During most of his professional life, the world hailed Lord Laurence Olivier as one of the greatest actors on stage and screen, and Olivier remained remarkably prolific right to the end of his life. Now the London Guardian reports that he will launch a great comeback, a neat trick for a man who’s been dead for fifteen years. First-time filmmaker Kerry Conran cast the dead actor in support of Jude Law and Gwenyth Paltrow as a holographic villain:
In September, however, Olivier will break much more remarkable ground. Fifteen years after his death, he is due to feature as one of the billed stars of the Paramount film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. …
Law is quoted by the AP news agency: “He plays my nemesis. And he’s referred to throughout the movie so you know eventually you’re going to get to see this bad guy. It builds up, and you only see him in the last minutes, and he’s in hologram form.”
New dialogue was recorded by another actor for Olivier’s voice. Images of him come from assorted films and archive footage.
In a sick twist, the character played by Olivier is named “Totenkopf”, which means “death-head” in German and was used by the Nazis as a name for one of its SS divisions. I’m sure that this was meant as irony by the director, but the Guardian makes no mention of that decision.
It does seem a bit unusual that a director would choose to cast a dead man in the role. Couldn’t he find a live actor to do the movie? And how exactly will Olivier’s estate be compensated for the hijacking of his image? His widow, the eminent actress Joan Plowright, chose not to comment on the story. It raises ethical questions as well, since Olivier didn’t choose to be included in this film, and I’m surprised that actors of the stature of Law and Paltrow would have agreed to this. (Of course, Olivier’s judgment on project selection was known to be somewhat suspect, as anyone who’s watched the so-bad-it’s-laughable Clash Of The Titans can attest.)
The Guardian upholds the fine tradition of Fleet Street bitchiness in its lead paragraph, which makes it worth the read:
Towards the end of his pioneering career, Lord Olivier was the first actor to materialise in the West End theatre as a hologram, in the musical Time in 1986. For one of the greatest classical players in history, it had an advantage: he did not need to appear in the flesh with the show’s star – Cliff Richard.