David Warner’s Obituary

It would be misleading to suggest that actor David Warner, who died at age 80, struggled to regain the success he found early in his career. While it’s true that he never again caused the kind of shockwaves generated by his radical portrayal of Hamlet on the RSC in 1965, or on screen as the troubled anti-hero in Karel Reisz Morgan’s comedy: A Proper Case for Treatment (1966) , Warner gave no impression of fighting after anything.

Fame and acclaim did not interest him; it was said that he read all the reviews of Hamlet but kept only the bad ones. He was motivated, he said, by “a lack of driving ambition” and stated, “I don’t think I’m on anyone’s wavelength, not even mine.” Reluctant to take his profession too seriously, his advice to younger actors was simple: “Don’t run with scissors.”

But for a brief period in the mid-1960s, he became the embodiment of youthful discontent. In Peter Hall’s groundbreaking Hamlet, he was a very modern student prince in a long red scarf, glasses and Aran sweater. “David’s gentleness and passivity absolutely matched the power of flowers and all that,” Hall noted. “He was wonderful.”

Warner acknowledged the unpredictable quality of his own performance: “I’m a little erratic. Sometimes I can hear others thinking, ‘What is he doing tonight?’” In 2001, the Telegraph ruled that he had been “the best Hamlet of his generation,” although the actor was characteristically slow to accept such praise. “It’s not for me to say… I just don’t know – I haven’t seen it. The only thing I can say is that the kids went to see it. It brought a whole new generation to Stratford.” He later referred to him as “my Danish citizen”.

David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave in Morgan: A Proper Case for Treatment, 1966, directed by Karel Reisz.

David Warner and Vanessa Redgrave in Morgan: A Proper Case for Treatment, 1966, directed by Karel Reisz. Photography: Studio Canal/Shutterstock

His distracted beauty, golden locks, and formidable jaw could have made him a viable romantic protagonist were it not for the languid awkwardness that set him apart, gradually becoming menacing as he became a popular screen villain. He played Jack the Ripper in Time After Time (1979), Evil in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981), and a computerized tyrant in Disney’s Tron (1982), for which he had only one stipulation for the studio: from my character in the market. I don’t want my son to have a plastic villain for a father.” A younger generation got the chance to boo him as a cowardly valet in the smash hit Titanic (1997).

He was born in Manchester to Ada (nee Hattersley) and Herbert Warner, who owned a nursing home. His parents separated during his childhood. “There was no theatrical tradition, but a lot of histrionics,” he commented on them. His education became increasingly peripatetic. He attended eight different boarding schools and failed academically. “My parents were always stealing from each other, so I moved around England a lot.”

He became interested in acting when he appeared in school plays (“I Was the Tallest Lady Macbeth”) and ended up getting a spot on the Rada, where one of his classmates was John Hurt, with whom he would later appear in the film version of David Halliwell’s play Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs (1974). His first notable screen role was in Tony Richardson’s period romp Tom Jones (1963). He appeared as Snout in Richardson’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1962 and was nominated for an RSC by Hall, who saw him in Afore Night Come at the Arts Theatre.

He was Henry VI in RSC’s celebrated War of the Roses trilogy, which was adapted by John Barton from three plays by Henry and Richard III, and directed by Barton and Hall. A dynamic film of BBC plays, ambitiously shot with 12 cameras, reached a wide audience during its two broadcasts in 1965 and 1966. Warner was then surprised by Hall’s invitation to play Hamlet. “I’m really a character actor, an old actor,” he said, though he was only 24 at the time.

He then landed the title role in Morgan: A Proper Case for Treatment as a dreamer falling into apparent insanity. “You can’t count on me being civil,” he tells his wife (Vanessa Redgrave). “I lost the thread.” He later dons a monkey costume, imagines the passengers as wild animals, and ends the film in a mental institution where he is last seen tending a sickle-and-hammer-shaped flower bed. The photo was as incisive a commentary on class, conformity, and rebellion as better-known examples like If… and Billy Liar. It also remains the screen work that best captures Warner’s particular blend of eccentric and volatile.

After playing Konstantin in Sidney Lumet’s film The Seagull (1968), he starred in The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970), the first of three Sam Peckinpah films. That year, Warner broke both feet after falling off a balcony in Rome. The mysterious circumstances of the accident gave rise to rumors of drug use. It wasn’t until he was much older that medical tests revealed a chemical imbalance that left him prone to lightheadedness and panic attacks. Peckinpah got him out of the hospital to play a man with educational difficulties in the violent thriller Straw Dogs (1971). “He knew I wanted to get back in front of a camera,” said Warner, who limped visibly across the screen.

He worked with Peckinpah once more, in the WWII drama Cross of Iron (1977). By that time, Warner had withdrawn from the theater after suffering from stage fright in 1972 during productions of The Great Exhibition by I, Claudius and David Hare; he would not return for another 30 years. He starred in Joseph Losey’s film version of A Doll’s House (1973) and the horror hit The Omen (1976), in which he was memorably beheaded by a sheet of glass.

In 1975, he divorced his first wife, Harriet Lindgren, whom he had married seven years earlier; the two remained friends, Warner even intervened when her new husband’s best man dropped out at the 11th hour. The actor was part of a cast that included John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde and Ellen Barkin in the enigmatic but lighthearted Providence (1977), directed by Alain Resnais, and played Heydrich in the miniseries Holocaust, starring Meryl Streep. Less illustrious work, including a remake of The Thirty-Nine Steps (also 1978), the bat-based horror Nightwing (1979), and the pirate thriller The Island (1980).

He starred opposite Streep again in The French Lieutenant’s Wife (1981) and got a welcome chance to show his comic timing in Steve Martin’s madcap comedy The Man with Two Brains (1983). He was the father of Red Riding Hood in Angela Carter’s imaginative adaptation of Neil Jordan, The Company of Wolves, and landed two memorable television roles on ITV: as a shaggy private detective in the miniseries Charlie and as the Creature in Frankenstein ( all in 1984).

Again he was Heydrich in the television movie Hitler’s SS: Portrait in Evil (1985). He starred in the second series of David Lynch’s cult crime series Twin Peaks (1991) and as different characters in two Star Trek films, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) . In the latter, he uttered the immortal line: “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

He was upbeat about the parts that came his way, insisting that “you can’t live on Vanyas alone” and calling himself a “mailbox actor” – “If the script comes through the mailbox, I’ll do it.”

Accepting a role in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1992), he said, “Now I can finally look my daughter’s friends in the face. When people ask me ‘What do you do?’ I don’t have to say, ‘I did a little Shakespeare, a little Chekhov.’ I can say I was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II.”

Papers continued to be plentiful. He had a running gag in the clever horror-comedy Scream 2 (1997), but he divided most of his time between voice work for animated series and computer games and guest roles on American television and in knockoffs of the straight-to-the-art genre. video. He donned prosthetics for Tim Burton’s mediocre reboot of Planet of the Apes (2001), teamed up with The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse (2005) and had recurring roles as a retired police officer with Alzheimer’s on the powerful BBC series Conviction. (2004). ) and as the father of the popular Swedish detective played by Kenneth Branagh in Wallander (2008-15). He also made his return to the stage in New York in Major Barbara in 2001 and in London in The Feast of Snails the following year, as well as playing King Lear in Chichester in 2005.

He is survived by his partner, actress Lisa Bowerman, and Melissa and Luke, children from his second marriage to Sheilah Kent, which ended in divorce.

David Hattersley Warner, actor, born July 29, 1941; passed away on July 24, 2022

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.