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Pete Postlethwaite: 1946-2011

Much loved city actor remembered by those who knew and worked with him

Published on January 10th 2011.

Pete Postlethwaite: 1946-2011

WHAT makes a good actor?

In Pete Postlethwaite's case, it was something that no amount of formal training at a top drama school could have bought. Nor a family connection. And not smoke, mirrors or artifice.

Rather, it was “his honesty, his personal truth and his warmth”.

When he came to Liverpool to do King Lear,
I think he was rather taken aback by the volume of love that flowed towards him from the whole city

So says Terry Hands, the Liverpool Everyman founder, who travelled much of the professional and personal journey with the Warrington-born wannabe priest who landed at his theatre in the 1970s.

“No matter what he played, a villain or a hero, you were entirely convinced by every word he uttered," the former RSC chief told Liverpool Confidential from his base at Theatr Clwyd.

“Yet he was no different off camera or off stage. The Pete you saw was the Pete you got.

“He had these great human qualities that made him stand out from the rest.

“It was Pete's Truth.”

It was the kind of sentiment echoed by many of those who knew him, waking up to the sharp news of his death, from cancer, at the start of this new year.

Chris Bernard, film director remarked: Pete wasn't showbizzy, he was a lovely man - ordinary in that extraordinary way....my heart goes out to Jacqui (his wife).”

A rich seam of young talent was molten and bubbling within that sweaty, creaky old hall on Hope St in 1975. When it wasn't a bill of Brecht or George Bernard Shaw, Willy Russell was writing the words for council house comedy dramas, with a scouse twang, which would one day become the template for everything from Brookside to The Royle Family.

201113Story-BreezelgBreezeblock ParkPopulating the super-trouper cast lists were livewires like Bill Nighy, Matthew Kelly, Bernard Hill, Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Sher and, of course, Julie Walters with whom he was romantically involved for a time.

“He invented the word 'edgy',” she says.

Auspicious days, and Postlethwaite was never going to make it back to the seminary at Up Holland.

With the characteristic, rough chiselled features and a slightly weary air of experience, which always seemed to place him in roles him beyond his years, Postlethwaite was rarely cast as the young buck; more the patriarch.

Even at the age of 29, in one of his first Everyman jobs, he was playing a middle-aged husband, Syd Dobson, in Russell's Breezeblock Park.

Spit and polish roles: the brutal Dad in Terence Davies's Distant Voices, Still Lives, Guiseppe Conlon in The Name of the Father and the working class hero Danny, leader of Grimley Brass Band, in the bittersweet Brassed Off.

Postlethwaite's journey could have taken a very different path – via Croxteth. The “natural Dad” actor was the first choice for the part of Ron Dixon in Brookside Close.

“It was 1990 and Phil Redmond and I were developing a new family for Brookie,” TV producer Mal Young revealed.

201113Story-0205LearKing Lear“As soon as Ron was created we had Pete in mind and felt he'd be perfect. Back then Pete was still doing telly roles and so we thought we had a chance of getting him. But the commitment we needed to the show was too long, although he said he was flattered to be asked.

“The next thing we knew he suddenly had this amazing run of success throughout the 90s in a range of big movies and on the stage. It would have been great to see him on the Close but it wasn't to be.”

Not known for comedy - Mr Kobayashi in The Usual Suspects was hardly a laugh a minute - Postlethwaite nevertheless knew how to enjoy himself to the max. He liked a pint of Guinness (and the occasional whisky livener tipped into a coffee before going on stage) a flirt, a smoke and a bit of a do.

“We were at a party at the RSC,” Hands recalls, “and Pete was face down on a sofa, his arms spread across it, perfectly still.

“Eventually after about 15 minutes I tapped him on the shoulder to see if he was all right. 'What are you doing, Pete?' I said.

“He turned his head to me and whispered urgently: 'I'm holding this sofa down, of course.'”

Although major Hollywood roles came his way, an Oscar nomination and TV plaudits galore, Postlethwaite never strayed far from his roots. “by that I mean his spiritual ones, in Liverpool,” says Hands.

“He was quite simply such a beautiful, talented, naughty, funny, brave, principled man,” added the latest Everyman director, Gemma Bodinez, who brought him back to the same venue - in a very different Liverpool - for 2008, European Capital of Culture year.

“When he came to Liverpool to do King Lear, I think he was rather taken aback by the volume of love that flowed towards him from the whole city,” she said.

“Everyone talked to him as though he was an old friend. Everyone wanted to shake his hand and he had time for everyone.

“He loved Liverpool and the Everyman. I know that every night he received a standing ovation he was touched to his very core by our audience.

“It was a brave and touching Lear from a very rare and true spirit.

“Many of us are rather lost today.”

*Pete Postlethwaite died on January 2, 2011. He is survived by his wife, Jacqui, his son, Will, and daughter, Lily.

'Gabbing on like a schoolboy about the love of his life'

Liverpool film-maker Chris Bernard writes: I first met Pete when I was directing my first BBC film in Scotland. He had come up to visit his girlfriend, Jacqui Morrish, who was my assistant director.

Chris BernardChris BernardHe took me out one evening to Glasgow (when Jacqui was busy working) - and to see a band called Moving Hearts - what a night! It was in the days when sectarianism was still a big issue. Someone in the crowd shouted "No Surrender!" and Pete dragged me to safety as a riot ensued. An adventure in itself which I will never forget.

He was obviously madly in love and I can remember him using the term "love of my life" in connection to Jacqui and gabbing on like a schoolboy asking me loads of questions about her: Had she mentioned him? What about his age, and his looks? A personal paranoia of mine at the time.

But no worries. He married Jacqui and they had two kids. My then partner came up to visit and we all had a great time - beach parties in the rain, hanging out in the beautiful countryside and lots of laughing.

I remember expecting him to be another arty Everyman type (nothing wrong in that) but thespian

conversations were kept to a minimum.

He was an ordinary, warm, friendly, big hearted and generous guy and very easy to get on with. No need to pretend around Pete, he put you at your ease.

My partner gave him a lift back to Warrington - on arrival Pete insisted Mark joined him and his family at the local social club where he was really looked after and plied with food, many pints of bitter and entertained with warmth, spending the night on Pete's dad's couch. Says it all really.

Pete wasn't showbizzy he was a lovely man - ordinary in that extraordinary way. But when the subject of theatre, music, the arts and politics became the topic of conversation he was incredibly informed, intelligent and passionate. My heart goes out to Jacqui - I suspect she saved his life and became a sort of muse to him.

Alas our paths crossed very rarely over the years. I'm so touched and honoured that they did and I got to hang out with him and Jacqui - especially to be around two people so very much in love - and look what came out of that love: a staggering and unique career and a warm, loving family.

I can't say that about many people I have known.

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

JamesJanuary 4th 2011.

Some nice tributes and fond anecdotes. RIP Pete

steve14598January 4th 2011.

Saw him in Breezeblock Park in 1975 I think at the Everyman?

AnonymousJanuary 4th 2011.

Brilliantly woven portrayal that evokes Pete's humanity and talent and warmth. He meant a lot to the city. Thanks

Old SparkyJanuary 4th 2011.

Love the little anecdote by Chris Bernard. Very tender and brought a tear to my eye. But then terrific warm stuff by all, and would have done Pete Postlethwaite proud. A true son of the city, even though he was from Warrington.

younger-than-twiggy-anywayJanuary 4th 2011.

Lovely piece Angie! The girl in that photo stayed in my house (we do actor's digs) when Peter was in King Lear. I could tell you a story or two but it might not be the time or place! Still, come round for a bevvy and I will tell all - nothing naught mind.

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