Paul Scofield

Active - 1955 - 2001  |   Born - Jan 21, 1922 in Birmingham, England  |   Died - Mar 19, 2008   |   Genres - Drama

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A professional since the age of fourteen, British actor Paul Scofield was widely regarded as one of the 20th century's finest interpreters of Shakespeare. His first role of note was as The Bastard in a Birmingham Repertory staging of Shakespeare's King John; following that, he performed in more than 80 plays over the course of his long and distinguished career. Scofield's Hamlet, in particular, has entered the realm of theatrical legend: in 1955, he portrayed the Danish prince in the Soviet Union, the first English actor to be invited to do so since the 1917 revolution. In addition, his interpretations of Henry V, Pericles and King Lear earned a place in theatrical history.

While his rough facial features prevented him from becoming a movie matinee idol along the lines of Laurence Olivier, Scofield was always welcome in his extremely infrequent film appearances. His first picture was That Lady (1955), for which he won a Most Promising Newcomer British Academy Award for his portrayal of King Philip II of Spain. In 1966, Scofield gained international film stardom -- and won an Academy Award -- for recreating his Tony-winning Broadway portrayal of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons. Further acclaim greeted the actor for his work in films such as Kenneth Branagh's Henry V (1989) and Franco Zeffirelli's Hamlet (1990). In 1994, at the age of seventy-two, Scofield was once again nominated for an Oscar, this time for his performance as American poet Mark Van Doren in director Robert Redford's Quiz Show. Two years later, audiences could see him in Nicholas Hyntner's The Crucible, lending somber authority to the role of Judge Danforth. Scofield earned one of his last credits doing voiceover work on the Hallmark television production of Animal Farm in 1999.

Over the course of his career, Scofield served as the co-director for the Royal Shakespeare Company (1966-1968) and as the director of the National Theatre (1971). His years of service to his country culminated in a several offers of of knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, honors that the actor gracefully declined on each occasion. Scofield died of leukemia in March 2008, at the age of 86.

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Factsheet

  • Made theatrical debut at 13 in a school production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet—donning a blond wig to play Juliet.
  • Was exempt from military service during World War II because of deformed toes that allegedly prevented him from wearing army boots.
  • In 1944, was invited to join the prestigious Birmingham Repertory Theatre by the company's founder, Barry Jackson, and the following year met 20-year-old director Peter Brook, forming a professional partnership that would last for decades.
  • Made Broadway debut in 1961 playing Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, a role that earned him a Tony Award for Best Actor (Drama) and, later, an Academy Award in Fred Zinnemann's 1966 film adaptation (he did not attend the ceremony, but his costar Wendy Hiller accepted the award on his behalf).
  • Lauded for his interpretations of titular characters such as Hamlet and Henry V; a 2004 poll of members of the Royal Shakespeare Company named his 1962 performance in King Lear as the greatest Shakespearean performance of all time.
  • Reportedly refused a knighthood on several occasions because he was happy with the title of "Mr."