A Simple Sentence Prepared Peter O'Toole To Play Lawrence Of Arabia

No actor ever looked more at home in front of the camera — or on the stage, according to those fortunate enough to have seen him there — than Peter O'Toole. Blessed with a piercing tenor voice, that tousle of brown hair and those shocking blue eyes, he stirred our souls and, why be coy about it, libidos. Given these advantages, it all seemed absurdly easy for him — but it wasn't. On the contrary, O'Toole often found acting to be something of a struggle.

Despite health troubles that began cropping up in his 40s, O'Toole performed up until the final year of his life in 2013. Two years prior to passing, he graced the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival with his presence for a Q&A with the network's dearly missed host, Robert Osborne. The entire 55-minute chat is currently available to view on YouTube, and it is well worth your time to watch this conversation between two men who've forgotten more about movies than we'll ever know. There are many surprises, but perhaps none more stunning than O'Toole's admission that he could be equally uneasy on stage or in front of a camera.

From the British stage to the back of a camel

In answer to Osborne's question as to whether "it was always comfortable" to perform, O'Toole replied, "[T]o be, say, on the Old Vic stage, which I love, in a play which I love, with actors and actresses who I love, I still find it terribly difficult."

This was especially true during the shooting of David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia," the film that would make him a world-renowned movie star. Lean recognized this, and made a simple observation that palpably engaged the actor's sense of play. As O'Toole told Osborne:

"To be perched nine feet up in the air on a camel, covered in vermin, at a hundred and thirty in the non-existent shade, trying to be Lawrence of Arabia and speak – I thought, 'Well, this is not exactly the Old Vic. I mean, how am I gonna do this?' And we lived in tents, and David Lean came up to me – on the very first day, Robert – and he said, always smoked with a cigarette holder, and he said, 'Pete, this is the beginning of a great adventure.' And that clicked. I thought, 'Right, it's an adventure. If I can say those lines, on a camel, and do it as well as I would at the Vic.'"

It was hard work being Peter O'Toole

As the recklessly bold T.E. Lawrence, O'Toole is everything. He is dashing, inspiring, pathetic, terrifying and utterly abhorrent,   which is fitting for such an enigmatic historical figure. Being asked to capture all of these qualities sounds like a nightmare, so it's a tribute to the star's proficiency that we assume he handled it all with the ease of a natural.

O'Toole received his first Academy Award nomination for "Lawrence of Arabia," and went on to earn seven more Best Actor nods for films as varied as "The Ruling Class," "The Stunt Man" and "Venus." He never won a competitive Oscar, which is, of course, a travesty, but there are some talents that transcend the triviality of trophies. O'Toole certainly belongs in this class. That it didn't come easily to him is both fascinating and frightening. If he had to work at it, just about every other aspiring actor now knows they have to work twice as hard to get within yodeling distance of O'Toole's masterful work.