Remembering Peter O'Toole
COW Library : TV & Movie Appreciation : Debra Kaufman : Remembering Peter O'Toole
Lawrence of Arabia came out when I was a child. My parents took me to it, probably at one of the remaining Hollywood movie palaces. It's a long movie (it originally had an intermission, just like Gone with the Wind), but I remember being riveted by the man with the blue, blue eyes, by the endless desert, by the drama of it all.
Later on, I saw O'Toole -- and loved him -- in My Favorite Year, The Ruling Class, Becket, How to Steal a Million, Lord Jim, The Lion in Winter...Maybe it was the British accent, maybe the blue eyes, but I think most of all his presence that said to me, even when I was a child: This is an actor of another stratum, someone above the hoi polloi.
Little did I know that one day I would chat with O'Toole on the phone. I wrote for The Hollywood Reporter for 20 years. Although my specialty was technology, there was a period of several years during which I wrote about everything for them, from women in entertainment to charities supported by Hollywood.
I was used to interviewing behind-the-scenes people: cinematographers, editors, sound mixers and so on. I feel very comfortable interviewing them: I know and respect what they do and, by and large, most of them are happy to be interviewed since their contributions were (and often still are), not recognized. I often emphatically tell people that, no, I don't interview actors or directors. Except, for a several year period, I did.
I am racking my brain as to the topic of the article for which I interviewed O'Toole: I searched for my name and O'Toole on the Reporter website, and came up with an article I wrote in 2008 about animated movies. In another great role, O'Toole was the voice of Anton Ego, the imperious snooty food critic, in the Oscar-winning Ratatouille. How perfect.
Still, you can imagine why I was more than a tad nervous to interview O'Toole. I had already had the experience of interviewing a few people who made it clear that they didn't want to be speaking with the press. Who was I to interview the man who was Lawrence of Arabia?
He was a sweetheart. Our phone conversation (because they were always phone conversations) was relaxed and friendly. He clearly had mastered the art of communicating his story, whether it was on the screen or to the press. He had aged (but, hey, this was BEFORE he played Anton Ego, so his professional career was still very much alive), but he gave a great interview and made me feel that he was perfectly fine speaking with yet another journalist. Can you imagine how many interviews he had had to give in his long professional life? Along with an interview with Pierce Brosnan and a few others, interviewing O'Toole was a fond memory of this period of interviewing actors.
When, not long ago, I saw the 4K restored version of Lawrence of Arabia, I half-way expected to find it tedious and too long, another "classic" that lost its sheen over time. Was I wrong. The movie was exquisite and not a moment too long. The music, the visuals (including a lens made specifically for the desert chimera, by Panavision's Tak Miyagishima, another story I covered), the intensity of O'Toole...it stands still as a breathtaking cinematic achievement.
That's why Peter O'Toole will never disappear. He won't be making any new movies, but then again, with movies like Lawrence of Arabia, The Ruling Class and My Favorite Year, which new audiences will discover over and over again, does he need to? Very few artists of any medium rise above their time; Peter O'Toole is clearly one of them. I, for one, plan to re-watch some of his most amazing movies in honor of the man and his contribution to this art we all so love.
My Favorite Year 1982 Peter O'Toole
Clip from Lion in Winter "My Life" by Peter O'Toole