Back to this alphabet series, with ‘S’. As usual, I will try to avoid the most obvious choices, and leave room for you to add your favourites in the comments.
Londoner Timothy Spall got his big break on a popular television series in Britain, in 1983. Before that, he had trained at The National Youth Theatre, and enjoyed a stage career including his time with The Royal Shakespeare Company, and a first film role in ‘Quadrophenia’ (1979). He went on to work with director Mike Leigh on ‘Life Is Sweet’ (1991), ‘Secrets and Lies’ (1996, and ‘Topsy Turvy’ (1999). Films outside Britain included ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001), ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003), and ‘Appaloosa’ (2008). He has portrayed the character of Peter Pettigrew in the ‘Harry Potter’ films, and in 2014 received various awards and nominations for the lead role in the film ‘Mr Turner’, a biopic of the famous English painter. Since then, he has appeared in nine more films, as well as continuing to work on television both as an actor, and as a presenter of documentary programmes. Something of a British institution by now, and still only 61 years old.
Polish-born German actress, Hanna Schygulla, captivated me with her sultry looks in the film ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant’ in 1972, and seven years later, she was gorgeous in ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’ too. She could act as well, so got her entry into this section without hesitation. I soon started to try to find more films to watch her in, and discovered ‘Rio Das Mortes’ (1970), another collaboration with Fassbinder. Work with another famous German film-maker, Wim Wenders, led me to ‘The Wrong Move’ (1975), and I was fast becoming one of the biggest fans of an actress very few people outside of Germany seemed to have heard of. Then in 1983, she won the award for Best Actress at Cannes, with her role in ‘The Story of Piera’, alongside Isabelle Huppert and Marcello Mastroianni. After that, her career was hit and miss, appearing in many English-language films, as well as continuing to appear on German television, and in European films. She is still working, aged 74.
Harry Dean Stanton died last year, and that was a loss to acting, undoubtedly. But he left a legacy of sixty years of work behind him, including so many memorable character parts, and leading roles. He had served during WW2, and lived to the great age of 91. His film career reads like a list of some of the best films ever over a forty-year period, and I doubt there are many readers of this blog who would not know his name, or recognise his distinctive features. From his first uncredited role in a western in 1957, he went on to appear in ‘Pork Chop Hill’ (1959), and ‘How The West Was Won’ (1962). Parts in ‘Cool Hand Luke’ (1967), and ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ (1970) followed, but Harry still had to wait for a breakout role to give him a memorable leading man performance. That came in 1984, with Wim Wender’s haunting ‘Paris, Texas’, followed by Alex Cox’s film ‘Repo Man’, in the same year. The list goes on, with ‘Pretty In Pink’ (1986), ‘The Straight Story’ (1999), ‘The Green Mile’ (1999), and ‘Inland Empire’ (2006). With a successful television career running alongside his film roles, his body of work was enormous.
English actor Rufus Sewell has enjoyed a successful career in the theatre, as well as on television, and in films. Still just fifty years old, we can no doubt expect more from him in the years to come. He has performed in many historical and period dramas, including the adaptation of ‘Middlemarch’ on TV, and as Charles II in a BBC series, whilst continuing to impress audiences with his stage roles too. Recent TV roles include Lord Melbourne in the BBC serial ‘Victoria’, and a German SS officer in the streamed series ‘The Man In The High Castle’. Film roles include ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ (1995), ‘Dark City’ (1998), ‘A Knight’s Tale’ (2001), and ‘The Illusionist’ (2006). He is still working in every area of acting, and his latest film is due for release.
Tilda Swinton is a British actress known for her androgynous looks, and award-winning roles. Her early collaborations with the avant-garde film maker Derek Jarman got her noticed in films like ‘Caravaggio’ (1986), and ‘The Last Of England’ (1988). She went on to appear in many of Jarman’s experimental films, before embarking on a more mainstream career with the film ‘Female Perversions’ in 1996. Since then, she has worked with many of the leading modern directors, in an assortment of roles, and won numerous awards in the process. Well-known films she has appeared in include ‘Vanilla Sky’ (2001), ‘Constantine’ (2005), ‘Michael Clayton’ (2007), and ‘The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button’ (2008). She is still very busy, and has two films awaiting release.