Baron Olivier of Brighton Laurence Olivier
(May 22, 1907 — July 11, 1989) was an English actor and director, considered by many the greatest actor of the twentieth century. His roles range from the Academy Award
-winning title role of Hamlet
(which he also directed) to a Razzie
-winning supporting role in the remake of The Jazz Singer
As a film director, he's best known for his three William Shakespeare
adaptations: Henry V
(1948), and Richard III
(1955). He also played the title role in each, being nominated for the Best Actor Oscar each time. He won for Hamlet
, which 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).
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), 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
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
Tropes associated with Laurence Olivier include:
- 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 would know he was capable of more nuanced performances.
- Mean Character, Nice Actor: Despite playing Nazis and cruel emperors, he was known as a very friendly, down to earth guy in real life to the point that he hated being called by any of his royal titles and preferred to be addressed as Larry. He was such a nice guy that even Marlon Brando, who was known as a big jerkass, couldn't bring himself to seduce Vivien Leigh when they were married. Dustin Hoffman has said that, contrary to rumors that he and Olivier didn't get along while making Marathon Man, Olivier and wife Joan Plowright took Hoffman to dinner several times, and presented him with Olivier's personal copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare once filming ended.
- Method Acting: He famously hated method acting, which is reassuring given some of the roles he played.
- This hatred of method acting made filming The Prince And The Showgirl with Marilyn Monroe difficult for Olivier, since Marilyn's coach Paula Stasburg would insist she employ all the Stanislavskian techniques even in a read-through.
- A story goes that, when filming Marathon Man, Dustin Hoffman stayed up all night in order to appear tired for a scene. Olivier was unimpressed by the show and said "Why not try acting, dear boy? It's easier".
- Money, Dear Boy: Trope Namer. It was the reason he gave for appearing in Inchon (which netted him the second of his two Razzies). He started doing film roles like Inchon - which he hated making - just for the money after he was forced out of his job as director of the National Theatre. He was worried that he would die and his family would be left with nothing.
- Playing Gertrude: His film version of Hamlet is the Trope Namer.
- 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.
- Romance on the Set: Met Vivien Leigh while filming Fire Over England, and Joan Plowright during the stage production of The Entertainer.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: If his acceptance speech of an honourary 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 one.