Ian Holm: 'A great talent and a great man': 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Alien' star
Ian Holm: 'A great talent and a great man': 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Alien' star

Ian Holm, a virtuosic British actor celebrated for his performances in plays by Shakespeare and Pinter and in movies from Sidney Lumet’s “Night Falls on Manhattan” to the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies, died on Friday in London. He was 88.

Isabella Riggs, an employee of his agents, Markham, Froggatt & Irwin, confirmed the death, during a hospital. She said the cause was an illness associated with Parkinson’s disease.

A character actor who eventually played leading roles, Mr Holm had a sort of magical malleability, with a variety that went from the sweet-tempered to the psychotic. within the theatre, he ran the gamut of Shakespeare, from the high-spirited Prince Hal to the tormented Lear, and he left his imprint on two roles in Mr Pinter’s “The Homecoming”: the sleek, entrepreneurial Lenny and his autocratic father, Max.

In films, Mr Holm incarnated characters of diverse geographic origin and nature, including a hard NY cop in “Night Falls on Manhattan” (1996), a big-city negligence lawyer in Atom Egoyan’s “The Sweet Hereafter” (1997) and a bohemian genius manqué within the title role in Stanley Tucci’s “Joe Gould’s Secret” (2000).
Ian Holm: 'A great talent and a great man': 'Lord of the Rings' and 'Alien' star

Exploring the earth of fantasy, he was a malfunctioning robot in Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979) and thus the hobbit Bilbo Baggins in “The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001) and “The Return of the King” (2003), from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and Mr Jackson’s subsequent “Hobbit” films.
Explaining his ability to immerse himself in such disparate characters, Mr Holm said simply, “I’m a chameleon.” The transformation was emotional also as physical, as he discovered new depths of compassion even within the very unlikely characters.

In 1993, overcoming a significant cause of fear, he returned to stage after an absence of quite 15 years to star in Mr Pinter’s “Moonlight.” Four years later he set himself the monumental challenge of “King Lear” at the National Theater in London. It brought him the Olivier Award as best actor. Playing Lear, he said, was “like climbing Everest with no oxygen.”

In 1989 he played Captain Fluellen during a movie adaptation of “Henry V.” In his memoir, “Beginning” (1990), Kenneth Branagh, the director and star of the movie, said of Mr Holm: “Acting with him was like playing a racket game with someone considerably more skilled. One was never sure how the ball would come, but it might always be exciting and unexpected.”
“He may be a master of film technique,” Mr Branagh continued. “I’d heard the Ian Holm School of Acting described as follows: ‘Anything you'll do, I can do less of.’”

Mr Holm was most closely identified with Mr Pinter’s work. In 1965 he created the role of Lenny in “The Homecoming,” and he won a Tony Award after the play moved to Broadway two years later. He also played the role during a 1973 film version directed by Peter Hall.

Years later, in 2001, he took the role of Max, the ageing patriarch, within the same play, presenting it at a Pinter festival at Lincoln Center in NY and in London. The switch was as dramatic as his move from Prince Hal to Lear. In fact, his Max had quite slightly of Lear.

Ian Holm Cuthbert was born on Sept. 12, 1931, in Goodmayes, England, northeast of London, to Jean Wilson (Holm) Cuthbert, a nurse, and Dr James Harvey Cuthbert, a psychiatrist. Because his father was the superintendent of a psychiatric hospital, Mr Holm was keen on saying that he had been born “in a Bedlam,” hinting that it qualified him to be an actor.

After studying at the Royal Academy of dramaturgy in London, he made his stage debut at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1954 as a supernumerary in “Othello.” He was a member of the Shakespeare company there for 2 years, then made his London debut in 1956 in “Love Affair.”

Returning to Stratford with the newly formed Royal Shakespeare Company, he quickly moved up within the ranks, alongside Judi Dench, Ian Richardson and Diana Rigg. He played Sebastian in “Twelfth Night,” Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and therefore the Fool to Charles Laughton’s Lear.

Mr Holm added Chekhov to his laurels in 1961. during a Royal Shakespeare Company production of “The Cherry Orchard,” starring Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Dorothy Tutin, he played the idealistic young intellectual Trofimov.

The critic Michael Billington, in his biography “Peggy Ashcroft” (1990), wrote that Guinness had told him that Mr Holm’s Trofimov — “intense, urgent, on the brink of neurosis” — was “very much the type of performance” that Guinness would have liked to possess given when he played the role in 1939.

In 1963, during a Royal Shakespeare Company production of “The Wars of the Roses,” an adaptation of the “Henry VI” plays and “Richard III,” Mr Holm was a psychopathic Richard III. He subsequently shifted to playing Prince Hal and his older incarnation, Henry V, which he did in repertory with “The Homecoming.”

Peter Hall, again the director, said, “The company of actors, led by Peggy Ashcroft and Ian Holm, had made something live that had never lived before.” (The BBC turned “The Wars of the Roses” into a TV mini-series in 1965, with Mr Holm reprising his Richard III .)

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