An Up-and-Coming Actor, He Gave It All Up for Kubrick

Leon Vitali, who played Lord Bullingdon in 'Barry Lyndon,' has died at 74
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 22, 2022 11:47 AM CDT
An Up-and-Coming Actor, He Gave It All Up for Kubrick
Actor Leon Vitali poses for photographers at the photo call for the film "The Shining" at the Cannes Film Festival in France on May 16, 2019.   (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Leon Vitali, the Barry Lyndon actor who became one of Stanley Kubrick's closest associates, has died at age 74. Vitali died Friday in Los Angeles, surrounded by children Masha, Max, and Vera and other family members, per the AP. "Leon was a special and lovely man driven by his curiosity, who spread love and warmth wherever he went," his children said in a statement provided by Masha Vitali. Though Vitali was often described as Kubrick's assistant, Tony Zierra's 2017 documentary Filmworker shed light on Vitali's enormous and largely unsung contributions to the work of one of cinema's greatest figures, from The Shining through Eyes Wide Shut.

Vitali did everything from casting and coaching actors to overseeing restorations. He even once set up a video monitor so that Kubrick could keep an eye on his dying cat. Before meeting Kubrick, Vitali was a rising actor in England, appearing in several British TV shows, including Softly Softly, Follyfoot, Z Cars, and Notorious Woman. Then, in 1974, he got his biggest break yet, when he was cast in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon as Lord Bullingdon, the stepson of Ryan O'Neal's title character. Vitali was so fascinated by Kubrick and his processes that he made an unusual decision: He gave up on acting and devoted himself entirely to the famously demanding director for more than two decades.

His next Kubrick credit was as "personal assistant to the director" on The Shining, though that's only part of the story—Vitali famously helped cast 4-year-old Danny Lloyd to play Danny Torrance, as well as Louise and Lisa Burns as the creepy Grady twins, citing photographer Diane Arbus as inspiration. "I made one truly, truly radical change in my life, and that was when I said, 'I'm more interested in that' than I was in the acting," Vitali told the AP in 2017. After Kubrick's death in 1999, Vitali oversaw restorations for many of Kubrick's films. He received a Cinema Audio Society Award for his work. Vitali later worked with director Todd Field on his films Little Children and In the Bedroom.

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Before making his documentary, Zierra said that he and many Kubrick-obsessed fans knew Vitali for his performances in Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut and as a key member of Kubrick's inner circle. But when they finally met Vitali to make the film, they were struck by "his kindness, humility, and the fascinating scope of his story." Zierra is working on a director's cut of Filmworker that will include new footage. Matthew Modine, who starred in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, tweeted condolences Sunday. "There are people we meet who have a profound impact upon our lives. Leon Vitali was one such person in mine," Modine wrote. "An artist in every aspect of his life. A loving father & friend to so many. A kind, generous & forgiving nature. He exemplified & personified grace."

(More actor stories.)

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