He’s an Oscar nominee (for 1993’s In the Name of the Father) and a veteran of the London stage, but Pete Postlethwaite is also notable as The Man Who Said No to Steven Spielberg. When offered the part of The Lost World: Jurassic Park‘s Ahab-like T. rex hunter, Postlethwaite told his agent that he wanted to see the script. ”She said, ‘Nobody reads that script,”’ recalls the British thespian in his nonchalant way. ”I said, ‘Well, forget it.”’ Only after a phone call from Spielberg himself did Postlethwaite relent. ”I loved his acting in [Father],” explains Spielberg, ”and said, ‘There’s an actor I’d love to work with someday.’ I have been a big fan of his.”
This year, American audiences will be seeing a lot more of Postlethwaite’s craggy face and colossal cheekbones. In addition to toting his Lost World tranquilizer gun, he’s currently waving a conductor’s baton in Brassed Off, a drama about a colliery band in an ill-fated English mining town in Yorkshire. ”I imagined his face when I was writing,” says Mark Herman, who wrote and directed the film. ”It’s not an oil painting, but it’s real and it helps you believe all the characters he plays.”
”I get called if there’s a part and Hollywood is not sure how it should go,” says Postlethwaite, who stole scenes as Keyser Soze’s henchman Kobayashi in director Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects and as Father Laurence in last year’s modernized William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. And though Postlethwaite is more accustomed to the Bard (he’s done time with the Royal Shakespeare Company) than the brontosaurus, his affiliation with Spielberg isn’t over. After shooting The Lost World, Spielberg signed the actor for a role opposite Matthew McConaughey in Amistad, the director’s December release about an 1839 mutiny on a slave ship. Spielberg also wanted to cast him opposite Tom Hanks in the upcoming Saving Private Ryan, but Postlethwaite opted to return to England, where he lives with his companion and two children, to do a play. ”It was bad timing,” says Postlethwaite — or, The Man Who Said No to Spielberg Twice.