‘Peter O’Toole’ captures what was unique about the enduring star

peter-otoole-666x1024Yet it was arguably O’Toole’s persona – more than his chops as an actor per se – which left the biggest impression on audiences. Whether cast in roles swashbuckling (as the globe-trotting hero in 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia”) or studious (as the courtly teacher to Chinese Emperor Pu Yi in 1987’s “The Last Emperor”), O’Toole frequently came across as variants of the same man: svelte, dashing, somewhat impetuous.

The point is nicely expressed in a passage in Peter O’Toole: The Definitive Biography, an accurately – if self-aggrandizingly – titled book by Robert Sellers. Discussing the rationale behind casting the actor in “The Last Emperor,” producer Jeremy Thomas itemizes the salient aspects of O’Toole’s façade: “He was the symbol of Western style, in a top hat and tails, and very statuesque with a great clarity of speech.”

Of course, many of the films O’Toole made in the late 1980s and 1990s were beneath his station. Happily, however, Sellers recognizes that O’Toole brought authority to even the silliest projects. “His name and presence could still add gravitas to any production,” Sellers writes, and a fine case study is made of the two-bit science-fiction film “Phantoms” (1998): O’Toole is described as being genuinely respectful of the screenplay by Dean Koontz and acing a long monologue shot during a snowfall. And although “Supergirl” (1984) is blithely dismissed in a single line, the actor’s function in that film is roughly equivalent to that of Marlon Brando in “Superman” (1978) – he is there to supply a certain stateliness to a pop-culture product, and he does so with panache.

Read the full article @ The Christian Science Monitor.

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