On Friday, British actor Ian Holm, whose career spanned nearly 60 years, passed away at the age of 88. Of course, younger fans will always know him from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy where he played Bilbo Baggins.
Jackson took to Facebook to pay tribute to the late actor shortly after his death, sharing a personal anecdote from their time making the original trilogy and also wrote about how he was able to get Holm out of retirement to appear in The Hobbit films.
“Over a decade later, we hoped that Ian would play Bilbo again for the opening scenes of The Hobbit,” Jackson recalls. “Fran and I had dinner with Ian and his wife Sophie in London, and he told us that he was very sorry, but he couldn’t do it. Adding to our shock, he confided that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and could no longer remember lines. He had difficulty walking, and certainly couldn’t travel to New Zealand. Always a private man, he told us that he’d basically retired, but wasn’t announcing it.
This was a blow because we had worked out a nice way to hand the role over from Ian as Old Bilbo, to Martin Freeman as Young Bilbo. I described this to him, and he liked it. I also told him how my mother and an uncle had both endured Parkinson’s for years, and I was very familiar with the effects of the disease.”
“At this point, our dinner – which we thought would be about us describing the new scenes we’d like him to do, and Ian thought would be about him explaining why he couldn’t do it – suddenly turned into a think tank, with Ian, Sophie, Fran and I trying to figure out a process that would allow Ian to play Bilbo one last time. We’re shooting the movies in New Zealand – but what say we came to London and shoot his scenes close to home?
By the end of the dinner he nodded slowly, and said, ‘Yes, I think I could do that’. But I knew he was only doing it as a favour to me, and I held his hands and thanked him with tears in my eyes.”
Despite just one Oscar nomination for Chariots of Fire, Holm had a very prolific career in television, theater and film. A quick glance at his IMDb page shows numerous projects even in his later years. In 1999 and 2000 alone, he had 14 acting credits. The man truly loved his craft and he played everyone from Napoleon (three times, by the way) to a Nazi to a reverend. His versatility also allowed him to act in many different genres, including but not limited to sci-fi, fantasy, action, horror and drama.
Besides The Lord of the Rings, his most memorable role was playing Ash, the android who turns on his fellow crew members in Alien. In fact, this part might sum up his entire career. He was a classic character actor who worked well in an ensemble and whose talent enabled him to rise above and play a key role in a major film.
Despite his small stature and quiet demeanor, the actor certainly had a screen presence. He’s one of those talents who you perhaps took for granted when he was working and now that he’s gone, you realize the brilliant nuance of his performances.
RIP Ian Holm, you will certainly be missed by many.