NEW YORK, NY.-
David Warner, who started his career on the British stage, including playing Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company when he was just 24, then gravitated toward film and television, accumulating more than 200 credits, including The Omen, Time After Time, TRON, Titanic and Wallander, died on Sunday in Northwest London. He was 80.
His family said in a statement that the cause of death, at Denville Hall, a retirement home for actors, was a cancer-related illness.
Although Warner played a wide variety of roles, he may have been most frequently identified with villainous ones. He was Jack the Ripper in Time After Time in 1979; two years later, in Time Bandits, his character was named simply Evil Genius. In TRON, the 1982 film in which Jeff Bridges character, Kevin Flynn, is transported into the innards of a computer, he was Flynns nemesis in both the real and the virtual world.
Ive never been asked to play the happy, romantic lead, Warner told the British newspaper The Independent in 2003. So getting the girl is something that has never happened to me. Ive worked with some extraordinarily beautiful women, but they never want to stay with me.
Not that he minded roles like the one in TRON.
It was fun to see it with an audience, he told The New York Times in 1982, hear them boo me and my gang.
Some actors have a relatively brief run of success, but Warner remained employable for an extraordinarily long time. In his first full decade in film and TV, the 1970s, he gathered more than two dozen credits; in the 1990s, more than 80. He had a face that seemed adaptable to almost any occasion, whether the role demanded anonymity or complexity.
Somehow he makes his face almost perfectly forgettable, like any one of a thousand faces seen in a bus station, Vincent Canby wrote in the Times in 1968, assessing Warners portrayal of a soldier in a film drama called The Borfors Gun, intending the comment as a compliment. Some 35 years later, Emily Young, who directed him in the 2003 drama Kiss of Life, said basically the opposite.
David has such a physical presence, she told The Independent. He seems to hold his lifes experiences in his frame and in his face.
It was director Peter Hall, at the time the artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who elevated the youthful Warner to theatrical prominence, casting him in several high-profile roles, including the lead in Hamlet in 1965. Warner gave a decidedly different interpretation of the role than theatergoers were used to, and critics were divided. One fan was Mark Gardner of The Sunday Mercury of Birmingham, England.
This gangly, blinking, introverted young man hides his grief and insecurity under clowns hat and khaki students habit, Gardner wrote.
It is, he added, a Hamlet for this bewildered, postwar generation, frustrated, unhappy, sure of nothing.
The production ran in repertory for two years. In 2001, in an interview with the Times, Hall reflected on Warners performance.
It was most importantly the Hamlet which really did define the part for the 60s, he said. It was the young peoples Hamlet. Davids gentleness and passivity jibed absolutely with flower power and all that. He was wonderful.
The occasion for that 2001 article was, astonishingly, Warners American stage debut at age 60 in a production of George Bernard Shaws Major Barbara by the Roundabout Theater Company in New York. It was also his first stage performance of any kind since 1972. He had stopped doing stage work, he said, in part because of anxiety about performing live.
You see, Im not a man of the theater, he told the Times in 2001. Not like McKellen and Jacobi and Ian Holm, and all those people who have worked from the bottom up, whom I admired when I was just beginning.
Instead, while Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Holm had become towering figures of the theater, Warner by that time had become known for seemingly never encountering a film or TV role he wouldnt take. His résumé included moderately prestigious roles he won an Emmy Award for his performance in the 1981 miniseries Masada, about the Roman Empires siege of the Masada citadel in Israel but also a stint as a Klingon chancellor in the Star Trek franchise. He joked about that reputation, recounting a conversation he had with Holm, an old colleague, after theyd wrapped filming on a TV version of Uncle Vanya in 1991.
I said to him, What are you doing next? Warner told The Times. And Ian, who was always in the best way choosy, said he was doing the Kafka film with Jeremy Irons. Then he said, So what are you doing? I said, Im doing a thing called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.
David Hattersley Warner was born on July 29, 1941, in Manchester, England. His parents, he told the Times in 1982, were not married and kept stealing me from each other, so I moved around England a lot.
He trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and, as he told the story, he had a seven-line part with an experimental theater company when fate came along.
Peter Hall popped by to see the show, he said, which was his job, and then, about a year later, I got an invitation to audition for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and I did, and I got in.
About the same time, he landed his first significant television role, in a British television play called The Madhouse on Castle Street. There was someone else who would soon be famous in that cast as well: a little-known American folk singer named Bob Dylan. The show was broadcast once, in early 1963, but the film was not preserved. It is said to have included one of Dylans earliest performances of Blowin in the Wind.
That same year, Warner landed his first major film role, in Tom Jones, playing an (of course) unappealing character named Blifil. The title role in the comic drama Morgan! (1966) further solidified his film bona fides.
Warners television work included roles in the miniseries The War of the Roses in the 1960s, Holocaust in the 1970s, Hold the Back Page in the 1980s, The Choir in the 1990s and Conviction in the 2000s. He had recurring roles in the series Twin Peaks in 1991 and Wallander and Ripper Street, among others, in this century.
His familys announcement said his survivors include his partner, Lisa Bowerman, and a son, Luke.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times