NEW YORK — Roy Dotrice, a British stage, film, and television actor who began performing as a prisoner of war in Germany and worked in Britain and America for six decades, notably in one-man shows portraying Abe Lincoln, the diarist John Aubrey, and other historical figures, died Monday at his home in London. He was 94.
His family confirmed the death, the Associated Press reported.
Hailed by critics for suffusing his character with fine-tuned blarney, malevolent passions, and brooding gloom, Mr. Dotrice won the Tony Award for best featured actor in 2000 for his portrait of the conniving Irish father and pig farmer in an acclaimed Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” with Gabriel Byrne and Cherry Jones.
Reviewing the production in The New York Times, Ben Brantley wrote, “To watch Ms. Jones, Mr. Byrne and Roy Dotrice, who completes the triangle of principal performers, react to one another is to realize the degree to which O’Neill’s last completed play is about how everyone is an actor, a deceiver, by necessity.”
Mr. Dotrice appeared in more than 50 plays in London, New York, and other cities, not counting some 300 more as a young British repertory stalwart. He performed for nine years with the troupe that became the Royal Shakespeare Company, took scores of roles in television and Hollywood films, and became familiar to millions on television series and miniseries broadcast on both sides of the Atlantic.
With a nimble voice that evoked creatures from realms of fantasy, Mr. Dotrice was a popular storyteller on albums and audiobooks. He narrated the epic tales of “The Lion King,” the adventures of Richard Adams’s rabbits in “Watership Down,” and the myriad characters of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the fantasy books by George R.R. Martin that were adapted for the hit HBO series “Game of Thrones.” He also had a small role in “Game of Thrones,” as Hallyne the Pyromancer, the head alchemist in the city of King’s Landing.
But Mr. Dotrice was perhaps best known for one-man shows, including “Brief Lives,” a portrayal of the 17th-century writer John Aubrey, which opened in London in 1967 and ran intermittently there and in the United States for years. Onstage for 2½ hours, his Aubrey ruminated insightfully on the lives of English worthies of his Elizabethan age. “Brief Lives,” became one of the most successful solo productions of its generation, and won Mr. Dotrice a mention for a time in the Guinness Book of Records, with 1,782 nonconsecutive performances. (Hal Holbrook went on to give more nonconsecutive performances as Mark Twain.)
In another one-man tour de force, in 1980, Mr. Dotrice starred in Herbert Mitgang’s “Mister Lincoln” at Ford’s Theater in Washington, where Lincoln was slain in 1865, and later on Broadway and on PBS. He had immersed himself for months in Lincoln’s life, and colleagues said his renderings of Lincoln, and especially of the Gettysburg Address, were performances of remarkable subtlety and power. Mitgang, who wrote the play, was the author of two biographies of Lincoln.
“The role of Lincoln is probably one of the hardest to play of any historical character,” Frankie Hewitt, the play’s executive producer, told the Times. “If you try to humanize him, it can get corny and awkward, and if you try to play him larger than life, he is turned into a Disney World mechanical Lincoln. But Roy is such a superb actor, he succeeds where everyone else has basically failed.”
Roy Dotrice was born on the Island of Guernsey, a British dependency off the French coast, on May 26, 1923, to Louis Dotrice, a Belgian pastry chef, and the former Neva Wilton, an English baker. In 1940, when Nazi troops occupied Guernsey, Roy and his mother escaped to Britain, where he joined the Royal Air Force and became a radio operator and gunner in a bomber.
On a raid in 1942, his plane was shot down over the Baltic. He and a few other survivors floated in a dinghy for days and were washed ashore. They were captured and spent the rest of the war as prisoners in Germany.
To keep captive spirits up in the stalag, the prisoners staged makeshift plays. Mr. Dotrice’s first role was the Fairy Godmother in “Cinderella.”
“We didn’t have any real women, unfortunately,” he said.
After the war, he rejected a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and plunged into acting.
For 12 years he performed in, and sometimes directed, hundreds of plays in repertory companies, in a thespian grind of lines, characters, plots, and venues: Liverpool, Manchester, and, he said, “every dreary North Country town.”