He was Callan, The Equalizer, Harry "Breaker" Morant, Tom Weaver, and Sgt. Neil Howie. He was Edward Woodward. And he was no one you wanted to fuck with. Onscreen, at least.
Offscreen, Woodward was decidedly less fearsome. According to Edgar Wright, whose must-read eulogy for his HOT FUZZ cast member is far more eloquent and personal than anything I can muster, the man who kicked a thousand asses on British and American television was a perfect gentleman, and, like so many of his contemporaries, a willing-and-able raconteur. And while I am sad that I never had the opportunity to hear Woodward's stories first-hand, they will no doubt be passed down by the many awed young actors and directors who were lucky enough to work with him.
My first encounter with Woodward the actor came in the early 1980s, when The Movie Channel threw Bruce Beresford's Boer War-set courtroom drama, BREAKER MORANT, into heavy rotation. Though I haven't seen the film in two decades, Woodward's performance as the hard-nosed Australian lieutenant who, with two of his men, is court-martialed by the British for atrocities committed in the fog of a "new war for a new century," made an indelible impression on me. As he rises to defend his actions near the end of the film, I was at once sympathetic with and repulsed by this stern son-of-a-bitch. Turns out, Woodward was giving me an introductory course in the art of dramatic ambiguity (a technique some sorry would-be critics have yet to grasp), and, for this, I am forever thankful.
Like most film geeks of my generation, I must point to Woodward's portrayal of the sexually-repressed Sgt. Neil Howie in THE WICKER MAN as his finest two hours on screen - if only because we've never seen anything quite like it since. And so I will second Wright's suggestion that we all give Robin Hardy's THE WICKER MAN a spin today in honor of the late, great Woodward. If you've never seen it before, please skip any and all plot summaries (as well as the below talkback), and enjoy one of the most original horror films ever made.
For more on Mr. Woodward, here's The Times' obit.
And here's Simon Pegg's remembrance.