Veteran stage and screen actor Milo O’Shea died Tuesday, April 2, in Manhattan. He was 86. A native of Ireland, O’Shea made his screen debut in 1967 in “Ulysses,” based on the James Joyce novel. He debuted on Broadway in 1968’s “Staircase,” a role that earned him a Tony nomination. That same year he appeared in two films that showed his unique and quirky acting range: as Friar Laurence in Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and as mad scientist Durand Durand in Roger Vadim’s sexually provocative “Barbarella.”
Born in Dublin to father who was a professional singer and a mother who was a harpist and ballet dancer, his parents encouraged him to pursue his acting dreams. At age 10, he starred in a radio adaptation of “Oliver Twist” and by 17, he was employed full-time in an acting company. After touring with some of Ireland’s major acting troupes, O’Shea moved to the United States where he found work in regional theatre. Financial difficulties forced him to take a job as an elevator operator in New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
His bushy eyebrows and impish smile became his physical trademarks, but he never let himself be defined by it. That he took a campy role in “Barbarella” – which is where I first saw and which remains one of my favorite films – proves that he never took himself too seriously. You can’t in the acting business.