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Albert Finney (1936-2019)

  1. Laurence Harvey, The Long and the Short and the Tall (US: Jungle Fighters),  1960.   WWII in the Malaysian jungle and the Japanese zone… UK producer Michael Balcon wanted O’Toole as Private Bamforth in  the film of his hit play.  No? OK then Finney, who then got appendicits.  Hollywood wanted a name, even thought Harvey was as unsuitable as he had been for Room At The Top. Director Leslie Norman (Barry’s father) was miming all the dialogue when I was on the set. (I was writing Harvey’s life story for the French film mag, Cinémonde). Michael Caine, who’d served in trhe Korean war, was O’Toole’s understudy but never went on. O’Toole just always made it in time.  Just. Caine had the role for the UK tour ("my first  step towards becoming a star")  and his mate, Terence  Stamp,  was the wireles operator.
  2. Alan Bates, A Kind of Loving, 1962.       Albie refused. Of course, he did.  He had already played it in the (tons better) Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1960.
  3. Richard Harris, This Sporting Life, 1962.   Finney simply passed: he did not like the look of the script. Sean Connery was elbowed because he didn’t look like a rugby player (so why ask for him?). Harris actually played rugby and made a perfect Frank Machin - Best Actor at Cannes 1963, Oscar-nominated 1964, and rapidly into Hollywood (plus Antonioni and Harry Potter) films because of it.
  4. Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia,1962.
  5. Tom Courtenay, Billy Liar, 1963.      The film of his West End stage hit was one reason he turned down Lawrence of Arabia. He then turned Billy over to his successor on-stage. They later starred together in The Dresser, 1983, and on the West End stage in Art, 1996. 
  6. Tom Tryon, The Cardinal, 1963.   The sudden blip in producer-director-ogre Otto Preminger’s track record was caused by lamentable casting. Tyron, happier later as a novelist, was never the actor Otto tried to force him to be… during the rise and rise of the titular Vatican favourite, reportedly based on New York’s powerful (and Senator Joe McCarthy loving) Cardinal Spellman. Preminger tested three bores: Tyron, Bradford Dillman, Cliff Robertson; considered total opposites Hugh O’Brian,Stuart Whitman; and, according to Tyron, refused the better Finney, Peter O’Toole, even the (way too old) Gregory Peck
  7. Richard Burton, Becket, 1963.    Finchey and Albie joined the  Henry II mix with Laurence Harvey, Christopher Plummer, Maximilian Schell, when Burton showed scant interest in sharing the billing with the new firebrand, Peter O’Toole.  "I don’t blame him," said director Peter Glenville.  "He seems to make mincemeat of any other male actors around him."  [More on  stage than screen). "I don’t think this would affect Finney - he has a talent of equal stature to O’Toole and he knows it." Finney was busy and Burton  had his  mind changed for him by Elizabeth  Taylor, and a bromance was born. "Nobody could play Becket like he did - as a sort of sacred coal-miner," said O’Toole.  They  both won Oscar nods. But the award went to the Rex Harrison  that nobody wanted for My Fair Lady.  (Laurence Olivier and Anthony Quinn played the roles on Broadway; Eric Porter and Christopher Plummer in London).
  8. Peter O'Toole, Lord Jim, 1965.     US auteur Richard Brooks’ first choice his re-make of Victor Fleming’s 1925 silent versionpassed it, like Lawrence of Arabia,1962, to O’Toole. “But the trouble with O’Toole,” said Brooks, “is that Lord Jim is Lawrence.”
  9. Tom Courtenay, Doctor Zhivago, 1965.  Director David Lean’s scenarist Robert Bolt voted Finney for the idealistic student Pasha - and sent a long missive to Albie, encouraging him to accept the part. No, no, no, said Lean., still smarting from Finney’s refusal to play Lawrence after a lavish £100,000  test.(Finney would have made a livelier Zhivago than Omar Sharif). As well as his Lara (Julie Christie), Lean found his Pasha in Billy Liar-  the 1963 film of the West End play hit that had starred Finney before  he handed it (and film) over to  Courtenay. They later starred together in The Dresser, 1983, and on the West End stage in Art, 1996.
  10. Telly Savalas, Beau Geste, 1966.     Nearly an all Brit line-up for the third Geste movie featuring  Albie, Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, before Universal shot it on the cheap - on the back lot with contract players.

  11. Cyril Cusack, Fahrenheit 451, 1966.       As if he didn’t have enough pressures - first film in colour, first in English, a lingo he was far from confident with - French nouvelle vague icon François Truffaut also suffered four years of casting hurdles…. starting with Paul Newman as the fireman hero, Montag. When feeling Ray Bradbury’s story was too important to be shot in English(!), the réalisateur tried his past and future stars, Charles Aznavour, Jean-Paul Belmondo - and Oskar Werner as Montag’s boss. Producer Lewis Allen wanted Sterling Hayden in either role; or Finney, Laurence Olivier, Peter O’Toole, Michael Redgrave, Max Von Sydow. Producer Sam Spiegel even tried muscling in by promising Burton… bossing a Robert Redford loving Elizabeth Taylor! Enter: the head of the Cusack movie clan: actors Catherine, wife Maureen, Niamh, Sinéad Sorcha, producer Pádraig and director Paul. And son-in-law Jeremy Irons!
  12. Ronald Pickup, Much Ado About Nothing, TV, 1967.       Finney passed on repeating his Don Pedro while the rest  of Franco Zeffirelli’s  stage production stayed aboard Alan Cooke’s TVersion.
  13. Patrick McGoohan, Ice Station Zebra, 1968.       Offered in 1964. No one believed Albie when he said he was taking a year off… to see the world.
  14. Mick Jagger, Ned  Kelly, 1970.       Slated as Finney’s first production.   “He was a brilliant leader of men but no hoodlum.   He was too big for that.”   He grew a moustache and studied accents in Ireland before the project fell through.
  15. Simon Ward, Young Winston, 1972.     Announced prematurely by Columbia. Writer-producer Carl Foreman had merely mentioned it to him during his surprise cameo in The Victors, 1963. “He was interested. We left it at that. I never make real plans with an actor until my script is ready. I may need three actors and try to make a complete story.” Thirty years later, Albie finally played Winnie in The Gathering Storm tele-film for Ridley and Tony Scott, BBC and HBO. Foreman never saw how right he’d been about (a brilliant) Finney, having died in 1984.
  16. Michael Caine, Sleuth, l972.       US director Joseph Mankiewicz’ first choice, Alan Bates second, Caine third. In keeping with his British Brando label, Finney was just... too fat.
  17. Peter Finch, A Bequest To The Nation, 1973.     No to Nelson.   “I’m scared of being committed to anything.”  Nominated five times  for Oscars, Finney never won  - and never went.  ”It’s a long way to go for a very long party, sitting there for six hours  and not having a cigarette or drink.”
  18. Sean Connery, Robin and Marian, 1976.     The project began as Robin Finney and Little John Connery luring Audrey Hepburn back to the screen as Maid Marian after after a nine-year retirement. Sean and Audrey were, finally, Sherwood’s   titular couple.
  19. Peter Ustinov, Murder On The Nile, 1977.    What?  Do him again - I don’t think so.” Albie was not about to suffer his Hercule Poirot make-up in such heat again after Murder on the Orient Express, 1973.  Being a canny veteran,  Ustinov barely changed his look for the Agatha Christie’s Belgian sleuth  Just a curl on his forehead and a tash.  So he happily Poiroted again in Evil Under The Sun, 1981, Appointment Wih Death, 1987, plus three tele-films during 1985-1986: Thirteen For Dinner, Dead Man’s Folly, Murder In Three Acts.
  20. Richard Chamberlain, Shogun, TV, 1980.    In the first stage of superagent Michael Ovitz’ fascination with James Clavell’s book about 17th Century feudal Japan, Richard Attenborough was due to direct Sean Connery as the heroic Blackthorne caught between fierce warlords.  Second stage was a hit mini-series with Chamberlain (and not Finney or Roger Moore, while  Toshiro Mifune  growled away in un-sub-titled Japanese! And it worked. Splendidly. Blackthorne was thisclose to Will Adams, once planned as a John Huston movie for Peter O’Toole…  and Mifune.

  21. Ben Kingsley, Gandhi, 1982.     Said Albie to Richard Attenborough:   “Dickie, do you want me to spend the next six years at a health farm?”
  22. Peter O’Toole, My Favourite Year, 1982.   Michael Gruskoff, co-producing with Mel Brooks, wanted as the drunk star based on Errol Flynn.  "Wrong giuy, Michael,"said Albie. "Peter would be better for this part than me."  Based on Mel’s experience as a young writer onSid Ceasar’s Show of Showstrying to keep Errol Flynn off the sauce before his guest appearance. Not strictly true. The writers had scant coontct with Flynn, his visit was uneventful - but inspired Brooks to imagine what if it wasn’t!  Finney was at drama school wih O’Toole, and he liked a jar, himself, usually of Pernod. "Uncontaminated by water."
  23. Sean Connery, Der Name der Rose/The Name of the Rose, France-Italy-West Germany, 1986.      Réalisateur Jean-Jacques Annaud was not keen on 007 as Umberto Eco’s medieval monk turned detective.  Columia Pictures even refused financing if Connery was involved as his post-Bond star was imploding. Naturally, Brando topped Annaud’s further 14 ideas. Six Americans: Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Frederic Forrest, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, Roy Scheider; four Brits: Finney, Michael Caine, Ian McKellen, Terence Stamp; plus Canadian Donald Sutherland, French Yves Montand, Irish Richard Harris, Italian Vittorio Gassman and Swedish Max von Sydow. Connery’s reading was the best and his career exploded anew. Two years later, he won his support Oscar for The Untouchables.
  24. Joss Ackland, The Sicilian, 1987.     Starring in a West End play, Albie was disinterested when there was no script. In Rome,   Claire Bloom’s daughter, Anna Steiger, gave Michael Cimino a cassette of Ackland in Shadowlands. And Evita’s original Peron signed to be a Mafia Don - just as Finney announced his play would be over in good time   for locations!
  25. Donald Sutherland, A Dry White Season, 1989.     Director Euzhan Palcy also tried Michael Caine.   She found Sutherland in Ordinary People - directed by the man who helped her into international filming, Robert Redford.
  26. Michael Gambon, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, 1989.     The four title characters are named for the actors that writer-director Peter Greenaway first asked to play them. Richard (The Cook) is for French star Richard Bohringer,   only one of Greenaway’s original choices in the film. Albert (The Thief) is named after Finney, Georgina (His Wife) for Georgina Hale.  Michael (The Lover) is named, for Michael Gambon... Greenaway eventually re-cast him as Albert.
  27. Donald Sumpter, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, 1990.     UK director John Boorman hoped to book ’em all in 1970:   Albie, Michael Caine, Laurence Olivier, Terence Stamp, even Maggie Smith. Well, the Rocky-rich producers were paying.
  28. Donel Donnelly, The Godfather: Part III, 1991.
  29. Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Histoire de Marie et Julien, France-Italy, 2003.  The reportedly gorgeous shooting actually began in the mid-70s with Finney and Leslie Caron only to be shuttered due to auteur Jacques Rivette’ being tired out after seven films in five years.  He finally restarted  the mysterious love affair some 30-odd years and 14 films later with the Polish  Radziwilowicz  as the reclusive clock-repairer (and blackmailer) involved with theenigmaticEmmanuelle Béart. She doesn’t bleed when she cuts herself…
  30. Bob Hoskins, Danny The Dog, France, 2005.     Written by producteur Luc   Besson for Albie - supposedly.  If so, why not wait until Finney completed Big Fish, 2003.

  31. David Kelly, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2004.        Tim Burton explained to his 2003 Big Fish star that he wanted one A lister only - and that was Mr Depp. The rule didn’t apply to Burton’s latest animation venture, Corpse Bride, 2004, so he asked Finney to voice Finis - opposite Depp as Victor Van Dort. Among Tim Burton’s Grandpa Joe choices, two passed before passing: Gregory Peck and Peter Ustinov. Also in the loop: Richard Attenborough, Michael Caine, George Calin (yes, not Calin), Kirk Douglas, Richard Griffiths, Anthony Hopkins, Christopher Lloyd (favourite of author Roald Dahl’s widow, Liccy), Ron Moody, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Paul Newman, Peter O’Toole, Max von Sydow, Eli Wallach, David Warner.  Burton finally gave the role to Kelly (“in three minutes”) on running into him at Pinewood studios on another film.
  32. Rod Taylor, Inglourious Basterds, 2008.       Quentin Tarantino had the title since 1998 - the US title but not the same story of Enzo G Casterllari’s 1978 spaghetti WWII saga, Quel maledetto trena blindato. Michael Madsen later announced the first casting of himself, Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Tim Roth. But Cute (ie QT!) postponed everything for his Kill Bills, 2003/2004... and later changed his game plan. Hence an Aussie Churchill, instead of Finney reprising his Winston from The Gathering Storm, TV, 2001, which won Albie an Emmy, a Bafta and a Golden Globe.  Albie doesn’t do encores.
  33. Jeremy Irons, The Borgias, TV, 2010.     The Italian Caligula director Tinto Brass told me he offered Pope Alexander VI to Irons long before  Irish director Neil Jordan got his film  off the ground  - as a TV series.
  34. Alec Baldwin, Rise of the Guardians, 2011.    Jeff Bridges, Kevin Costner, Albert Finney and Kevin Spacey were also on DreamWorks voice list for North, aka Santa Claus  (complete with tatts and a Russian accent) leader of guardians  (Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, Tooth Fairy, etc) protecting childhood, itself, from Jude Law’s dreaded Pitch Black.
  35. Billy Connolly, Quartet, 2012.    A new director - fella named Dustin Hoffman - first asked another old-timerto head hisfirst film. “But when the time came,” said Connolly, “Albert Finney was a bit sick. He couldn’t do it. So [Hoffman] went to Peter O’Toole but Peter O’Toole doesn’t want to work any more, so [Hoffman] came to me.”  The sole problem was that the Scots comic was 70, not 75. “I don’t look it because I’m not wrinkly. Dustin was worried … that I looked too young!”Either way, he still stole the entire movie… from such renowned film-stealers as Sir Tom Courtenay, Sir Michael Gambon and, for the second time in a film called Quartet, Dame Maggie Smith.  Finney  refused a knighthood in 2000 having no interest in “perpetuating snobbery.”

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 “Albert was an inspiration.  He came from around the corner from me in Salford, so he was the local lad that did it. We never acted together but his attitude to acting was like mine. Do it and then go and have a good time. If you talk about it too much, all the magic will go out of it.” – Ian McShane.

 

 

 





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