Farewell to Tom Wilkinson, Who Made Every Film He Was In More Interesting

The acclaimed actor died at the age of 75

Tom Wilkinson
Tom Wilkinson in 2005.
Cambridge Jones/Getty Images

Tom Wilkinson, twice nominated for an Academy Award, has died at the age of 75. The Hollywood Reporter had news of Wilkinson’s death, noting that he had died on Saturday at his home with family present. In a statement, Wilkinson’s family “[asked] for privacy at this time.”

Wilkinson’s breakthrough role came in the 1997 film The Full Monty, for which he won a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role; he went on to reprise his character in the 2023 television continuation of the film. It wasn’t his first award nomination, but it — along with a SAG award for the film’s ensemble — were the first awards he’d receive for his acting. It wouldn’t be his last; besides Oscar nominations for In the Bedroom and Michael Clayton, he also won a Golden Globe for his work in the miniseries John Adams — along with several awards from critics’ groups over the years.

What stands out for this viewer is an often paradoxical quality Wilkinson brought to his roles. The haunted aspect Wilkinson gave to his character in Michael Clayton — which echoed Network‘s Howard Beale — contrasted sharply with the leering, predatory energy he brought to his work in Girl With Pearl Earring. Wilkinson brought an entirely different quality to his performance as the inventor of memory-erasure technology in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Wilkinson reportedly disagreed with director Michel Gondry on the set of said film, but that tension doesn’t come through in the finished film; instead, he manages to perfectly articulate the mood of regret that runs throughout the narrative. “I was reconsidering everything at the roots of my profession, and then he’d also do three takes and wouldn’t do any more,” Gondry recalled in a 2014 interview with The Daily Beast. “But he was great in all three takes.”

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Wilkinson’s filmography covers a lot of ground — from Batman Begins to Snowden, and from Selma to Denial. He accomplished the feat of fitting in whatever the nature of the project was, from heady pulp to taut historical drama. As actor Michael Warburton wrote of Wilkinson on social media, “I never heard a word come out of [his] mouth that I didn’t 100% believe.” As acting legacies go, it’s hard to argue with that.

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