Remembering Paul Scofield

The great British stage actor Paul Scofield, who died today at the age of 86, was an anomaly by the standards of today’s tabloid-saturated culture. The Oscar-winning actor and master of the Shakespearean stage — cited as one of the greatest English-speaking actors by playwrights Edward Albee and Arthur Miller — was modest to a fault and harbored a deep dislike of the spotlight, even rejecting an offer of knighthood with the statement, "If you want a title, what’s wrong with Mr.?"

One of his first lead film roles — as the principled, headstrong statesman Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons — earned him the 1966 Best Actor Oscar and international recognition, but Scofield, who chose his projects as carefully as he might his family and friends ("Only the dead play harder to get," it was said of him), didn’t appear in another major film until assuming the title role in Peter Brook’s King Lear (1971), reprising an earlier role from a Stratford production. (That stage Lear was reportedly legendary as well, performed when he was just 40, in 1962. That same year, he won a Tony for the stage version of Man for All Seasons.) His brilliant portrayal of the troubled, aged monarch earned Scofield praise from the Royal Shakespeare Company as the greatest performer ever in a Shakespearean play.

Scofield also originated the role of Antonio Salieri in the play Amadeus, and in 1969, he became the sixth performer to win the Triple Crown of Acting (an Emmy for Best Actor, in Male of the Species, joined the Oscar and Tony on his mantel). His other films — including Albee’s A Delicate Balance (1974), Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989), Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994), and the screen version of Miller’s play The Crucible (1996) — all displayed an actor with a commanding presence, his words given weight by a deep, crackling, astringent voice weighty with authority. Just watch this famous scene, below, from Man for All Seasons:

The Guardian has some fine Scofield tributes today, this essay and this slideshow. And please share your own memories of Scofield with us below.

Comments (57 total) Add your comment
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  • Laura

    We watched “Man for All Seasons” my senior year of high school, and while I didn’t particularly care for the movie, I was struck by Scofield’s performance. He gave great depth to a figure with whom I was only familiar through the history books, and I’m sorry to hear of his passing.

  • Mrs. Taylor

    I’ll never forget him in Mel Gibson’s “Hamlet,” with a close-up on his ghostly face, repeating “Avenge me…” Just masterful.

  • Nick

    Loved him in “Man for All Seasons” and “Quiz Show.” In both films he exuded a gravity that none of his peers could touch. He was one of our finest.

  • cimagato

    Loved, loved him in A Man For All Seasons. Changed the way I looked at movies and acting. I made my husband, a guy who used to hate “old” movies, watch it when we first met, and he loved it. It changed the way he looked at movies, too. Scofield was a magnificent actor.

  • Evelyn Begley

    Will this alert others that Scofield’s Emmy-winning performance in Alun Owen’s “Male of the Species” should be seen now, by putting it on DVD?
    The 1969 telefilm co-starred Michael Caine, Sean Connery, and Anna Calder-Marshall. Will Caine & Connery seek to have this brilliant performance put on DVD?
    I hope so. I still recall it vividly and remain impressed from that NBC broadcast of Prudential’s “On Stage” when it aired “Male of the Species” one night in 1969.

  • pai

    He was just a master at the craft. There’s nothing else that can be said. He was perfect in Shakespeare and equally as precise in something like Quiz Show. A friend and I were just talking about the “chocolate cake” scene. He just sticks in your memory like that. We will miss him.

  • M

    He was excellent in Quiz Show, and sounds like he was a great gentleman as well as an exceptional actor.

  • Susan

    An incredible actor. He was electrifying in “Man for all seasons”,and incredibly somber in “Henry V.” He was haunting as Hamlet’s ghostly father in the Zeferelli version. A true great.

  • rosie

    In my favorite movie, Quiz Show, he is heartbreakingly subtle and perfect as the loving and gentle dad… Brilliant guy.

  • bjl

    Like Laura, I saw this in High School and was struck by how Scofield did more than act, he embodied the role of Sir Thomas More. His was a true class act who will be missed.

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