Nicol Williamson


  1. Noel Coward, The Italian Job, 1969.    The script’s  Mr Bridges was a real hard case.  Ah, yes, but Coward was director Peter Collinson’s godfather.  (I saw the always smouldering Williamson ignite the West End stage in John Osborne’s blistering  Inadmissable Evidence with John Hurt  in 1965).  
  2. Robert Stephens, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, 1969.  Once he lost the two Peters – O’Toole and Sellers – as Holmes and Watson, Billy Wilder’’s most expensive movie just… collapsed. Wilder pal Jack Lemmon offered his services  and Billy dismissed any idea of Charlton Heston. Or even Rex Harrison, although he had been   Wilder’s choice for a 50s Broadway musical version anda 1963 filmusical. Stephens was terrible Holmes (he’d attempted suicide during the production, following the end of his marriage to Maggie Smith), Williamson would have been no better  – as poroved by his Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, 1976.
  3. Eric Porter, Antony and Cleopatra, 1972.  The Scots actor famously rejected  a mighty offer – six figures! – to play Enobarbus opposite the star-producer-director Charlton Heston… reprising his Mark Anthony from the 1969 Julius Caesar. The battle scenes were good. Well, they came from his Ben-Hur! Heston was allowed to use some footage by agreeing to be MGM’s Skyjacked hero in 1972.
  4. Richard Kiley, The Little  Prince,  1974.    Director  Stanley Donen scurried around after losing Frank Sinatra – just not far enough.
  5. Richard Burton, The Medusa Touch, 1977.The tall Scot was UK director Jack Gold’s choice for the telekinetic who literally thinks up plane crashes (and more). No, said his producers, Burton was hot again after Equus. Hardly. Nor was the film: the worst of 1978, according to Chicago critic Roger Ebert.

  6. Charles Durning, An Enemy of the People, 1978.  
    What on earth was going on here…?  Well, ego, of course. Why else would Steve McQueen – known for telling such potential co-stars as Stella Stevens, “I don’t need competition” – set himself up for the chop  with such a vanity project as  a 1882 Ibsen play, way beyond his style, scope  and  talent.  Steve was a movie star. Not a great actor.  He would tear dialogue scenes out of scripts rather than have lines. To speak – and remember.  Charlton Heston and Rod Steiger preferred not to play his brother.  And Nicol Williamson was a nightmare, according to director George Schaefer. He never turned up for rehearsals.  “He was going through one of his mental problems, I guess. He had many at the time.” Durning became the mayor. McQueen freely admitted that he felt out of his depth but told Durning: “For the first time  in my life, I really feel like I’m acting.”

  7. Stacy Keach, The Ninth Configuration, 1979.  Considered for Colonel Kane in what novelist andnow auteur William Peter Blatty felt was the true sequel to The Exorcist, 1973.    Oh really…so why bother making The Exorcist III in1989 – which, ironically, featured Williamson
  8. Michael Gambon, The Singing Detective, 1986.   Another BBC-TV drama triumph (among the many) for  television’s finest writer, Dennis Potter. Williamson refused the role of the detective fiction writer, lying in a hospital bed suffering from psoriatic arthropathy (like Potter, himself).
  9. Ian McKellen, Apt Pupil, 1997.    Eleven years before director Bryan Singer’s take on Stephen King’s “dark side of adolescent curiosity,” Alan Bridges’ version – with Williamson and  Rick Schroder – was cancelled when the budget grew too high.
  10. Nigel Havers, Burke & WIIls, Australia, 1984.   B&W were the down-under equivalant of the historic US explorers Lewis and Clark. In August  1860, Irish cop Robert O’Hara Burke, an Irish cop, and English gent William John Wills, set out –  with 28 horses, 26 camels, 21 tons of equipment, 17 men and six wagons to become the first white men to cross Australia from South to North. Only one man, John King, survived…  In 1971, Nicol Williamson-Hywel Bennett were set for such a film, followed by Charlton Heston-Trevor Howard, before Aussie director Graeme Clifford got the job done with Jack Thompson, of course, and Nigel  Havers.
  11. Ian McKellen, Apt Pupil US-France-Canada, 1997.  The 62nd of Stephen King’s staggering 313 screen credits  was a cursed “short book.”  Take One: James Mason  was set for  Kurt Dussander jn 1984 but died from a heart attack.  His replacement, Richard Burton, also died before filming began, from a cerebral hemorrhage.Take Two: Nicol Williamson and Ricky Schroder  were Dussander and Todd when the money ran out of Alan Bridges’ take with ten days to go in  1987. (King saw 75% of the “really good” film).  Take Three:  Bryan Singer directed Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro (as the Nazi and his US teenager blackmailer. Chicago critic Roger Ebert slapped it down as “an uneasy hybrid of the sacred and the profane.”  




 Birth year: 1936Death year: 2011Other name: Casting Calls:  11