Tom Wilkinson, the actor who could turn a manic lawyer, a steel-foreman-turned-stripper and parts small and large into mesmerizing turns, winning Oscar nominations and plaudits for his performances in movies like “Michael Clayton” and “The Full Monty,” died on Saturday, according to The Associated Press. He was 75.
The A.P. cited a statement from his agent on behalf of his family, which said he died suddenly at home. It did not provide other details.
Wilkinson’s range seemed to know no bounds.
He earned Academy Award nominations for his work in “In the Bedroom” and “Michael Clayton” and delighted audiences in comedies like “The Fully Monty” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”
He appeared in blockbusters like “Shakespeare in Love” and “Batman Begins,” and took on horror in “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” history as Benjamin Franklin in “John Adams,” and memory in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
He often did not have the name recognition or sheer star power of the actors he played opposite — George Clooney, Sissy Spacek and Ben Affleck among them. But he drew audiences’ eyes and critics’ acclaim through decades of work in television and film and onstage.
“I see myself as a utility player, the one who can do everything,” he told The New York Times in 2002. “I’ve always felt that actors should have a degree of anonymity about them.”
To many Britons, though, “The Full Monty,” remains his most beloved performance, as one of the gruff, unemployed steelworkers in Sheffield, England, who scheme to make some money and repair their self-regard by starting a striptease act for the town.
Wilkinson played Gerald Cooper, an aging ex-foreman who joins the cadre in part to escape the ornamental gnomes his wife erected on the lawn.
But Wilkinson’s range extended far beyond comedy, and he was nominated for the Academy Award for best actor for his performance in “In the Bedroom,” directed by Todd Field.
Opposite Sissy Spacek, Wilkinson played one half of a Maine couple struggling in the aftermath of their son’s murder. Field said he was drawn to Wilkinson because of his everyman quality.
“You don’t typically think that Robert Redford is going to live next door,” Field told The Times. “But you believe that Tom Wilkinson could live next door. That’s the difference.”
A few years later, Wilkinson was winning acclaim again as a high-powered lawyer who has a breakdown in Tony Gilroy’s “Michael Clayton.” He was nominated for another Academy Award for his performance in that film.
By then, Wilkinson had been acting for three decades, in theater, television and film.
Born in Yorkshire, England, his parents moved to Canada when he was 4, seeking better work than farming. Their stay lasted only six years, during which time his father worked as an aluminum smelter. The family returned to Britain, where Mr. Wilkinson’s parents ran a Cornwall pub until his father died, drawing Mr. Wilkinson and his mother back to Yorkshire.
Information on his survivors was not immediately available.
Wilkinson said his life took a sharp turn at 16, at the King James’s Grammar School at Knaresborough, where the headmistresses “simply decided she would make something of me.”
This, he said, “meant being invited round to her house, being taught how to eat, which knives and forks to reach for first.”
“We would go to the theater together,” he said. “Having wandered aimlessly through school, suddenly someone took an interest in me.”
But he was not drawn to acting until he reached the University of Canterbury in 1967, he said. After college, he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where he discovered that it was possible for “working-class kids from the provinces” to open art galleries, run rock bands, become designers, be actors.
“All the things that weren’t cool became cool,” he said. “I saw the young, provincial bohemian and thought, that role can be mine. I’ll be in the arts. You can have a life in the arts. Why not?”