Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence
Peter Seamus O'Toole
(born 2 August 1932) is an acclaimed Anglo-Irish actor of stage and screen. He holds the dubious distinction of having been nominated for the most Academy Awards for Best Actor without winning (eight as of 2008). He was catapulted to international stardom through his starring role in David Lean's epic //Lawrence of Arabia// (1962); his performance in the title role has been praised as one of the greatest film performances of all time.


O'Toole was born in 1932, in either Conemara, Ireland or Leeds, West Yorkshire, to Patrick Joseph O'Toole, an iron plater and football player, and Constance Jane, a nurse. He grew up in Leeds and spent eight years of his life in a Catholic school where he was ostracized for being left-handed. He served in the Royal Navy as a signalman and after leaving the service attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1952 to 1954. His class included such soon-to-be-distinguished actors as Albert Finney, Alan Bates, and Brian Bedford.

After graduation O'Toole began finding steady stage work, acquiring a contract with the Bristol Old Vic from 1955-1958. Notable roles included Bullock in The Recruiting Officer, Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, Peter Shirley in Major Barbara, and Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger. He also began to specialize in Shakespearean roles, including Cornwall in King Lear, Lodovico in Othello, and Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream. On the strength of these roles, he was invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company, starring as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew opposite Sian Phillips, and winning acclaim for his portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. However, he was bought out of his contract by Sam Spiegel to work on Lawrence of Arabia, ending his career with the RSC. Around this time he made the acquaintance of up-and-coming playwright Robert Bolt, who offered him the role of Louis Flax in his new play The Tiger and the Horse; O'Toole declined, but found himself working with Bolt on Lawrence.

O'Toole married Welsh actress Sian Phillips in 1959. The two had two daughters, Kate (herself an actress) and Patricia. O'Toole's alcoholism and alleged "mental cruelty" led to personal problems between the two, and they divorced in 1979 after O'Toole discovered Phillips had been having an affair. He had a long-standing relationship with model Karen Brown, with whom he had a son, Lorcan, who is also an actor.

Lawrence of Arabia

O'Toole's first screen performance was a walk-on role in an episode of the 1950's TV series The Scarlet Pimpernel. On the recommendation of Katherine Hepburn, he was considered to replace Montgomery Clift in Joseph L. Mankewicz's film adaptation of Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) when Clift's alcoholism proved a problem. However, his disrespectful behavior during his audition earned him the ire of producer Sam Spiegel. After this, he had uncredited roles in Kidnapped (1959) and The Savage Innocents (1960), and had a major role in John Guillermin's The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960). It is the latter film where he was spotted by David Lean, then developing Lawrence of Arabia, and encouraged to audition for the part of T.E. Lawrence after Albert Finney and Marlon Brando had dropped out of the project. After a single screen test, Lean remarked of O'Toole: "He IS Lawrence". Although Spiegel opposed O'Toole's casting due to their previous interaction, Lean insisted, and since O'Toole would work for less money than an established star, Spiegel reluctantly acquiesced.

O'Toole's experience on Lawrence, his first major film role, was a gruelling one. He was one of the few actors to be involved with the entire production of the film, as Lawrence was in almost every scene, and worked on all of the film's locations in Jordan, Spain, Morocco and England between 1960 and 1962. He had to learn how to ride a camel, which he did quite skillfully after a time, and grew acquainted with Bedouin culture, even befriending Jordan's King Hussein. However, the continual work in the desert proved difficult; O'Toole struggled to keep his drinking under control throughout the production, leading to a number of problems with Lean and others. He also said that he was intimidated by working with such a cast of seasoned actors as Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, and his mentor Donald Wolfit. He quickly befriended the similarly green Omar Sharif - calling him "Fred", because "No one is named Omar Sharif" - and the two helped each other get through the difficult production.

While filming in Spain, during the Arab attack on Aqaba, O'Toole was nearly killed when a blank pistol discharged in his face, blinding him in the left eye and sending him flying from his camel. Miraculously, the trained camel stood over O'Toole, preventing him from being trampled by the extras. Perhaps because of this, O'Toole had himself bound to the camel for future takes, as well as getting completely drunk as well. In another incident, he seriously injured his hand punching through the window of a caravan, and in Seville, in the presence of Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins got into a brawl with a restaurant owner over a bill. O'Toole's last scene was filmed in Shepperton Studios in the summer of 1962, filming a close-up of the well scene where Lawrence meets Sherif Ali.

O'Toole's perserverance paid off, however, as he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor. While promoting the film in America, however, he embarrassed Lean and Spiegel by appearing on several talk shows drunk, and was arrested along with Sharif and comedian Lenny Bruce two nights before the New York City premiere, forcing a frantic Spiegel to bail them out of jail. Ultimately, however, O'Toole was defeated in his Oscar bid by Gregory Peck's performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird.

After Lawrence, O'Toole was approached by Lean to appear in his future projects. He was Lean's first choice for the title role in //Doctor Zhivago//, which he declined because he felt Robert Bolt's draft script to be a mess; he was also Lean's first choice to play Major Doryan in //Ryan's Daughter// and Professor Fielding in //A Passage to India//.

Post-Lawrence Career

O'Toole become an international star after the success of Lawrence. In 1964, he starred as Henry II in Peter Glenville's adaptation of Jean Anouilh's Becket, with Richard Burton, John Gielgud, Sian Phillips, and Donald Wolfit, for which he won another Oscar nomination. He also appeared in The Night of the Generals (1965), with Omar Sharif and Tom Courtenay, Richard L. Brooks' Lord Jim (1966), with James Mason, Eli Wallach and Daliah Lavi, and John Huston's The Bible (1966). He won his third Oscar nomination for The Lion in Winter (1968), where he reprised his role as Henry II, co-starring with Katherine Hepburn; the next year he was nominated again for his starring role in Herbert Ross's musical remake of Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969) with Petulia Clark.

O'Toole won a fifth nomination for his role as the schizophrenic Jack Gurney in Peter Medak's cult classic black comedy The Ruling Class (1972). In the late '70s he went into semi-retirement due to problems with alcoholism; he suffered from pancreatic cancer, which resulted in the removal of his pancreas and most of stomach, leading to diabetes. In the early '80s he rebouned, winning two more Oscar nominations: in Robert Rich's The Stunt Man (1980), playing a maniacal film director reportedly inspired by David Lean, and as the washed-up matinee idol Alan Swann in My Favorite Year (1982). He also won much acclaim for his supporting role as R.J. Johnston in Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987).

Besides his film work, O'Toole has continued acting on stage. He again played Henry Higgins in a 1989 production of Pygmalion, and in 1989 won a Laurence Oliver Award for his role in Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. Not all of his theatrical performances were successful, however; his essaying of Macbeth at the Old Vic in 1980 was a critical disaster.

O'Toole continues working steadily to this day. Roles through the '90s include King Ralph, The Seventh Coin, Phantoms, and the miniseries adaptation of Gulliver's Travels. He co-starred with David Tennant in the 2005 BBC series Casanova. He won his eighth Oscar nod for his performance in Venus (2006) as an elderly actor infatuated with a young girl (Joely Richardson). Most recently, he voiced the food critic Anton Ego in the Pixar animated film Ratatouille (2007), and has been cast in a recurring role on the popular Showtime series The Tudors, playing Pope Paul III. In 2003 he received an Academy Honorary Award for Lifetime Achivement.