Creator / Laurence Olivier

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And though I'm no Olivier. If he fought Sugar Ray...He would say that the thing ain't the ring, it's the play...And though I could fight, I'd much rather recite...that's entertainment.

Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier of Brighton (May 22, 1907 July 11, 1989) was an English actor and director, considered, in his lifetime, to be the greatest actor of his generation. On stage he was unanimously seen as a genius actor and director. In cinema, he hit a peak in his early films, including an Academy Award-winning title role of Hamlet, which he also directed. Hamlet also won Best Picture (the only movie spoken in Shakespeare's dialogue to win to date) and earned Olivier a Best Director nomination (making him the only person to direct himself to an Oscar until Roberto Benigni won an Oscar for acting in Life Is Beautiful 50 years later).

As a film director, he's best known for his three William Shakespeare adaptations. In addition to Hamlet, there's Henry V (1944) and Richard III (1955), both of which were shot in Technicolor, featuring impressive cinematic spectacle for its time, and still considered among the best Shakespeare films. His turn as Richard III in particular proved to be one of his most iconic and much parodied roles, famous for his Breaking the Fourth Wall monologues to the camera. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar each time and it more or less cemented him in Pop-Cultural Osmosis as "the" Shakespearean actor.

He also received two honorary Academy Awards: the first in 1947 for Outstanding Achievement for his Henry V, which he produced, directed and starred in; and a Lifetime Achievement award in 1979. Other roles that attracted Academy Award nominations but not wins included Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939), Maxim de Winter in Rebecca (1940),note  the title role in The Entertainer (1960), the title role in Othello (1965), Andrew Wyke in Sleuth (1972), Dr Christian Szell in Marathon Man (1976), and Ezra Lieberman in The Boys from Brazil (1978).

In what was perhaps the logical extreme to both their careers, Kenneth Branagh netted an Academy Award nomination for playing Olivier in My Week With Marilyn.

Official site


Tropes associated with Laurence Olivier include:

  • Byronic Hero: He played Heathcliff, Richard III, Maxim de Winter, Hamlet, and his take on Nelson in That Hamilton Woman was also quite Byronic, brooding, dark and intense. He was also a real-life one.
  • Dramatic Pause: This anecdote by Peter Ustinov, Olivier's Spartacus co-star, on the Jack Paar Show demonstrates Olivier's tendencies toward this.
  • Large Ham: Frequently labeled as such by detractors. Granted, Olivier was a classically trained stage actor, and it did become his default style in Shakespeare adaptations or his paycheck roles. But anyone watching Olivier in, say, The Entertainer or Marathon Man, or his own favorite, Wyler's Carrie note  or in Otto Preminger's Bunny Lake is Missing would know he was capable of more nuanced performances. It should also be noted that Olivier was such a great stage actor that he found acting for films harder than many other Hollywood stars since he found it hard to dial down his instinctive stagecraft for the cameras, and as a constant touring stage actor with a film career, he had to shift and juggle registers, something that actors of later generation (and Method Acting) were able to do more easily. Olivier credited William Wyler for teaching him how to act for films and felt his films with him were his best.
  • The Rival:
    • John Gielgud. The two appeared in a stage production of Romeo and Juliet together in the '30s, clashed over acting styles and became the two preeminent Shakespearean actors of their day. The two initially disliked each other, but grew into Vitriolic Best Buds later in life. By most accounts, he had a similar relationship with Ralph Richardson.
    • Averted with Sir Michael Redgrave, who was a good friend of Olivier's and even acted in Olivier's production of Uncle Vanya. Olivier, Redgrave, Richardson and Gielgud was considered the finest Shakespearean Actors of the time.
    • On the other hand, he loathed Charles Laughton and the feeling was mutual. The two Arch Enemies were costars on Spartacus and filming them both on the set was too much even for Stanley Kubrick to handle and so he delegated referee duty to Peter Ustinov.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: If his acceptance speech of an honorary Oscar at the 1979 Academy Awards ceremony is anything to go by. Actually, it is said that this speech was intended as a little dig at the American Academy over how they would applaud anything even if they didn't understand it. However, judging by some of his other interviews and comments, he really was that poetic.
  • Shakespearian Actors: He was considered to be the one of the greatest, and alongside Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud in acclaim as a "theatrical knight". Likewise, he attained fame for his Shakespeare films, and his take on Richard III was especially iconic.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: He occasionally put on ridiculous accents for some of his roles. Like 49th Parallel where he plays a Canadian trapper and has an accent that is supposed to sound like Canadian-French-English, and then his weird nasal accent for Khartoum where he plays the Mahdi. His portrayal of General MacArthur in Inchon has been likened to a bad impression of W.C. Fields.

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