Sir Ian Holm

  1. David Hemmings, The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1968.    Nolan was Holm opposite Mark Burns as Morris in a rigorous, three-page test in October 1966. “We rode horses, jumped off, shook hands and chatted about the situation.”   Burns won what he “desperately” wanted. Holm lost – to the Blow Up flavour of the hour! And Hemmings found a name for his son, born in 1970…
  2. Donald Sumpter, The Black Panther, 1976.     Holm backed away from playing the UK serial killer Donald Neilson when the family of one of The Yorkshire Ripper’s victims refused any co-operation.
  3. Timothy Spall, The Missionary, 1982.      Holm was in and out as the manservant Parswell – with some hilarious fertility symbolics… in what writer-star Michael Palin first called The Missionary Position.
  4. Ian McCulloch, Doctor Who #130: Warriors of The Deep, 1984.     The 13 possible Nilsons were Holm, Peter Arne, Dennis Lill, Alfred Lynch, Ian McKellen, Clive Merrison (BBC Radio’s Sherlock Holmes), John Normington plus five of the astonshing army of 203 candidates for just 18 roles in that year’s Lifeforce movie mess: Nicholas Ball, Tom Chadbon, Michael Gothard, Ronald Lacey, Edward Peel. Not the happiest of Whoversen shoots – and not just because Doc5 Peter Davison folllowed Doc2 Patrick Troughton’s rule. Three seasons and out.
  5. Martin Shaw, The Last Place On Earth, TV 1985.      Destiny. Turned down the seven-part miniseries on the 1910-1912 race for the South Pole between Scott and Amundsen for Laughterhouse, “a small English film about geese.” And Holm, the “borderline love junkie” (according to his New York therapist) promptly fell for his screen wife,   Penelope Wilton, and made her the third of his four wives.
  6. Edward Peel, Doctor Who #147: Dragonfire, TV, 1987.     The usual suspects were up for Kane, the icy director of Iceworld, on the dark side of planet Svartos… Holm, John Alderton, Nicholas Ball, Tom Chadbon, Ronald Lacey, TP McKenna, Michael Gothard, David Jason, Clifford Rose, Simon Ward, David Warner. The Doctor was Doc7 Sylvester McCoy.
  7. Albert Finney, Miller’s Crossing, 1990.    The Coen brothers meet 30s/40s, gangster noir.  Their 1988 draft put James Gammon, Ian Holm, Richard Jenkins, John Mahoney and Trey Wilson in the mix for Irish gang boss Leo O’Bannion.
  8. Terence Stamp, The Sicilian, 1987.      When director Michael Cimino assembled his cast for a reading in New York, Christophe(r) Lambert was still not assured of the lead and Holm (who’d educated Lambert’s Tarzan in Greystoke, 1984), never turned up.
  9. Alun Armstrong, American Friends, 1990.    An early thought from the film’s writer-star Michael Palin for Dr Weeks, one of the snobby Fellows of Oxford University. The tale and Palin’s Oxford don clergyman were based on his own great-grandfather. (Finalluy, Plain and Holm appeared together in Brazil, 1984).
  10. Ian Richardson, An Ungentlemanly Act, TV, 1992.    Quit being His Excellency, Governor Rex Hunt just before shooting started at Government House, Port Stanley, as the Falklands War began.

  11. Derek Jacobi, Cadfael, TV, 1994-1997.     Britain’s ITV network wasted so much time dickering about the series – about a crusader turned monk turned detective – that Holm had fled the coop. The BBC Radio 4 monk, Philip Madoc, was almost signed when Jacobi became available for the 12th Century Shrewsbury… made in Budapest.  
  12. Giancarlo Giannini, Mimic, 1996.       Guillermo del Toro first approached Max von Sydow, then Holm or the My Dinner With André star, André Gregory, for – howzat again? – an old shoeshine guy! For the Mexican director’s latest in his endless series of man versus man-made monsters. (Gregory and Von Sydow had each already sold out to Sylvester Stallone crap fantasies: Demolition Man and Judge Dredd).  
  13. Jon Voight, Pope John Paul II, TV, 2005.    First choice to play the life of Karol Wojtyla quit due to “personal reasons.” He did, though, play JM Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Goebbels, Ben Gurion, Himmler, Sam Mussabini, Pontius Pilate, French President Raymond Poincaire, Kings John and Richard III. Plus Napoleon three times – Stanley Kubrick’s abandoned project would have made it four. Voight had been first choice for the Pope but passed to Albert Finney in the 1984 original tele-film. After John Paul’s death two decades later, Voight played the Pontiff in this TV re-make.
  14. Leslie Phillips, Venus, 2005.“I think he is genuinely crazed. It’s like dealing with a six-year-old. He is clearly under the illusion that he is a genius. Alas, his last good film was 20 years ago.” Notting Hilldirector Roger Michell’s diary notes about Peter O’Toole’s final film. “He made the whole process… as miserable as possible from practically the first moment.” He interferred with the script – and casting, barring Holm from the role of, ironically, Ian. “Does he simply not like Ian, or is he jealous, or feels that he will steal the picture from him?” wrote Michell, who even discussed replacing O’Toole with Jim Broadbent, Michael Caine, Michael Gambon or John Hurt.   “Don’t see the point of juggling yoghurt with this mad fucker any longer.”


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I’m feeling very sad at the passing of Sir Ian Holm… such a delightful, generous man. Quiet, but cheeky, with a lovely twinkle in his eye. Watching Ian Holm perform taught me so much – as Ian was being his usual quiet self, that just somehow happened. It was a privilege to work with him, and a blessing to know him. I’ve always loved Ian’s performance in the final scenes of Return of the King. “I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.”  Farewell, dear Bilbo. Safe travels, darling Ian.  – Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Ringsand Hobbit trilogies.




 Birth year: 1931Death year: 2020Other name: Casting Calls:  14