People will sometimes go to a movie because a certain star is in it, but other films look promising simply because of their cool supporting cast. Pete Postlethwaite was one of the guys in that second category: Even if a movie he was in was bad, we always knew that he'd class up the proceedings just by being in it. Sadly, now he's gone, dead at the age of 64 from cancer.
Born in Warrington, England in 1945, Postlethwaite began his acting career on stage before making the leap to movies. His first major film role was playing the dad in director Terence Davies' "Distant Voices, Still Lives" from 1988, but the part he's still probably best known for came five years later playing another dad: Daniel Day-Lewis' in "In the Name of the Father." Postlethwaite received his only Oscar nomination for the role, but it helped raise his Hollywood profile. Soon he was co-starring in "The Usual Suspects," "Romeo + Juliet" and Steven Spielberg films ("Amistad" and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park"). For the rest of his career, he was one of those guys casting directors sought out when they needed a wise, gritty, world-weary authority figure to give their film a certain amount of gravitas.
Like all good character actors, his resume is filled with some real dogs -- "Alien 3," last year's "Clash of the Titans" -- which is the price you have to pay for being in movies that aren't worthy of your talents. But even near the end, he was someone that elevated everyone around him. His turn as Sam Worthington's inspiring Earth father in "Clash" actually made us want to like the film. In "The Town," he had an underwritten role as a local mobster, but nonetheless he was utterly terrifying and repulsive. And his deathbed scene in "Inception" was a crucial emotional beat that helped bring the film together near the end: For those who say that movie has no soul, we point to his performance.
As has been mentioned by others already, Postlethwaite's career as a character actor doomed him to be known as "that guy" by the moviegoing public: You can't remember his name, but he was that guy who played one of the dinosaur hunters in "The Lost World" or that scary guy in "The Town." That's the sign of doing your job properly as an actor: You just disappear into the role, so much so that people don't know the name of the guy who did such a good job in the part. But that face you can't forget.