POSTED March 17 2012

My Wild Irish Rogue, Peter O’ Toole

Lawrence O'Arabia

Rather than watch The Quiet Man for the dozenth time, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day let’s lift a pint to Peter O’Toole, Irishman and droll specter, haunter of films diverse asĀ Lawrence of Arabia, Becket, What’s New Pussycat?, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, The Last EmperorĀ and Troy.

The most-nominated thespian never to win a competitive Oscar (he’s zero-for-eight, though a few years back the Academy thrust a life achievement statuette into his reluctant hands), O’Toole is a rare presence who possesses the laser-blue-eyes of a beacon, a sepulchral voice fit for drama and the supple body of a comedian. In other words, at once he mesmerizes while unnerving you, pierces your heart and strikes your funny bone. You don’t so much watch an O’ Toole performance as be hypnotized by it.

Subtract the elephantine Man of La Mancha and Goodbye, Mr Chips from his filmography and O’Toole has had a fascinating career playing kings (Becket and Lion in Winter), fools (The Ruling Class), adventurers (Lawrence of Arabia) and poseurs (My Favorite Year).

Morgan Freeman once told me that he self-consciously mimicked O’Toole’s cadences when he wanted to convey authority. And that his favorite line ever was the O’Toole character’s horrified reaction to doing live television in My Favorite Year: “I’m not an actor! I’m a movie star!”

My favorite O’Toole factoid: He studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in the same class with Alan Bates and Albert Finney.

Your favorite O’Toole performance? Mine are Lawrence, Stunt Man and Troy.


  1. Harold says:

    O’Toole in MY FAVORITE YEAR manages the tricky task of doing a star turn in an ensemble piece while generously playing off the great surrounding company. And he is fearless in the comedy: no pratfall is beyond, yet he never loses the dignity that makes the role richly funny and sympathetic. It’s a wild, textured, regally comic performance in a little gem of a film.

  2. Carrie Rickey says:

    In My Favorite Year scene when O’Toole accompanies Mark-Linn Baker to Brooklyn to have dinner with his family, Baker’s Aunt Belle, aged 70 or so, arrives in her wedding dress. Belle explains, “I’ve only worn this dress once before.” That would be funny enough. But O’Toole’s expression, delight leavened with amusement, makes it a gutbuster.

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  5. Stunt Man is my absolute favorite. I saw it in a preview up at the old Eric King in King of Prussia. This was back when studios previewed films weeks before and sometimes didn’t mention the name of the film.

    I fell in love with the whole structure of the film and O’Toole performance.


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