As you may have already heard, veteran actor John Hurt passed away last night at the age of 77.
Hurt leaves behind one of the most prolific and varied careers of an actor, starring in arthouse classics and major blockbusters alike. Known for his craggy features, resonant voice and crumpled but regal appearance, Hurt's performances lifted lesser films to higher status.
For whatever reason, Hurt was never awarded an Academy Award - but no matter, he was one of the finest screen actors of his time and his work speaks for himself.
Here's our pick of John Hurt's five best scenes.
5. TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY - "There's a rotten apple, Jim."
John Hurt's later career was marked by smaller roles, but the mark of a great actor is making these smaller roles count. That's what John Hurt did so well throughout most of his career. He'd turn up for one or two scenes in a film, but leave such a mark as to make you think he was an integral part of the plot. Very often, of course, he was. In Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Hurt played Control - the wizened spymaster who is forced out after a botched mission that results in a British spy's subsequent capture and torture by the KGB. No-one else could play the role so effectively, with Hurt's distinctive features and voice lending weight to the idea of a character who has seen too much and is holding on by his fingernails. This scene is key, where Hurt's characters lays out the plot and posits that the 'spy' is within the walls.
4. THE PROPOSITION - "Forgive me, sir, but I've been stuck here with no one but this sorry sack of Hibernian pigshit for conversation."
John Hillcoat's bleak quasi-Western is often cited for its usage of tropes of the genre combined with more darker, existentialist themes. However, in the midst of all the horror is a brilliant scene with John Hurt, who plays a bounty hunter that Guy Pearce stumbles across on his travels. The scene begins with Hurt in the dark, before he begins spouting off racial epithets about everyone from the Irish to the Aboriginal people, laughing as he does so. It's an effective scene, and showed just how clever Hurt was with his voice and delivery. He makes reaming off the flourishes of language with such ease that it looks almost effortless in the process. More humourous, as well, is the fact that Hurt was a great lover of Ireland and lived here for many years.
3. ALIEN - The Chestbuster Scene
In the annals of science-fiction and horror, the scene in which John Hurt's character meets his end will go down as one of the most gruesome and frightening. There's countless stories, half-truths and myths surrounding it. Veronica Cartwright passed out when the fake blood hit her face. Sigourney Weaver remembers the smell of the rotting meat that covered John Hurt. Some of the actors almost walked off the set. For his part, Hurt sold it completely with a physical performance and famously mocked the scene later in Mel Brooks' Spaceballs. Almost forty years on, it's still as shocking as ever.
2. 1984 - "Your kind is extinct."
Although many deride the film 1984 as being inferior to George Orwell's novel, it nevertheless features one of the last, great performances by Richard Burton as the interrogator O'Brien. Charged with breaking Hurt's character, Winston, this particular scene demonstrates the physicality of many of Hurt's performances. Before the likes of Christian Bale or Matthew McConaughey underwent physical transformations, Hurt was shifting his entire presence into what was needed in each performance. It's a harrowing scene, but it's Hurt's physicality in it that makes it all the more frightening and distressing. What's even more frightening is that there's a kernel of truth in it. Orwell based the scene on the NKVD's method of showing prisoners their physical disintegration during questioning.
1. THE ELEPHANT MAN - "I am... not an animal!"
It's often cited as David Lynch's greatest efforts as a director, but what makes The Elephant Man is both the incredible makeup and effects - which caused AMPAS, the awarding body of the Oscars, to create the Best Makeup category - and John Hurt's usage of them. Like the greats such as Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Hurt completely disappeared into the role and transformed himself entirely. This scene, in particular showed how much he was able to do with minimal dialogue and, again, relying on his physicality to give a performance life.