3 July 2020 The Irish Film & Television Network
Peter O'Toole Talks 'The Tudors'
24 Jul 2008 : By Angela Mullin
Veteran Irish actor Peter O’Toole stars in Series Two of Showtime series ‘The Tudors’, kicking off on TV3 at 10pm on Tuesday 29th July. IFTN caught up with the multi-award winning acting icon at the Galway Film Fleadh to chat about his role as Pope Paul III and why he thinks his prolific career is all down to luck.
Peter O’Toole is one of Ireland’s finest acting exports. Born in Connemara, Galway in 1932, his career spans five decades and has seen him grace the silver screen in classic films including ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘The Last Emperor’, ‘Goodbye Mr. Chips’, ‘My Favourite Year’, ‘Man Friday’, ‘Becket’ and ‘Under Milk Wood’. His prodigious talent has seen him receive eight Oscar nominations, while his co-stars read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of classic Hollywood cinema - Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, John Huston and Audrey Hepburn, to name but a few.

The RADA trained actor, who cut his teeth at the Bristol Old Vic theatre, was catapulted onto the world stage in 1962 when he took on the role of T.E. Lawrence in David Lean’s epic feature ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. The film garnered seven Oscars and earned O’Toole his first Oscar nomination. He went on to star as King Henry II in Peter Glenville’s ‘Becket’, opposite Katharine Hepburn in the Irish-shot ‘The Lion in Winter’ and starred with Audrey Hepburn in William Wyler’s 1966 comedy ‘How to Steal a Million’.

O’Toole, who lived in Connemara from 1968 – 1988, returned to his birth place to give a Public Interview on his remarkable life and work on July 13th at the Galway Film Fleadh. So how does he feel to be back on Irish soil?

“Lovely,” he says with a smile. “It’s lovely. I’ve been coming to Ireland since I was a child, but I come more and more as I get older. I’m based in London at the moment, I have to be for the work...but in the 1960’s I got fed up with London and the way things were going and I moved to Ireland and did four plays, a Sean O’Casey’s play, ‘Godot’ at the Abbey, I did ‘Juno and the Paycock’ at the Gaiety, I did ‘Man and Superman’. I’m always coming and going, I love to work here.”

O’Toole took on the role of Pope Paul III in the second series of hit Showtime drama ‘The Tudors’. Showtime Entertainment president Robert Greenblatt described O’Toole’s casting as ‘the holy grail’ of the series with the screen veteran joining an already formidable cast including Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Nick Dunning, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Henry Cavill. The royal drama shot at Ardmore studios in Summer 2007, and marks O’Toole’s first recurring regular role in a TV series.

The 74 year old actor stars alongside John Kavanagh (as Cardinal Campeggio) and Emmanuel Laconte (as King Francis I) in seven episodes of the series, which follows King Henry VIII’s battle with Pope Paul III as he bids for a divorce from Katherine of Aragon. The King’s defiance of the Pope and his break with the Roman Catholic Church marks one of the great turning points in history.

O’Toole was excited to work with respected Irish actor Kavanagh on the drama.

“I hadn’t worked with John before but Donal McCann had told me a great deal about him, they worked together as Captain Jack and Joxer in ‘Juno and the Paycock’. We had such fun, he played my right hand Cardinal! I had no scenes with Jonathan, as Henry VIII never met Pope Paul III! I wonder what they would have talked about had they met. I doubt it would have been about his immortal soul... I met Jonathan only in America when we went to promote the series.”

He decided to take on the role after Morgan O’Sullivan approached his agent with a script. “If I don’t like the script there’s no point in me doing it,” he says. “So I turned up and did it and thoroughly enjoyed swanning around as the Pope! I would leave the caravan in the Pope’s robes and it has an effect. You know, the Papal image, it’s so strong, for all us Catholics particularly and I could see the sparks fly and people thinking ‘Here comes the Pope!’ For people who weren’t in the film, they saw me walking from the caravan to the Church, they were all looking and thinking I was the Pope!”

O’Toole, who has won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, an Oscar and a Laurence Olivier award in his time, says he doesn’t believe in acting methods or extensive research for a role. “If the script is fine, I’m fine,” he states. “I sometimes do research but only for my own pleasure, not for the role unless the character has some idiosyncrasies."

Standing at 6’ 2”, O’Toole’s statuesque presence made him the perfect choice for the role of Pope Paul III. Though as he recalls, his height nearly lost him his pivotal role as T.E. Lawrence in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

“Before I made that film I went to Arabia and met some of the people who knew T.E. Lawrence. I met his bodyguard and valet, who was head of his team of ‘Tulips’ as he called them. He looked at me with disgust and said something in Arabic, and I said ‘What’s wrong?’ and the translator told me he had said ‘Too tall!”

“So I took my knife out and I started doing this to my legs [O’Toole pretends to cut off his legs] and he began to howl with laughter! Apparently Lawrence of Arabia had a very boyish, scampish sense of humour so that was nice and helped me feel a little bit more confident in the role.”

Does he think that the Irish film and TV industry has changed a lot since he first filmed here in the 1960’s? “Not really, though Michael D. Higgins did something superb. Ireland is always a very difficult place in which to film because of the light, it’s very unreliable, change is the only constant.”

The actor certainly has proved his niche is historical drama, starring in ‘Joan of Arc’, ‘Imperium: Augustus’ and ‘Troy’ amongst others. Is this his favourite genre to work in? “No, I’ll work in anything!” he laughs. “Good scripts and good parts make good actors. I take what comes. I’ve been very fortunate.”

The actor has turned his hand to comedy of late, appearing in 2007 hit ‘Stardust’, Roger Mitchell’s Oscar-nominated ‘Venus’ and earlier this year filmed ‘Dean Spanley’ with Sam Neill and Jeremy Northam.

“Comedy is the most difficult thing of all to play,” he muses. “I’ve got the greatest respect for anybody who is a comedian, because not only do they give us what we need more than anything on earth which is laughter, but they put themselves on the knife edge for men and women every night. It takes many, many years of practice. It’s a trying business, making people laugh.”

O’Toole began his career in the golden age of cinema, when true stars were few and far between, and only the best rose to the top. Nowadays, with new faces cropping up on our screens every day, does he think that it’s easier or more difficult for young actors breaking into the industry?

“In terms of rejection and unemployment, in terms of hoping to get a job nothing has changed. I have a young son who is actor and it’s the same for him. The first year he had jobs, the second year nothing, the third year jobs, the fourth year nothing but this year thank god he’s working and working hard. I’ve watched the young man go through what all young men and women go through, young actors wait for the phone you wait for the role, you go knocking on doors, you have to sell yourself in a way until your accepted.”

And what does he think is the secret to his success? “Luck. Maybe a bit of talent but you can’t do it without the luck.”

Acting must now be second nature to the accomplished actor, who has created a string of unforgettable performances that have earned him a place in cinematic history. But O’Toole remains modest about his impressive talent.

“I keep on thinking I’ve got it and I find I haven’t! Henry Irving, a great 19th century actor, he caught a chill on tour when he was about sixty that killed him eventually. Before he died he was sitting in a chair and he turned around and said “What a shame, just as I’m getting the hang of if!” That’s what I feel like, I’m just getting the hang of it!”

Peter O’Toole can be seen in ‘The Tudors’, beginning on TV3 at 10pm on Tuesday 29th July.
The Fleadh/IFTA Public Interview with Peter O’Toole in Galway is broadcast on RTE Radio One at 12noon on Friday 25th July.

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