January 22, 2016 — English actor John Hurt has played many memorable roles, both on stage and screen. But perhaps the one most people remember him from is his part in Alien, the Ridley Scott science fiction film.
Few people who have seen it can forget the moment in the original film when Hurt, who plays executive officer Kane, has the alien to which he has become host explode out of his body. The rest of the cast had been made aware of the scene, but what actually occurred when the creature broke through Hurt’s “chest” was so bloody, violent and remarkable that one of the actors (Veronica Cartwright) went into hysterics. Her actual reaction was left in the movie.
Generally, however, Hurt’s appearances in film and on stage are somewhat less bloody. His early background was as a Shakespearean actor; but a number of his later roles — John Merrick the sweet-natured, severely deformed man in The Elephant Man (Hurt was entirely unrecognizable), Winston Smith, the protagonist in 1984 who works at the Ministry of Truth, the murderer Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, Quentin Crisp the flamboyant raconteur and writer in An Englishman in New York and a thoroughly mad and mesmerizing Caligula in the classic mini-series I, Claudius — are disparate, uncompromising, hard to characterize — and frequently unforgettable.
He was 26 years old in 1966 when Fred Zinnemann cast him as Richard Rich, the young man who betrays Sir Thomas More for personal gain, in the massively acclaimed film A Man for All Seasons. It was only his third film. After that, several of his most fascinating roles were in television dramas. In 1975 and 1976 he took on two of his most remarkable parts: that of Quentin Crisp, the flamboyant raconteur and writer, in his biography The Naked Civil Servant (a role for which Hurt was so esteemed that he brought it back 15 years later in the sequel, An Englishman in New York) and Caligula, the mad Roman emperor whose own men would assassinate him. The two roles established him as one of the leading young actors coming out of England at the time.
Midnight Express, Alien, Watership Down and David Lynch’s acclaimed The Elephant Man would follow. In 1983 he was cast as the Fool in the Granada Television production of King Lear, starring Laurence Olivier, Diana Rigg, Brian Cox, Robert Lindsay and Leo McKern.
He would play Mr Ollivander, the wand-maker, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the War Doctor in three episodes of Dr. Who and a parody of his Alien character in Spaceballs.
For his accomplishments and talent, he has been given a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and he has been knighted.
Enjoy the variety of John Hurt’s talents in 1984, Crime and Punishment, An Englishman in New York and the BBC’s mysterious ghost story Whistle and I’ll Come to You.