LONDON — Paul Scofield, a commanding stage and screen actor indelibly stamped on filmgoers' minds as doomed philosopher-statesman Sir Thomas More in A Man For All Seasons, died Wednesday at age 86.
Agent Rosalind Chatto said Thursday that Scofield died in a hospital near his home in southern England. He had been suffering from leukemia.
Scofield won an Academy Award and international fame for the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons, in which he played the Tudor statesman and author of Utopia, who was executed for treason in 1535 after clashing with King Henry VIII.
But he followed that with relatively few film roles. Scofield was a stage actor by inclination and by his gifts: a dramatic, craggy face and an unforgettable voice likened to the sound rumbling out of low organ pipes in an ancient crypt.
"He had a charisma, a hypnotism, a kind of spell that he cast on an audience, which was an extraordinary thing to negotiate as a young actor," said Simon Callow (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love), who played Mozart opposite Scofield's Salieri in the play Amadeus in 1979. "He was an absolutely towering actor."
Even Scofield's greatest screen role was a follow-up to a play, the London stage production of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, in which he starred for nine months. Scofield then turned in a performance in the 1961 New York production that won him extraordinary reviews and a Tony Award.
Richard Burton, once regarded as the natural heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud at the summit of British theater, said Scofield deserved that place. "Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's," he said.
Scofield's infrequent films included Kenneth Branagh's 1989 version of Henry V; Quiz Show, Robert Redford's film about the 1950s TV quiz-show scandal; and the 1996 adaptation of Arthur Miller's play The Crucible.
Quiz Show brought him a second Oscar nomination, this one for best supporting actor. He played Mark Van Doren, the author and poet whose son, Charles, was the key figure in the scandal.
Scofield didn't seek the spotlight, gave interviews sparingly and, at times, seemed to need coaxing to venture out even onto the stage he loved.
But he said in the Sunday Times in 1992: "My reclusiveness is a myth. . . . I suppose I'm not wildly gregarious. Yes, I've turned down quite a lot of parts. At my age you need to weed things out, but the idea that I can't be bothered anymore with acting — that's quite absurd. Acting is all I can do. An actor: That's what I am."