He romanced Hollywood, was lauded as the "best actor on the planet" by Steven Spielberg and has been sorely missed since his death. But one encounter just remembers him as a humble man that was fond of a quiet pint...
“I’m not hard to interview, am I?” smiles Pete Postlethwaite as he polishes off his second pint and his umpteenth anecdote.
The Oscar-nominated actor is sat at the bar of the Australian Hotel, Sydney. By far the most wonderful pub in the Rocks, the district located beneath the south side of the Harbour Bridge, The Australian isn’t short on character. And nor for that matter is Mr Postlethwaite. In town performing the award-winning one-man play Scarmouche Jones, you could forgive the star of In The Name Of The Father and The Usual Suspects for carrying on like the great ac-tor. To see him in The Australian – chatting to the attractive barmaid and ordering another brew from an English backpacker; “You’re a long way from home, lad. Did you get lost?” – this is clearly a man with no affectation.
He’s not that keen on being interviewed, mind. As keen to ask the locals about the history of the hotel as he is to discuss the play, Pete Postlethwaite seems more content to chat than examine his craft. This being only his second trip Down Under, he’s wonderfully excited about being abroad. “I woke up the other day and there it was, outside my hotel window – Sydney Opera House. I know it’s a cliché but I had to pinch myself. I’ve spent my life dreaming of coming here, and now I’ve arrived I can hardly believe it.”
Ordering another brew from an English backpacker; “You’re a long way from home, lad. Did you get lost?” – this is clearly a man with no affectation.
Postlethwaite’s also pretty thrilled about working with an Australian national treasure. For in between stage shows, he’s making Strange Bedfellows, a comedy starring the one and only Paul Hogan. “Paul’s a great bloke,” says our man, his eyes twinkling like the sapphire waters of Farm Cove. “Before he was a star, he used to paint the Harbour Bridge. Now you’ve got these tourists paying a fortune to walk over the bridge and take in the view. Paul thinks he missed a right trick – he did it thousands of time for free!”
And so the conversation meanders on. The laws of Australian Rules Football, the similarities between Sydney and Cockney rhyming slang, the superiority of Tasmanian beers over mainland brews – all of these are touched on. And speaking of beer, my, how it flows.
Of course, I should have been asking him about the career. About his terrifying breakthrough performance in Terence Davies’s Distant Voices, Still Lives. About playing opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in In The Name Of The Father. About whether he knows who Keyser Soze is. But aside from asking him whether Steven Spielberg really believes he’s the best actor on the planet, movie questions are all but absent from our conversation. And as for his response, it says everything about this amiable, embraceable man – “Yes, Steven was kind enough to say that. Not that I got to flex my acting muscles hunting dinosaurs in The Lost World”"
No, that day, talking to Pete Postlethwaite about his film career didn’t seem important. And now he’s gone, it seems less important still. For while Spielberg was quite right, there’s a danger in looking at Postlethwaite’s acting roles for some indication of the man. In Inception – his last major film – as in the last few months of his film, Pete Postlethwaite was gaunt, bed-bound and waiting for God. For that to be the nation’s final memory of the man would be a cruel insult.
Better to think of him sat at a bar on a beautiful day. Sure, it might be sentimental, but hail fellow, well met was more a characteristic of Pete Postlethwaite than ill health. And while his colleagues might have visited Method hell to get a role down pat, a pint was all Pete Postlethwaite needed to give a great performance.
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