/ 27 May 2008

Film director Sydney Pollack dies

Hollywood filmmaker Sydney Pollack, who won a pair of Academy Awards for the epic romance Out of Africa and earned praise for his acting stints in films such as Tootsie and Michael Clayton, died on May 26 after a battle with cancer, his spokesperson said. He was 73.

Pollack, whose illness first came to public attention after unspecified health issues led him to withdraw last August as director of an HBO television movie, died at his home in the coastal Los Angeles suburb of Pacific Palisades at about 5pm local time, surrounded by his family.

Spokesperson Leslee Dart said Pollack was diagnosed with cancer about 10 months ago, but doctors were never able to determine the primary source of the disease.

He had devoted more time to producing and acting in later years and is currently in theatres playing Patrick Dempsey’s serial-dating father in the romantic comedy Made of Honor.

The tall, curly-haired Indiana native, who got his start as an acting coach under legendary drama teacher Sanford Meisner before becoming a prominent TV director, once described his acting stints as “an excuse to spy on other directors”.

“Directors are very territorial,” he told CNN.com in a 2005 interview. “They’re like lions, urinating on every corner of the stage.”

The time Pollack spent on either side of the camera served him well on both.

The Directors Guild of America issued a statement on May 26 saluting him as “the quintessential ‘actor’s director'” and a gifted filmmaker who “let the dialogue and the emotion of a scene speak for itself”.

He drew Oscar attention as recently as last year, playing a prominent supporting role as George Clooney’s boss in the legal thriller Michael Clayton, for which he served as a producer and shared a best picture Academy Award nomination.

But his biggest triumph came with the 1985 drama, Out of Africa. Based on Isak Dinesen’s 1937 memoir, the film starred Meryl Streep as the Danish owner of a coffee plantation in Kenya and Robert Redford as an American-born adventurer with whom she falls in love.

More triumphs than failures

The movie earned 11 Academy Award nominations in all and seven wins, including Pollack’s Oscars for best picture and director.

He followed that film five years later with the 1990 drama Havana, a critical and commercial flop that also starred Redford, this time as a cynical gambler who becomes involved with a Cuban revolutionary in 1958.

Still, Pollack scored many more triumphs than failures, earning Oscar nominations for directing Jane Fonda in the Depression-era drama They Shoot Horses, Don’t They — his first major success — and Dustin Hoffman in the cross-dressing comedy Tootsie.

Pollack himself played a small but memorable role as Hoffman’s agent in Tootsie, which also earned him a nomination for best picture (as one of its producers) and earned a best supporting-actress award for Jessica Lange.

In one of his more recent roles, Pollack made a guest turn on the HBO mob drama The Sopranos as a former physician imprisoned for killing his family. He also had a recurring part on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace, as Eric McCormack’s philandering dad.

On the big screen, Pollack appeared in Robert Altman’s The Player, Robert Zemeckis’s Death Becomes Her and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

Pollack and Redford made their feature acting debuts together in the 1962 film War Hunt. The two went on to collaborate on seven films with Pollack as director, including Three Days of the Condor, The Way We Were with Barbra Streisand and The Electric Horseman with Jane Fonda.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Pollack served as producer on a string of film projects directed by other filmmakers, including Presumed Innocent, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Sense and Sensibility and The Talented Mr Ripley.

After a lengthy hiatus from the director’s chair, Pollack returned in 2005 to direct the United Nations-based thriller The Interpreter starring Nicole Kidman.

The same year, he directed his first and only documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry, about the famed architect. — Reuters

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