Official UK Site for Venus - check it out!
Amo was nice enough to inform me that the website for the UK release of "Venus" is online here. It looks great! Check it out.
Amo was nice enough to inform me that the website for the UK release of "Venus" is online here. It looks great! Check it out.
Peter has not yet decided whether he will attend the Oscars yet due to his fragile health. "The romantic in me wants to go with my children and have a ball, but the realist thinks it wouldn't be a good idea." Oohh, we all want you to GO, Peter!!! (WENN)
The nominations for the 79th Academy Awards were announced this morning. As expected, Peter is nominated as Best Actor in a Leading Role for his Maurice in "Venus." He's up against Leo Dicaprio, Ryan Gosling, Will Smith and Forest Whitaker.
When pressed about his Oscar potential at the London premiere for 'Venus' last night, O'Toole was his usual self, responding, "Are nominations tomorrow? I better start getting excited. A nomination wouldn't mean a sausage, though. If I won the fucker, great. If I don't, then tant pis [too bad]. I shan't lurch around in agony and despair." [London Evening Standard]
The Oscar telecast begins 8pm EST, February 25th.
Last of the Hellraisers (London Evening Standard)
Peter O'Toole shuffles into a suite at The Connaught, a grey but immaculate ghost in raffish attire, the 6ft 3in frame somewhat stooped now he's 74, his blue eyes watery but still startling.
"I'm whirligigging," mutters the veteran actor, drinker and icon of ruination. "Film publicity! My body left New York yesterday but my brain and my soul are still scraping the sh** of Nova Scotia off their heels." He gives a great, hacking laugh.
The film that has him haring back and forth across the Atlantic is Venus, which had its premiere last night in Chelsea.
It is a disconcerting but beguiling London-set study of the relationship between a dying actor, Maurice, and newcomer Jodie Whittaker's chavvy, exploiting Jessie.
Written by Hanif Kureishi and directed by Roger Michell, this tender, funny examination of elderly, thwarted sexual desire provides O'Toole with his first leading film role for 24 years.
The most charismatic classical actor of a generation that included the Richards Harris and Burton, Alan Bates and Albert Finney, O'Toole became a matinee idol in 1962 in Lawrence of Arabia, which won him the first of seven inconclusive Oscar nominations (a cruel record he shares with Burton).
But since the late Seventies, when he lost most of his digestive tract to pancreatitis exacerbated by drinking and when his 19-year marriage to Sian Phillips finally broke up, he's mostly been hammy in cameos, apart from honourable exceptions such as My Favourite Year and The Last Emperor.
Venus is a return to form which may, when the nominations are announced later today, put O'Toole in the running to win a Best Actor statuette to go with the honorary Oscar he was awarded in 2003.
"I loved the notion of a dirty old man and a sluttish young woman having a romance," he says, in the voice that critic David Thomson memorably described as "a rapier used to stir cream", "and Hanif and Roger have produced an examination of those sort of casual bloody platitudes that are flung out about oldies and youngies, that touches on age, youth, beauty - all those fine things."
He sounds like he's talking from experience. "Anarchic, arbitrary sexual urges overwhelm every man and woman on this bloody earth, and you have to master them or, if you are very lucky, find an outlet for them," he twinkles.
Maurice is impotent but O'Toole, apparently, is not. "In New York a woman on a chat show asked if I could imagine myself with a 20-year-old girl. I said, I hope I could do more than imagine," he adds wickedly. "Does that answer the question?"
He wasn't looking for a big role. "I really didn't want the burden of a leading part on me again - the hours, the concentration needed to be at concert pitch at five f***ing thirty in the morning is asking a lot - and didn't expect one at my age.
But here it was, not only a leading role for a septuagenarian but a bloody good part in a bloody good script. God, what more could I hope for?"
There were other pleasures. O'Toole is lavish in his praise of Whittaker, of co-star Leslie Phillips and of Vanessa Redgrave, who contributes a moving cameo as Maurice's estranged wife: "So professional and beautifully prepared, Vanessa. Although she could scare the life out of anyone, including me."
I suggest there must have been sly delight, too, in playing a character so close to himself.
Maurice is a drinker and a philanderer, a wreck of his former handsome self whose regular scanning of the obituary columns for dead contemporaries raises the spectre of the fellow hellraisers and Rada contemporaries whom O'Toole inexplicably outlived.
On their first date, Maurice and Jessie walk out of the Royal Court, a theatre O'Toole railed against last year, and on their second he quotes Macbeth, surely a reference to O'Toole's infamous stab at the Scottish play in 1980.
It almost feels like he's bidding farewell to his own career.
This suggestion provokes a sigh that sounds like a death rattle. "Maurice and I do the same job so there is a superficial similarity," he says, "but actors - proper actors, of whom there are few - do not rely on 'experience'. We draw on our well of emotion.
"And this film is not a valediction. When we revived Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell [in which he masterfully played his friend, the titular alcoholic journalist] at the Old Vic in 1999, I could tell on the first night it was going extremely well, and when I took my bow, I was thinking, over and over again, it is now time to say goodbye to the theatre.
"You are never, ever going to get another part which requires such energy and discipline and diction and movement, all the things you used to be good at, and you will not be any good at any more.
"I have no wish to shuffle on as butlers. But I'll carry on doing my films and telly things. I like to work. I'll go on. I'm available."
Venus did bring intimations of mortality, though. On a low-budget £3 million shoot involving lots of London exteriors, whip-thin O'Toole was "permanently bloody freezing", so the producers supplied him with a pup tent with a heater to which he could retire between takes.
Then, on Boxing Day, O'Toole broke his hip. This disgusts him as he claims to have got fit for the first time in his life last year.
"I had the usual thing, doctors and stethoscopes and finger-wagging and so forth, so I signed on at Lord's and trained for six months with professional cricketers, doing the same regime they did," he says.
"So I was fit over Christmas. Normally, waking up on Boxing Day is a gruesome and a horrible time, I'm nasty and I cough, and I move very, very carefully and awfully and horribly towards the bathroom.
But this Boxing Day I jumped out of bed quite cheerfully and tripped over a pair of f***ing shoes and bust my hip! So now I've got a tin one, but I was up and walking again within 48 hours."
He still likes a drink - the pancreatitis "just slowed me down a bit, that's all" - but has finally given up smoking after 60 years. Throughout our talk he pats his pockets, looking for absent fags.
"If I ever get the word that I'm on the way out, the first thing I shall do is light up again," he grimaces. But there's still time for an Oscar. Does he feel cheated at never having won?
"Not cheated, no," he says. "It's a fivehorse race, and the whole history of the Academy Awards is rooted in the culture of Los Angeles, and I've never lived there, unlike my friend Michael Caine, who did win one. And of course I'm desirous of winning.
"To be considered is okay, but it's not enough: it's winning the bloody thing that matters. So if I win the bugger, great. If I don't, then tant pis. I shan't lurch around in agony and despair."
Instead, he'll be spending time with his children - daughters Kate and Pat from his marriage to Sian Phillips and son Lorcan (that's Lawrence in Gaelic) from a brief relationship with model Karen Brown - reading, and watching films, theatre ("on the very rare occasion that it's any bloody good") and sport.
But, looking back, there's little that he'd do differently. "I'm not a French chanteuse," he snorts. "There are things that are regrettable, but to hold a regret? To pick a scab off an old wound? No thank you."
This includes the demon drink. "I do not regret one drop. What is never understood about us so-called hellraisers is that booze for us was simply a fuel for other things."
He mentions the time he went for a drink in Paris and woke up in Corsica; the time John Huston took him hunting, inebriated, in their night clothes in Ireland, and fell off his horse and broke his arm; the wheelbarrow races he and Jeffrey Bernard had through crowded Covent Garden.
"Our idea of Roman gladiatorial sport. That's what it's all about, baby."
This surely, is the point of O'Toole. Not that he's a ruin, but that he's a magnificent one. If Venus, which celebrates the life force and a refusal to go gentle into that good night, proves to be the cap on his career, it will be a fitting one.
CBS News Online: Will Peter O'Toole Finally Win an Oscar?
Peter O'Toole emerged during Hollywood's glittering golden age - acting, and partying wildly, alongside legends Richard Burton and Richard Harris. Now, at 74, his performance as a lecherous old actor in Venus has placed him among the favourites to win the Oscar he has been denied seven times.
Gaby Wood Sunday January 21, 2007
Peter O'Toole is feeling rather fragile, he tells me as he hobbles into a smart New York hotel room, unzipping one of several jumpers he is wearing. He is 74, but that's not the problem. No, no, it's just that he went out last night with friends, and they took him to some 'wretched place' and made him have red wine. Just like old times, you might think, only most of his drinking pals are dead now - 'wretchedly inconsiderate' of them - and ... Suddenly, O'Toole looks up with a comically vacant stare, followed by a broad, cavalier smile. 'Am I boring you with all these tales of mortality?' he says.
The last of a generation of hell-raising, gut-wrenching Shakespearean actors who made it in the movies, O'Toole has had more comebacks than a phoenix with repetitive strain injury. In the critic David Thomson's expression, death's door is one of his regular residences. More than 30 years ago, O'Toole had so soured his stomach with drink that he very nearly went ungently, yet he's managed to tot up nominations for seven Oscars. Along with his late friend Richard Burton, he holds the record for the most nominations without a win, and when the Academy offered him a Lifetime Achievement Award four years ago, he famously quipped (before accepting it anyway) that he ought to turn it down because he still hoped to 'win the lovely bugger outright'.
Many think that might happen in the coming weeks, with his performance in Hanif Kureishi and Roger Michell's film Venus. The film, which documents the aged droolings of a thespy lothario over a sulky teenage girl, wasn't written for O'Toole, but it couldn't have survived anyone else. He rescues the script with his dastardly gentleman's charm, and offers one of the great performances of his life, partly because it might be about his life, or about one parallel and less successful. Throughout the film, a trio of retired actors regularly meets up in a greasy spoon in north London; they call each other 'Dear', utter words like 'Antigone' and 'Temazepam' in the same laboriously drawn breath, and measure the column inches in their friends' death notices. (When O'Toole tells his ex-wife - played by Vanessa Redgrave - that he's been given a role as a corpse in a TV drama, she says: 'Typecast again?')
You can't help feeling, on leaving the cinema, that Venus is intended as a memorial to O'Toole himself: the Old Vic grandee, the skittish playboy of What's New, Pussycat?, the Arabian adventurer, the drenched and unwell hack Jeffrey Bernard.
His face lights up at the mention of What's New, Pussycat?, a madcap caper which was Woody Allen's first script and (depending on your sense of humour) possibly O'Toole's most appealing role. He is as proud of his comic roles as he is of his epic, tormented heroes. 'There's a line I had to say in a film once,' he grins: '"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Which had been said by Edmund Kean. And it is, it's bloody difficult to get it right. I've never known a good actor who couldn't play comedy, and I've never known any actor who found it easy.'
He speaks in a purring, plummy voice, his diction elegantly clear yet fluid enough to suggest the years of nocturnal slurring to which it must have been subjected. He is dapper yet mischievous, a silk cravat tucked into the collar of his white shirt, the electric white wisps of his hair fighting the smoothness of their renowned style. He is charming, but not shy of correcting you with a glowering, sidelong look, or of swearing his heart out to punctuate a point. When he laughs, it is a hoarse, chesty laugh from which you imagine he might not mind if he didn't recover: however frail he says he feels, he approaches every tale with aplomb.
There is something mysterious about O'Toole: from this vantage point, he seems to have been an old-school successor to Gielgud or Olivier, yet when he first came on the scene he was lauded as the embodiment of a new, gritty realism. I ask him whether, when he was at the Bristol Old Vic or at the Royal Court in the 1950s, he was aiming to shatter a tradition or defend one. The response comes slowly, deliberately, accompanied by dramatically hooded eyes.
'One of the enduring myths of our time,' says O'Toole, 'is the Fucking Royal Court. George Devine was a third-rate mummer who couldn't act for toffee. He was a nice old stick, George, but surrounded by these bloody gruesome young amateurs. I found it deeply overrated, but the myth continues. The revivals of Look Back in Anger have been execrated. Well, it was never very good. I went to see it - dreary little production, drearily done. It's all PR. A PR put out a flyer and referred to John Osborne as an "angry young man". It was one of those phrases, everybody used it - I was called an "angry young actor". God!'
Weren't you a rebel? 'I had a rebellious nature, of course. But I wasn't particularly angry about anything. I was quite cheerful!'
O'Toole's first London success was The Long and the Short and the Tall, a Second World War play put on at the Royal Court in 1959 (the part had been written for Albert Finney, a classmate of his at Rada, but Finney developed appendicitis during rehearsals). The all-male cast made such a habit of sitting in the pub all possible hours that a line had to be rigged up from the theatre so the stage manager's 10-minute call could be heard at the bar. It was partly their carousing offstage behaviour, and partly the fact that most of these new young actors had come from the provinces (they were the unwealthy beneficiaries of Clement Attlee's postwar reforms), that made them right for the kitchen-sink age.
Yet O'Toole was always a traditional actor - the fact that he's listed alongside Finney, who kept his northern accent, Richard Burton, always inalienably Welsh, the Irishman Richard Harris and the famously cockney Michael Caine, is perhaps an accident of timing more than a true description of his impact. O'Toole was brought up in wartime Leeds with an Irish bookie father ('I'm not working-class,' the self-described 'slum Mick' once said, 'I come from the criminal classes.'); but he was not on stage to flaunt his lower-class roots, and on film he lived up to the aristocracy of his breathtaking looks.
The looks themselves, though, were a kind of mask: in 1960, after a stunning few years at the Bristol Old Vic and that run in London, O'Toole was advised by certain film-makers to fix his nose (Joseph Losey was against it, Nicholas Ray was in favour). The nose, which was then long and - O'Toole claimed - wonky as a result of a rugby game during National Service in the Navy, was surgically straightened in time for a film called The Day They Robbed the Bank of England. ('I thought, well, fuck it, at least I'll get the thing gathered into a tidy little heap,' he later said.) It was this picture that David Lean saw when he was casting Lawrence of Arabia
There were those who said the pretty boy we have come to know was a sell-out compared to the rugged man of the stage. But he went on to give some historic performances in the theatre - as Shylock at Stratford that same year, as Hamlet in the National Theatre's inaugural production in 1963, in Waiting for Godot in Dublin in 1970 (Beckett once told him he thought no decent film could be made with dialogue - it had all been downhill since the silent era). And he more than made up for the prettiness with his behaviour: there was an undercurrent of (as was said of his character, TE Lawrence) 'insubordination', a choice of brilliant, 'difficult' men as mentors, and a dashing flair for being banned from every drinking establishment he set his sights on.
Michael Caine was O'Toole's understudy in The Long and the Short and the Tall; considering he never went on stage, Caine later said, it was incredible he was so exhausted at the end of the run, but waiting anxiously in the wings every night as O'Toole swung in at the very last minute was enough to give any man a coronary. Once, the pair went out drinking and woke up in a strange flat. 'What time is it?' Caine asked. 'Never mind what time it is,' said O'Toole, 'What fucking day is it?' And sure enough, it was two days later, three hours before curtain up.
'I do not regret one drop,' O'Toole now says of his long nights, most famously spent with Richards Harris and Burton. 'We were young people who'd been children throughout the war - well, you can imagine what it felt like in 1945 to be free - not to be bombed, not to be rationed, not to be restricted. There was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. We weren't solitary, boring drinkers, sipping vodka alone in a room. No, no, no: we went out on the town, baby, and we did our drinking in public!'
I wasn't wondering about the regrets so much as the pleasures, I explain, and urge him to recall particular nights. 'Oh, well there were so many, darling, so bloody many,' he replies, with a look of contented defeat. He claims he really did once go for a drink in Paris and wake up in Corsica.
What percentage of his life, would he say, has he woken up in places he didn't recognise? 'Oh,' O'Toole says, shaking his head at the incalculable number, 'the one to ask was Harris. He literally would say to Elizabeth, his third wife: I'm just going down to the corner to buy a packet of cigarettes. And a month later he didn't know where he'd been. But don't forget, we weren't morose. It was just a fuel, it was in addition to what we were doing, which was leaping and shrieking and saying: why not? It was a fuel for various adventures ...'
They would play snooker or watch rugby together; sometimes, in a jazz joint, O'Toole would find Burton draped over the bass player, beautifully chanting Shakespeare's sonnets to a picked out iambic accompaniment. Burton, he says, was 'bursting with life'. One of O'Toole's party pieces was climbing - climbing the wall of Lloyd's bank in Covent Garden, for instance, in the early hours, just for fun. Walls people now climb with ropes, he adds, they used to scale 'in our Sunday shoes'. Did they ever think they'd die? I ask. 'No,' he says with a smile, 'we enjoyed the climb.'
Meanwhile, he had a family in Hampstead. The actress Sian Phillips, to whom he was married for 20 years, has written of their relationship in terms that almost make it rival that of Burton and Taylor. O'Toole, a 'dangerous, disruptive human being' in her description, would disappear for days, or pick fights that quickly escalated to shattered glass. But, as with many of his onscreen incarnations, she suggested, he was so charismatic all was routinely forgiven. (The alcoholic matinee idol he plays in My Favourite Year has a line O'Toole delivers inimitably. Wandering into the wrong loo, he is reprimanded by a stern old woman. 'This is for ladies only!' she grumbles, to which he replies, unzipping his fly: 'So is this, Ma'am, but every now and again I have to run a little water through it.') In the end, it was Phillips who had an affair and left. They have two daughters, Kate O'Toole - named after Katharine Hepburn and now an actress herself - and Pat. O'Toole has a 23-year-old son, Lorcan, from a later relationship with an American model called Karen Brown (Lorcan is Lawrence in Gaelic). As a result of a very public custody battle some years ago, Lorcan primarily grew up with his father, and now he is an actor.
About many of his friends and acquaintances, O'Toole is discreet to the point of looking injured at the mention of their name. 'I don't want to be rude - if you don't mind,' he says when Elizabeth Taylor comes up in conversation. But assuming he's happy to offend the dead, I ask him about an incident in which he reportedly roughed up Kenneth Tynan, this newspaper's celebrated theatre critic. I imagine this to be just another entertaining brawl, a mythical, whisky-fuelled fistfight, but O'Toole seems terribly saddened by the memory.
'Oh, all right, since it's come up ...' he says, and tells the story. It was the summer of 1974. He was making a film in Paris with the noir master Otto Preminger, about a kidnap by Palestinian terrorists. He turned up to work one day and found a note in mirror writing in the apartment where they were filming: 'To Peter O'Toole, the so-called Irishman ... we have planted a bomb in the building.' It was signed by the IRA, and the terrified crew cleared out. 'This was the height of the bombings,' O'Toole says now, 'Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday, my forebears were getting together and blowing things up. You had to take these things seriously.'
Eventually, word was sent that there had been a party in the apartment the night before and that the note had been written as a gag - by Tynan. O'Toole couldn't believe it; he marched off to find him. 'He was sitting in the room, looking un-Ken-like, smoking cigarettes over and over again. He said: "But I thought you'd see through it!" And' - a look of sweet regret comes over O'Toole's face - 'I'm afraid I punched him. Very hard.'
That was the last time they spoke, an awful result, since Tynan had been such a champion of O'Toole, whom he called an 'insomniac Celtic dynamo'. 'You'll find there's a bit cut out of Ken's diaries because I wouldn't tell the story,' O'Toole explains. 'Well, I didn't want to make him look too much of a twat! He claims I kicked him in the balls ... I may have done. And so that was the end.'
Ten years earlier, Tynan had interviewed O'Toole for Playboy magazine, and they'd had this wonderful exchange:
Tynan: 'Are you afraid of dying?'
O'Toole: 'Because there's no future in it.'
Tynan: 'When did you last think you were about to die?'
O'Toole: 'About four o'clock this morning.'
O'Toole has said goodbye to certain things he loves - the drinking, of course, is dramatically reduced, and he no longer plays cricket, a game to which he has been devoted all his life, and which he also used to coach. He doesn't mind - he went out in style. His favourite cricket field is in Devon, a place near Dartmoor called Lustleigh, and that was where he batted for the last time, several years ago. 'The grounds are behind a church - they're beautiful - and there's a river. The thing to do at Lustleigh is to strike the ball into the river. I knew I was finished - I could hardly see the bloody ball - but I went bang! And the ball went boom, into the river, in my favourite little cricket field, and I said: Pedro, get out now. And I did.'
All this has left time for other pursuits, however. One thing the bad-boy persona always veiled was a scholarly man of letters. Loitering With Intent, O'Toole's autobiography, of which he has published two volumes, is richly written and Irishly eloquent. He is working on a third volume now, and has a theory about Shakespeare's sonnets he may yet put to paper.
Reminiscing about his mentor, the renegade actor-film-maker Kenneth Griffith who died just six months ago, O'Toole tells me about an episode that cemented their friendship. In the mid-1950s, Griffith and O'Toole shared a dressing room in Manchester with George Formby. Formby, they found, kept two ukuleles, tuned to different keys, and they asked him if one was a spare. 'No,' said Formby, 'I find it very difficult to change key, so I don't bother. I just pick up another ukulele.' The phrase became a favourite - whenever anything would go wrong, they'd say: 'pick up another ukulele!' and roar with laughter, as if that were the solution to every problem in life. Even now, wheezing with pleasure in the telling, O'Toole gives the impression that his survival instinct is so strong he won't ever really disappear; he'll just shift into another key.
by Laura Emerick (Chicago Sun Times)
Behold "Venus," a meditation on longing and desire; youth and beauty; death ... and death. In what feels like his valedictory, Peter O'Toole, that still mellifluous but physically ravaged Lion in Winter, gives a tour de force that summons the glorious ghosts of performances past.
As an elderly thespian enjoying one last lark before the the final curtain descends, O'Toole reminds us of his own real-life dramatic triumphs: "Becket," "Lion in Winter," and of course, "Lawrence of Arabia." In "Venus," which trades on themes from "Pygmalion" and Lolita, he's the septuagenarian Maurice, who becomes infatuated with the 19-year-old grandniece of his equally doddering comrade Ian (British veteran Leslie Phillips). Maurice views the sullen, untutored yet somehow beguiling Jessie (Jodie Whittaker) as his last chance of recapturing his lost youth.
British icons Vanessa Redgrave and Richard Griffiths ("The History Boys") also appear in supporting roles, with Redgrave as Maurice's forgiving ex-wife Valerie and Griffiths as a fellow grumpy old thesp. Both are fabulous, as is Whittaker in her debut.
But "Venus" orbits around the splendor that is Peter O'Toole. Nominated seven times for the Oscar but never victorious, O'Toole deserves to take home the gold for "Venus." When he received an honorary Oscar in 2003, he almost refused it, claiming he'd like a chance to win "the lovely bugger outright." So far this season, O'Toole has picked up Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, and an eighth Oscar nod seems to be a lock. But will the Academy please give him his just reward -- before he goes to his own just reward?
Directed by Roger Michell ("Notting Hill") and written by Hanif Kureishi ("My Beautiful Laundrette"), "Venus" might repel some viewers with its "dirty old man" mentality. Maurice, who admits that "here I am, near the end, and I realize I have no idea who I am," regards Jessie hungrily not so much out of lust but out of self-affirmation. Yes, he's randy yet harmless, because prostate surgery has rendered him impotent.
Though Ian regards Jessie as "pure evil," Maurice immediately decides to make her his reclamation project after she arrives in London to care for her ailing relative. They set out to see the sights, with stops at the Royal Court Theatre and the National Gallery, where Velasquez's "Rokeby Venus" is hung (and which inspires Maurice's nickname for Jessie). The Velasquez masterpiece comes to symbolize Maurice's and Jessie's growing bond. After all, as New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman noted in a recent review, "The writer Ortega y Gasset got it right. Velasquez's work 'isn't art. It is life itself perpetuated.' "
With her rough edges and tart manner, Jessie embues Maurice with her lifeforce. Though she initially manipulates him into giving her gifts and other material favors, she begins to appreciate his wisdom and worldly experience. Gradually, she allows Maurice a chaste kiss "as long as you don't slobber" and other limited physical liberties. When Maurice leaps at the chance to sniff her neck, his ardor for human contact surprises her. "There really isn't anything else," he responds.
Later, when "Venus" is at her bath, Maurice recites Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet ("Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?"), and the callow Jessie finally realizes the depth of his longing.
That scene and many others reaffirm O'Toole's stature as a giant of the cinema. Everything flows trippingly off the tongue, and his eloquence continues to disarm. Witness his appearance last week on "Late Night With David Letterman," when he flummoxed the usually garrulous host with his first line: "Congratulations on your ... Harry." The awestruck Letterman never regained his composure and just basked in O'Toole's magnificence.
Throughout "Venus," we catch glimpses of his former cinematic selves. There's his leering charm from "What's New, Pussycat?" (1965): "Pussycat from the sky, I can't resist you." The echoes of his grandiloquence in "The Ruling Class" (1972): "I am the electric messiah, the AC/DC God!" And reminders of his greatness, as "Orrence" admits in "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962): "All right! I'm extraordinary! What of it?"
Kureishi's witty, intelligent script gives O'Toole his best vehicle since "My Favorite Year" (1982), and he embraces it with every fiber of his being. He's the last of a dying breed, whose ranks included Richard Burton, Peter Finch and Richard Harris, and that bestows a special poignance upon "Venus."
In one scene, Ian and Maurice visit St. Paul's (aka the Actors' Church) and pay tribute to fallen comrades such as Robert Shaw and Laurence Harvey. Then they dance a slow waltz that serves as an elegy to and celebration of their existence.
Later, Maurice wanders out to an amphitheater where he once performed; while he reflects on his past, Michell fills the soundtrack with dialogue snippets of O'Toole's film roles as he pans the camera around the actor in a majestic yet funereal swoop. It's a moment of utter heartbreak.
Though death hangs over the movie, "Venus" does not believe in tears. Throughout, Michell relies on long shots and subdued lighting as if distancing the action from any hint of sentimentality. He also uses songs by British pop singer Corrine Bailey Rae, especially "Like a Star," to help strike the right emotional tone. Meanwhile, Kureishi's script offers brisk observations and clever asides, as when Ian confesses that "I cried like Antigone" so that Jessie would leave. Later, the always gloomy Ian tells Maurice: "I'm going to die." Maurice retorts: "God will be glad to see you. He liked your Polonius but he thought your Caesar was a bit ... fruity."
Still, intimations of mortality abound. As Maurice reminds Valerie (and Redgrave is luminous in this scene), "We won't live forever. This is my farewell to you."
His bittersweet resignation recalls the last lines from "The Lion in Winter":
Henry II: I hope we never die.
Eleanor: So do I.
Henry II: Do you think there's any chance of it?
With wonderful testaments like "Lawrence," "Lion" and now "Venus," O'Toole will always live on.
Peter O'Toole was nominated for the Academy Award for the following films:
'LAWRENCE OF ARABIA'
The restored full-length version of David Lean's 1962 masterpiece is a great visionary epic. Peter O'Toole stars as the eccentric Lawrence, who led the desert tribes against the Turks with a combination of flamboyance and charisma. (PG) 4 stars Roger Ebert
'MY FAVORITE YEAR'
Peter O'Toole stars in a tale about an alcoholic British matinee idol who is asked to accept the most terrifying challenge of his career -- an appearance on live television. O'Toole is completely charming, doomed, funny and pathetically invincible. (PG, 1982) 3 and a half stars Ebert
'THE LION IN WINTER'
Grand historical drama set on a Christmas Eve when England's Henry II (Peter O'Toole), eager to choose his heir before he dies, calls a Christmas court. Peter O'Toole's performance is of Oscar quality. (PG, 1968) 4 stars Ebert
Critic's rating: 3 and a half stars
Tottering with a flourish
By Liam Lacey (Globe and Mail)
Starring Peter O'Toole, Jodie Whittaker and Vanessa Redgrave
By outlasting his peers, 74-year-old Peter O'Toole carries the torch for the whole blazing, hard-living, between-the-wars generation of British Isles actors. No doubt some of the praise for his performance in his latest movie, Venus, is for mere survival, but the part is also his best showcase in years. In what surely isn't a stretch, O'Toole plays Maurice, a rakish once-famous actor now frail and in declining health who can't resist the lure of a last chance at an erotic entanglement.
O'Toole is an actor who, no matter how ravaged, is still so dandyish and ironic he can even totter with a flourish. His performance is the centrepiece for one of those familiar English mentor comedies in the Pygmalion tradition (The History Boys and Driving Lessons are this past year's other examples) where the mentor gains vitality and courage, and the protégé learns about confidence and Art.
Aimed at crowd-pleasing, Venus is often funny, particularly when Maurice and two of his old acting colleagues (Leslie Phillips and Richard Griffiths) meet for lunch and bitchily count the obit columns for their various colleagues. Like similar English comedies, it also teeters on the mawkish, particularly when O'Toole's character visits an abbey where the actor's real-life former colleagues, Laurence Harvey and Robert Shaw, are buried.
Fortunately, there is also a secondary layer to Venus that is slightly more dangerous and disquieting. As you might expect from screenwriter Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, The Mother), sex and power are also themes here. A girl, Jessie (Jodie Whittaker), has been kicked out of her home and sent to care for Maurice's friend Ian (Phillips), but they can't abide each other. She's common, lazy and ignorant, and steals his booze. But when Maurice catches a glimpse of her midriff as she licks the crumbs of a bag of potato chips from her fingers, he decides that he might be of assistance.
He uses not only his charm, but the imbalance of money and power to win her companionship. Now frail beyond his years, O'Toole looks rheumy-eyed, with grey skin and nicotine-stained teeth, and, no matter how sensual and self-mocking he is, there's something of the vampiric in watching him press his lips to this young woman's pink shoulder. Because Maurice is impotent from prostate surgery, Jessie is saved from further indignities, but he still negotiates which body parts he can touch, which he can kiss. As the balance of power teeters, she gets things -- presents, a job as a nude model and awe at the power of the old man's passion.
As the mythically inspired title suggests, this is a movie about those forces that are usually in capital letters: a late encounter with the force of Desire. Maurice takes the girl to the museum, to the theatre, and quotes Shakespeare to her. Through his gaze, she becomes gradually transformed from a non-entity into someone with a link to Beauty.
Maurice isn't completely exculpated by his late-in-life emotional generosity. In the movie's best scenes, he visits his former wife and mother of his three children, played by Vanessa Redgrave. He drops in periodically to give her a handful of cash, a tribute for having abandoned her and their three children years before. In a few economical moments of screen time, Redgrave shows, beneath Valerie's affectionate mockery, a lifetime of hurt and disappointments.
Venus is a movie that comes alive in its performances, and Redgrave's subtlety is its defining grace note, a turn that allows O'Toole's acting to shine that much brighter.
Boston Herald: The ladies' man: O'Toole is master of his game in 'Venus'
Washington Post: O'Toole's 'Venus', a Romance for the Aged
Toronto Star: 'Venus': Still in the Game
San Francisco Chronicle: His favourite years behind him, a Don Juan refuses to act his age
National Post: Still in the Game
Extending his years-long friendship with Charlie Rose, O'Toole appeared on Rose's programme on Wednesday. Here it is!
...a Miramax rep said: "Unfortunately O'Toole flew back to london on Saturday. He was exhausted after his crazy press schedule in New York and didn't have it in him to come here. If we get the Oscar nom, he will come."(Gold Derby) The nominations for this year's Oscars will be announced January 23rd!
Blogger Easy Writer (Kanani Fong) is in L.A. this week to cover/work on(?) the production of the Golden Globe Awards. She's an O'Toole fan so she's been sending me updates about sneaking in to press junkets and stuff during the lead-up to the Awards (tonight!)
Here's a YouTube video clip for Peter's appearance on The David Letterman Show this week.
As the media blitz continues, Peter is featured in the January, 2007 issue of Esquire magazine, in their ongoing series, "What I've Learned":
"WHAT I'VE LEARNED: Peter O'Toole
Actor, 76, London
Interviewed by Stephen Garrett.
January 2007, Volume 147, Issue 1
Anarchic, arbitrary sexual urges—there's not a man or woman who doesn't love and has not been disturbed by them.
I've never looked for women. When I was a teenager, perhaps. But they are looking for us, and we must learn that very quickly. They decide. We just turn up. Never mind the superficialities—tall and handsome and all that. Just turn up. They will do the rest.
I was obsessed with losing it for four years. How did it happen? Alfresco, at night. On the steps of an old chapel—I shan't say where. Two semiprofessional mill girls. Me and another bloke and two girls. Exultation. Wow—it was very good!
I don't think I've changed much from my boyhood.
Six years: 1939 to 1945. It was life. One's literacy was newspapers, bombs, Germans. We didn't have a childhood. We had the war.
From both my mother and father I learned endurance. Things were pretty tough. But things could be tougher.
Listen, everybody was offered the part of Lawrence of Arabia: Marlon Brando, Greta Garbo, Groucho Marx. Everybody but me. They all turned it down for various reasons. And David Lean had banked his life on that picture. David's wife was seeing a guru at the time, and this guru had seen a film called The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, in which I played a silly English officer. And the guru told her that he had just seen the man who should play Lawrence.
The Bedouin are about five foot, so I spent two years pretending I wasn't tall. I became telescopic.
May I tell you a camel story? It was the charge at 'Aqaba—a mile and a half, and we were in front of five hundred Arab stallions. The day of the shooting, we turned up to the kickoff. And Omar—a gambling man, Omar—worked out the odds of whether he would fall off. So he tied himself to the camel. And I said, I'm going to get drunk. So we both drank milk and brandy—it was terrifying—and a mile and a half later, horses, madness, we both finish up in the sea. And Omar was upside down with his head in the water, still tied to the camel.
After Lawrence, nothing changed. I could afford to go places and I was let into places. But nothing changed.
I love bullfighting. I love the dance, I love the courage, I love the style, I love the skill. I love everything about it.
When we were drama students, we imitated John Gielgud, we imitated Richard Burton, we imitated Michael Redgrave, we imitated Larry Olivier. It's language. For my generation, drama, the theater, plays, they are human speech as an art form. To turn up for material that exists and say, “No, I'm superior to that material” is a very strange attitude. I'd be very careful if I were you.
If you go to the West End theaters now, it's a graveyard. Lots of musicals, they're cheerful. But the plays? God almighty.
New York nearly fifty years ago was one of the most magical places ever. And one of its most endearing qualities was its playfulness. If you had a bit of scratch—not much, but a bit—you could do anything, go anywhere, get anything, get away with anything.
Everything you hear about the true American spirit—the matriarchy and the femininity and the toughness—you find in Kate Hepburn. She was funny as hell and brave and dotty. Kate! I gave my daughter her name.
Years later, in Ireland, daughter Kate, then nine or ten, said, “Daddy, there's an old Gypsy woman at the door!” We had a Gypsy nearby who would pinch our flowers. I went to the door and said, “No, thank you, we don't—oh, hello, Kate.” She had four jackets on. One belonged to Barrymore, one to Spencer Tracy, one to me, and one to Humphrey Bogart. Khaki trousers and boots—this was her uniform.
On racetracks, green is considered unlucky. To be disobedient in a way that can't be seen, I wear green socks. I have since I was fourteen.
For Christ's sake, we all have eccentricities. We're all crippled with them, aren't we?
Richard Burton and I lived around the corner from each other in Hampstead—before Elizabeth Taylor, before anything. He'd come to my place or I'd go to his. And then we'd carry the other home. Elizabeth wasn't keen on that. She probably thought I led him astray. I don't know. She didn't approve. That was a bone of contention between me and Richard. I said, “If you now need permission to come see me, then you go fuck yourself, you old git!”
I drink now. But not like before. Christ, who could?
We live public lives. If you want to guard your privacy, stop it.
Comedy is among the most difficult crafts. I've never known a good actor who couldn't play comedy. I know no actor who finds it easy.
My favorite smell? Cordite. After you've fired a gun.
Good parts make good actors. I take them as they come."
This is a clip I recorded of Peter's appearance yesterday on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Enjoy! Here's a link to it in .avi format. (47meg)
Here's a bit of a transcript of the Letterman interview: (from the CBS website)
"PETER O'TOOLE: He's in the new film, "Venus," now playing in selected cities. The legendary actor congratulates Dave on becoming a dad, or as Mr. O'Toole put it, "having a child in your more mature years." Peter did the same and says, "it knocked me out."
Dave says to Peter, "You've led your life the way you want to. I tried but at 34 I realized it wasn't a good idea." Peter drank back when drinking was an accepted and expected practice, and he is well known for his drinking stories. He tells the story of carousing with actor Peter Finch, or Finchie. After working together and having a few, they decided to head in for the night and sleep it off at Finchie's. On the walk home, they passed a little hole-in-the-wall bar that called out their name. They went inside and remained till 4:00 AM. The bartender eventually told them they had enough and would have to go. Peter and Finchie muttered, "No no no . . . much more." The bartender was adamant. They had to go. But they didn't want to go. So Finchie and Peter . . . bought the bar. The next day they returned to the bar and met the bartender again. The bartender held the checks Peter and Finchie gave him the night before. The barkeep gave back the checks, which were quickly torn up. A year later, the bartender died. Finchie and Peter got to know him pretty well in that time and attended the funeral. At the cemetery, they joined the family who was sobbing by the gravesite. They got down on their knees and prayed beside them. A woman then tapped them on the shoulder. Peter says, "We were at the wrong grave."
Death becomes us . . . has Peter ever thought how he would like to remembered? He says he knows what his final epithet will be. Years ago he had an old leather jacket which he adored. It was a ragged thing covered with Guinness and blood, what every jacket should be covered with. He sent it to the cleaners. It came back with a note pinned to the lapel: "Sycamore Cleaners: It distresses us to return work which is not done." It made Peter laugh and he decided to have that placed on his tombstone. His new film, "Venus," is about, as Peter puts it, "a dirty old man and a sluttish woman." It's an examination of all the cliches one would expect in such a relationship. Has Peter ever been involved in a relationship like that? Without much thinking, Peter exclaims, "Oh, yes!"
It's in selected cities now. Look for it. "Venus."
Continuing his campaign for world domination, Peter has been nominated for Best Actor in the British equivalent of the Academy Awards, the BAFTAs. He's won one before - for his role as Lawrence in 1962's Lawrence of Arabia. He was nominated twice again for Becket in 1965 and The Last Emperor in 1989.
I'm told that half-page ads have been taken out supporting O'Toole's performance in Venus in Los Angeles, no doubt in preparation for Oscar voting. This is all so exciting! It could really happen this year.
Ok so O'Toole's been making lots of appearances on television these last few days... I succeeded in taping his appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night and I'll put it online very soon. If anyone has youtube links for his other interviews, please forward them to me ASAP.
As an aside, typing "peter o'toole" into YouTube's search window produces a lot of really good videos. Interviews, outtakes, favourite scenes... incredible.
- The David Letterman Show (last night) - did anyone tape it?
- a photo session with Vanity Fair for their Oscar issue
- interviews with Charlie Rose, Today, Nightline, The Daily Shoow
- print interviews with USA Today, etc
- radio interview with All Things Considered on NPR
It's a busy week for O'Toole! Hopefully he will hold up under the strain.
Here's the official movie website URL for Venus. - the site is really impressive- lots of pics and glitz... "The Career of Peter O'Toole" is worth a look. Wow, Miramax is REALLY pushing O'Toole for the Oscar.
Kevin M. passed along word that Peter will be doing the PR rounds on talk shows this week in New York to help promote Venus and further cement his Oscar hopes. He's listed as a guest on tonight's episode of The Late Show with David Letterman, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Thursday and The View on Friday. I'll post YouTube links (if there are any) as I get them. If anyone can capture the interviews and put them on YouTube that would be terrific. I don't have that capability!
Thanks for the tip, Kevin!
I spoke with the Canadian publicist for Venus and unfortunately Peter will not be passing through Toronto on this PR run. Sigh...
The accolades continue to pour in for Venus. I thought I'd take a peek over at rottentomatoes.com and see how it was doing. Amazingly, in fact! With a rating of 90% Fresh, Venus is rated a 'Cream of the Crop' film for 2006, putting it in the top-five films in limited release this season. Sweet!
Peter O'Toole has been nominated by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) for "Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role" for his portrayal of Maurice in 'Venus'. ... and the nominations keep coming! This is shaping up to be a very good year for O'Toole. The SAG Awards will be broadcast on January 28th.