourish. In 1975 he played Quentin Crisp in the TV movie The Naked Civil Servant. He played Caligula in several episodes of the mini-series I, Claudius in 1976. He guest starred on such shows as ITV Saturday Night Theatre, Ten from the Twenties, and The Sweeney. He appeared in the mini-series Crime and Punishment and the TV movie and series pilot Spectre. He was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role for The Elephant Man (1980).  He played Max in Midnight Express (1978) and Kane in Alien (1979). provided the voice of Hazel in Watership Down (1978) and the voice of Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings (1978). He appeared in such films as 10 Rillington Place (1971), Mr. Forbush and the Penguins (1971), The Pied Piper (1972), The Ghoul (1975), Shadows of Doubt (1976), The Disappearance (1977), East of Elephant Rock (1978), The Shout (1978), and Heaven's Gate (1980).

In the Eighties Sir John Hurt starred as Winston Smith in 1984 (1984). He played English osteopath (and one of the central figures in the Profumo affair) in Scandal (1989). He appeared in such films as History of the World: Part I (1981), Night Crossing (1982), The Osterman Weekend (1983), The Hit (1984), Jake Speed (1986), From the Hip (1987), Spaceballs (1987), Windprints (1989), The Field (1990), and Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound (1990). He provide the voice of Snitter in The Plague Dogs (1982) and The Horned King in The Black Cauldron (1985). On television he appeared in a 1983 adaptation of King Lear. He was the on-screen narrator of the title of the TV series The Storyteller.

In the Nineties Sir John Hurt appeared in such films as King Ralph (1991), Monolith (1993), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1993), Great Moments in Aviation (1994), Dead Man (1995), Wild Bill (1995), Love and Death on Long Island (1997), Night Train (1998), All the Little Animals (1998), If... Dog... Rabbit (1999), New Blood (2000), and Lost Souls (2000). On television he guest starred on Saturday Night Live and provided the voice of General Woundwort in the animated series Watership Down.

In the Naughts he played Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001). He reprised the role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2011). He played Professor Broom in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). He played Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta (2005). He also appeared in such films as Tabloid (2001), Miranda (2002), Crime and Punishment (2002), Owning Mahowny (2003), Meeting Che Guevara & the Man from Maybury Hill (2003), The Skeleton Key (2005), The Proposition (2005), Boxes (2007), The Oxford Murders (2008), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), An Englishman in New York (2009), The Limits of Control (2009), Brighton Rock (2010), and Love at First Sight (2010). On television he played the title character in the series The Alan Clark Diaries.

In the Teens on television Sir John Hurt played The War Doctor in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special,  "Day of the Doctor", and appeared briefly in the role in two other episodes. He provided the voice of the Dragon on Merlin and starred on the series The Confession and The Last Panthers. He guest starred on the series The Hollow Crown and Labyrinth. He appeared in such films as Regret Not Speaking (2011), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), Immortals (2011), In Love with Alma Cogan (2012), King Lear: Scene 133 (2013), Look Again (2013), Only Lovers Left Alive (2013), Snowpiercer (2013), Hercules (2014), Break (2015), Snowpiercer (2013), ChickLit (2016), Jackie (2016), and The Journey (2016). He is set to appear in That Good Night (2017), Damascus Cover (2017), My Name Is Lenny (2017), and The Darkest Hour (2017).

As an actor Sir John Hurt was always hard to define. He was definitely a character actor, playing a wide variety of unusual characters over the years. At the same time, he could also be a leading man, even if he did not particularly look like one. He  had the uncanny ability to vanish within characters, to the point that one might not even realise it was Sir John Hurt in the role.

Indeed, over the years he played a wide variety of roles. He played more than his share of villains. He played the unscrupulous Rich in A Man for All Seasons, the mad Emperor Caligula on I, Claudius, the corrupt Marquis Montrose in Rob Roy, and the stern Adam Sutler in V for Vendetta. He voiced the chief villain of The Black Cauldron, the Horned King. He also played his share of heroic roles. After all, he played one of the best known heroes of British popular culture, The Doctor in Doctor Who, if only briefly. He provided the voice of Hazel in Watership Down and Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. He was Professor Broom (AKA Professor Trevor Bruttenholm) in the Hellboy movies.

Of course, most of the roles played by Sir John Hurt were not villainous or heroic, but instead somewhere in between. He played Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place, a man wrongly convicted for murders committed by his neighbour, John Christie. In Midnight Express he played Max, a heroin addict in a Turkish prison. For the role he was nominated for the Oscar for Beset Actor in a Supporting Role. In Love and Death on Long Island he played Giles De'Ath, who becomes obsessed with a young film actor. Aside from Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich in A Man for All Seasons, Timothy Evans in 10 Rillington Place, Caligula in I, Claudius, and John Merrick in The Elephant Man, Mr. Hurt played a number of historical figures, including Quentin Crisp (whom he played twice), Stephen Ward in Scandal, and Christopher Marlowe in Only Lovers Left Alive.

Not only did Sir John Hurt play a large variety of different sorts of roles, but he also appeared in a wide variety of roles. He is certainly remembered for the various fantasy and science fiction films in which he appeared, including Alien, The Black Cauldron, Monolith, the Hellboy movies, and V for Vendetta. He starred in several literary adaptations over the years, from 1984 to Crime and Punishment. He appeared in horror movies besides Alien, including The Ghoul and Frankenstein Unbound. He even appeared in Westerns, including Heaven's Gate and The Proposition. Sir John Hurt seemed to be willing to take on any role in any genre. What is more, he had the talent to do so. As mentioned earlier, Sir John Hurt had the ability to vanish into roles, to the point that viewers might forget that he was even Sir John Hurt. For such an actor, no genre, no role, would be off limits. Sir John Hurt had the talent to play a wide variety of characters, and he did so throughout his career.

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