ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Five-time Oscar nominee Albert Finney has died. He leapt to international fame in the period comedy "Tom Jones" and went on to play characters as varied as Daddy Warbucks, Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul II. Bob Mondello offers a remembrance.
BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It's safe to say there was no such thing as an Albert Finney type. He was a chameleon. As a dashing young actor, he played working-class toughs and turned down the role of Lawrence of Arabia, giving his drama school classmate Peter O'Toole that star-making part. Instead, that year, he played a fun-loving 18th century rogue who cheerfully bedded every woman who came his way in "Tom Jones."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOM JONES")
ALBERT FINNEY: (As Tom Jones) It's a good night to be abroad and looking for game.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, laughter) Hi, Tom.
MONDELLO: Handsome, sexy, with piercing blue eyes and an Oscar nomination for his first big part, Finney was instantly the romantic leading man of the hour, but he loved to mix things up. His stage Hamlet had British critics calling him the next Laurence Olivier. And within a few years, his screen parts included the miserly old codger Ebenezer Scrooge and Agatha Christie's rasping super-sleuth Hercule Poirot in "Murder On The Orient Express."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS")
FINNEY: (As Hercule Poirot) After the shock of body's discovery, Mrs. Armstrong gave premature birth to a stillborn child and herself died in the process.
MONDELLO: "Orient Express" earned him another Oscar nomination, and he would later receive ones for his desiccated old actor in "The Dresser," his self-destructive alcoholic in "Under The Volcano" and the crusading lawyer who with a twinkle in his eye handed Julia Roberts a check in "Erin Brockovich" and, for pretty much the only time in that movie, rendered her character speechless.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ERIN BROCKOVICH")
FINNEY: (As Ed Masry) I decided that the figure you proposed was inappropriate, so I increased it.
MONDELLO: In real life, Finney had used his own good fortune to boost a number of British New Wave figures, helping to finance the early films of director Stephen Frears and Mike Leigh. And when his big screen career seemed to be stalling in the 1990s, some young American directors - the Coen brothers - gave him a boost by casting him as their brutally dapper Irish mobster in Miller's Crossing, who was never more compelling than when in slippers and a smoking jacket he made mincemeat of a team of would-be assassins without ever discarding his cigar.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MILLER'S CROSSING")
MONDELLO: Finney was never terribly ambitious with his career. He skipped the Oscars ceremonies when he was nominated, including the first time for "Tom Jones." And when offered a knighthood, he turned it down. But from his final appearance as the gruff Kincade in the 007 film "Skyfall..."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SKYFALL")
FINNEY: (As Kincade) So who is it we're supposed to be fighting?
DANIEL CRAIG: (As James Bond) This is not your fight.
FINNEY: (As Kincade) Try and stop me, you...
MONDELLO: ...All the way back to his amorous young rogue in "Tom Jones," Albert Finney never failed to fully inhabit the parts he played. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.