The great British stage actor Paul Scofield, who died today at the age of 86, was an anomaly by the standards of today’s tabloid-saturated culture. The Oscar-winning actor and master of the Shakespearean stage — cited as one of the greatest English-speaking actors by playwrights Edward Albee and Arthur Miller — was modest to a fault and harbored a deep dislike of the spotlight, even rejecting an offer of knighthood with the statement, “If you want a title, what’s wrong with Mr.?”
One of his first lead film roles — as the principled, headstrong statesman Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons — earned him the 1966 Best Actor Oscar and international recognition, but Scofield, who chose his projects as carefully as he might his family and friends (“Only the dead play harder to get,” it was said of him), didn’t appear in another major film until assuming the title role in Peter Brook’s King Lear (1971), reprising an earlier role from a Stratford production. (That stage Lear was reportedly legendary as well, performed when he was just 40, in 1962. That same year, he won a Tony for the stage version of Man for All Seasons.) His brilliant portrayal of the troubled, aged monarch earned Scofield praise from the Royal Shakespeare Company as the greatest performer ever in a Shakespearean play.
Scofield also originated the role of Antonio Salieri in the play Amadeus, and in 1969, he became the sixth performer to win the Triple Crown of Acting (an Emmy for Best Actor, in Male of the Species, joined the Oscar and Tony on his mantel). His other films — including Albee’s A Delicate Balance (1974), Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989), Robert Redford’s Quiz Show (1994), and the screen version of Miller’s play The Crucible (1996) — all displayed an actor with a commanding presence, his words given weight by a deep, crackling, astringent voice weighty with authority. Just watch this famous scene, below, from Man for All Seasons: