News came in late this week that the much-loved and gifted actor, Sir Ian Holm had passed on. He died peacefully, at his home in the early hours of 19th June 2020, according to accounts. His family and carer were with him. The actor’s agent confirmed that he had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, and his death was related to it. The news has left many fans saddened, including all at Sci-fi Pulse. We’d like to take a look back at his life. The best way to do that is highlighting some of his many performances, and how his depictions of many characters from the realm of science-fiction, fantasy, children’s literature and the world of theatre.
Bilbo Baggins is the first role that springs to mind, although that was his last film role (he returned to the role for the follow up “Hobbit” films, too). Certainly, this was his most high-profile role and one that he played with magnificence, and in many ways absolutely epitomised everything that hobbits are. He brought Tolkien to life in a way that perhaps no other character in the films could, and definitely no other character. That role encompassed so much and showed the range of his acting abilities. He juggled cheekiness, playfulness and impishness with a sense of foreboding and darkness, with ease. Maybe this was the culmination of all of the skills and acting know-how that he had acquired over the many years of an impressive back-catalogue of performances; his impressive career was one that included many lauded depictions on the stage, too. Like many great actors, that’s where he began to learn what it takes to hold audiences in the palm of the hand, and really get to grips with roles.
In 1950 a young Holm (full name Ian Holm Cuthbert) was enrolled at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and once he graduated would soon become a well-known star of the stage within the world of theatre and performing arts. His studies were put on temporary hold, however, as he was called up to do his National Service. Following that he also volunteered to join other actors on a tour of America. He finished his studies in 1953 and soon went on to show that he was an actor with a great gift to offer the world.
An early Shakespearian role that he made his own was that of Richard III in 1965. Holm continued to wow, with many appearances and soon found himself winning his first award that very year, an Evening Standard Award for his performance in Henry V. That was followed by winning a Tony Award in 1967, for The Homecoming (1965), a play written by Harold Pinter only two years earlier. Often awards are won by depictions of characters that have had a great many incarnations. Holm made the role of Lenny his own immediately, cementing his status as an actor who could really stamp his acting chops onto a role. It’s perhaps his first major award in 1968 for The Bofors Gun (1968) that gave him the status of eternal “supporting” actor role. That’s the category he was nominated and won in, for his role as Gunner Flynn. He may always have seemed to be the “other guy”, but that shouldn’t for one second take anything away from his contributions to anything he was a part of. There were performances that made sure that without him in it the films just wouldn’t be the same.
The role of Ash, in Alien (1979) is another that Holm is best known for. Especially among the many visitors to Sci-fi Pulse and other members of the sci-fi community. Legendary doesn’t quite cut it . . . playing an android requires playing the part of “most human”, and takes great skill to capture the nuances and details that set homo sapiens apart from other life on the planet. Holm excelled at this, managing to also convey the secrecy of an agent, too, meaning he had to go the extra-mile in masking his true nature and self. Holm wore that mask with aplomb and whilst he wasn’t recognised by any awards for his performance, he helped set the standard for such portrayals, being the first major star to do so in a way that hadn’t been done before. Not only would the film have been lesser, but perhaps the trope of androids as staple in sci-fi screen and cinema would be too. That’s no small achievement. Awards don’t acknowledge everything.
Later on in his career, to many children (I’m in that category) who grew up in the 80s and early 90s, Holm will always be Pod Clock, from the serialised T.V. show The Borrowers, adapted from the novel of the same name. This was his show, in many ways; his size shouldn’t be called a diminutive stature, as he filled the screen with his charm and sensitivity. He led and soon became endeared to kids up and down the country, long before the internet. That was all there was. He helped make sure that the show was well received and again showed his skills at bringing people off the page, onto the screen.
And so, we’re back to Holm as Bilbo. Of course, there were many other wonderful appearances and performances in between, too. Also a whole host of other award nominations and wins, a notable one being in 1998 that saw Holm gain an Olivier Award for depicting King Lear in the the play of the same name. There are few actors who have achieved what Holm has, and have the respect of their peers as he does. Rightly so, too. It really did seem to culminate with him as Bilbo, in a wonderful depiction that you just can’t see any other acting getting close to. That role was the culmination of a career for an actor who had talent, charm, dedication and earned his place in the hearts of millions. We were lucky to get to see more of it in 2012 and 2014, too. A swan-song of a truly great actor. Here at Sci-fi Pulse we like to think that Holm was gone with the elves, into the west — just as his character does, to find peace and enjoy existing elsewhere, for a long time yet to come. He leaves behind a family, and an army of fans at least as big as any Tolkien dreamed up. His undeniable legacy will definitely remain, and the world of entertainment stay all the richer for his vast contributions.