Tom Wilkinson, a versatile British actor who shook it as a steel-mill-boss-turned-stripper in “The Full Monty”, and explored lives unravelling in Oscar-nominated roles as an imploding lawyer in “Michael Clayton” and a grieving father in ‘In the Bedroom’, died December 30 at 75.
Wilkinson died at home, according to a statement from his representative, Nancy Seltzer, shared on behalf of his family. No other details were given.
In a career spanning six decades, he explored an array of characters and settings that gave him a reputation as a performer who defied easy labelling. "I see myself as a utility player, the one who can do everything," he told the New York Times in 2002.
He put on weight and jiggled his belly to full comic effect as steel mill foreman Gerald Cooper in “The Full Monty“ , a 1997 comedy about a group of laid-off steelworkers who become an all-male striptease act. As bipolar attorney Arthur Edens in the legal drama “Michael Clayton” (2007), he was a prominent lawyer stumbling toward a breakdown.
His breakthrough role for many US movie-goers came in 2001's "In The Bedroom," as a grieving and vengeful father.
He played “Gotham City” villain Carmine Falcone tangling with Christian Bale's caped crusader in 2005's "Batman Begins," and a lonely gay man looking for a lost childhood love in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (2011), a poignant comedy about ageing and adventure set in India with a host of other well-known British actors, including Bill Nighy, Judi Dench, and Maggie Smith.
Even as Wilkinson's film, stage, and TV credits piled up, he often took self-deprecating swipes at the fleeting nature of celebrity. In a 2014 appearance on Canadian television after the release of the Australian crime thriller "Felony" (2013), Wilkinson said it was still "unnerving" to see himself on the screen.
"Increasingly, you know, you look and you think: 'Who is that old, fat man? Oh! It's me!'" Wilkinson joked before turning introspective.
"When I look in the mirror, it's not what I look like that I'm interested in. It's who I am," Wilkinson said. "'Who is this person I've been looking at fairly continuously for a long time?' He's still a bit of a mystery."
Widely recognisable to British film audiences, Wilkinson in the late 1990s scored two BAFTA wins as part of the ensemble for "The Full Monty" and "Shakespeare in Love." Within three years, he would gain recognition from American audiences as a formidable lead opposite Sissy Spacek in the acclaimed indie drama “In the Bedroom”. The film would earn both actors Oscar nominations.
Wilkinson followed his second Oscar-nominated role, "Michael Clayton," with the 2008 HBO miniseries “John Adams”, with his portrayal of Benjamin Franklin winning a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
Thomas Wilkinson Jr. was born on February 5, 1948, in Leeds, England. His father was a farmer, and his mother was a homemaker. The family moved to Canada when he was 5 and stayed for six years before returning to England.
"I was [in North America] between ages 5 and 11, which was just enough time for me to fall in love with [American] pop culture of the 1950s," Wilkinson told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "Though I didn't see a television properly until I was 12 and we were back in England, I read Dell comics, listened to baseball and [would] go every Saturday to the movies."
As a teenager, Wilkinson recalled, the headmistress of his school took a special interest in expanding his education and experiences, even teaching him "which knives and forks to reach for first" and introducing him to the theatre. He directed his first production while in high school, Eugène Ionesco's “The Bald Soprano”.
"After the first rehearsals," he told the Los Angeles Times, "I decided this is what I want to do with my life." He entered the University of Kent in 1967 to study literature, then was accepted in 1970 to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
While working on the British mini-series "First Among Equals" in 1986, he met actress Diana Hardcastle, whom he married in 1988. They had two daughters, Alice and Molly. Full information on survivors was not immediately available.
On New Year's Day in 2005, Wilkinson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to drama, the BBC reported at the time.
He continued to make British and Australian films throughout his career, but his American films led to his most prestigious honours.
Wilkinson's transatlantic upbringing appeared to give him an ear particularly attuned to regional American accents, winning him praise for nailing Maine's distinctive Down East cadence for “In the Bedroom” and a Texas twang playing Secretary of State James Baker in the 2008 television drama “Recount” on the nail-biting weeks after the 2000 presidential election.
Jay Roach, who directed “Recount”, recalled telling the actor the production had offered to hire him an accent coach.
"I was hoping he would say yes," Roach told “USA Today”. "But instead, he said: 'No, no. I'm fine. I have tapes, and I'm practising in the shower.' That's a lovely English way of saying: 'No, kid. I've got it.'"
Wilkinson also said he liked to push himself with parts far out of his own experience, including playing a transgender woman in the 2003 HBO film “Normal”.
In a 2006 interview with the “Daily Mail”, Wilkinson described the ease with which he could adapt to new characters and their backstories: "I just have to mentally snap my fingers."
He most recently reunited with his “Full Monty” co-stars Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy in a Disney+ series of the same name.
Carlyle paid tribute to his co-star, calling him a "real titan of an actor, one of the greats of not only his but of any generation".
American actor George Clooney, who played alongside Wilkinson in “Michael Clayton”, told Variety: "Tom made every project better. Made every actor better. He was the epitome of elegance and he will be dearly missed by all of us."
“Peaky Blinders” actor Aneurin Barnard, who starred opposite Wilkinson in the 2018 black comedy “Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back)”, said he was sad to hear of his co-star's passing.
"One of our wonderful legends that we say goodbye to. Bye for now Tom X," he wrote on social media.