One of England's most respected stage actors of the 1950s, actor-director John Neville's lack of name recognition belied an incredibly prolific career in film and on television over a period of six decades. As one of the more prominent members of London's Old Vic Theatre Company, he made a name for himself in productions of "Richard III" and "Othello," as well as on Broadway in mountings of "Romeo and Juliet," among others. Work on British television in such programs as "The First Churchills" (BBC, 1969) and on stage with Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival preceded his memorable starring performance in Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron von Munchhausen" (1989). In addition to work in such films as "Little Women" (1994), the actor was later remembered for his subtly sinister portrayal of 'The Well-Manicured Man' on the immensely popular television series "The X-Files" (Fox, 1993-2002), as well as in the hit 1998 "X-Files" feature film. Though not a household name, Neville provided audiences on both sides of the Atlantic with scores of nuanced performances on film, television and - for those lucky enough to have been in attendance - the stage.
John Neville was born on May 2, 1925 in Willesden, London, U.K. to parents Mabel and Reginald Neville. Following an education at Chiswick County School for Boys and a tour with the Royal Navy during World War II, he began his theater studies with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Neville began his professional acting career with the ubiquitous role of a spear carrier in a London production of "Richard III" in 1947. By 1949, he was a member of the Birmingham Repertory Company, and the following year joined the famed Bristol Old Vic Company. During the early 1950s, he performed the leads in a wide array of Shakespearean and other classical roles, the highlight of which came in 1955-56 when Neville and Richard Burton alternated the roles of Othello and Iago throughout a revival of "Othello" at the Old Vic. Also in 1956, the British thespian made his Broadway debut in "Romeo and Juliet," followed two years later by a U.S. tour as "Hamlet" and as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in "Twelfth Night."
Back in London in 1959, Neville delivered a well-regarded turn in a West End production of "Irma La Douce" then began a lengthy career as a stage director with an Old Vic production of "Henry V" in 1960. Having accrued several television performances on the BBC over the previous decade, Neville made his feature film debut in the role of Lord Alfred Douglas in the acclaimed biopic "Oscar Wilde" (1960). Soon, more film work came his way, resulting in a headlining turn as Sherlock Holmes in "A Study of Terror" (1965), a British-produced thriller that found the great detective in a battle of wits against the sadistic Jack the Ripper. His imperious embodiment of British patriarch John Churchill in "The First Churchills" (BBC, 1969) was enjoyed stateside when the miniseries was used to launch the revered drama anthology "Masterpiece Theatre" (PBS, 1971- ) two years later.
In 1972, Neville became a Canadian citizen and there he continued his work on stage in such productions as "The Rivals" that year, which he also directed. More directorial efforts came with a 1987 revival of "Othello" for Canada's Stratford Shakespeare Festival, where he served as the artistic director throughout the second half of the decade. Possibly his most notable role - for American audiences, at least - was as Hieronymus Karl Frederick Baron von Munchausen in director Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1989). For his role as the infamous stretcher of truths in the visually-arresting fantasy, the actor endured hours of prosthetic make-up application in order to play the nobleman at three separate 20-year intervals in his life. In a similarly historic vein he ably played Sir Isaac Newton for a 1993 episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (syndicated, 1987-1994).
Neville went on to essay Mr. Lawrence in the remake of "Little Women" (1994) opposite Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon then played an effete guest in "The Road to Wellness" (1994) for British director Alan Parker. The following year he took on the recurring role of 'The Well-Manicured Man,' a manipulative member of the secretive and powerful Syndicate on the long-running conspiracy thriller series "The X-Files" (Fox, 1993-2002). Neville reprised the minor, but pivotal character for the feature film continuation of "The X Files: Fight the Future" (1998). He also worked with indie-director James Toback in "Harvard Man" (2001) and appeared in David Cronenberg's psychological horror-drama "Spider" (2002). In addition to his portrayal as Marmeladov in a modern day adaptation of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" (2002), Neville continued to work periodically up until his final appearance in the short film "Bradfordian Rain" (2010). After suffering from the effects of Alzheimer's disease for an unspecified period of time, the 86-year-old Neville died in Toronto, Canada on Nov. 19, 2011.
By Bryce Coleman