Hal Holbrook and Sean Penn "Wild" about each other

Thu Jan 3, 2008 8:40am EST
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By Carly Mayberry

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - In 1981 when Hal Holbrook was working on the TV movie "The Killing of Randy Webster," a quiet, young actor on the set drew his attention.

"You couldn't help but notice him," Holbrook says. "He was obviously talented."

Sensing a certain unawareness -- even doubt -- in the young actor about his own talent, Holbrook and his wife, Dixie Carter, made it a point one day to let him know just how good his acting was. Some time later, they received a letter in the mail from the young man thanking them for their words of encouragement.

"It was so beautifully written. I have never forgotten it," Holbrook says.

Twenty-seven years later, Holbrook has even more reason to recall that letter and is returning his gratitude to its sender as he racks up critical praise and Oscar buzz for his role as widower Ron Franz in "Into the Wild." It's a part that was offered to him by the film's director-writer, Sean Penn -- Holbrook's correspondent from years earlier.

"You don't get in contention for awards in this business if you don't get the role -- you have to get the part," Holbrook says. "This role allows people to see me in a way they've never seen me before. But to give me this, Sean has given me a gift."

Holbrook, long associated with playing the distinguished older man usually involved in some sort of conspiracy ("The Star Chamber," "Capricorn One," "All the President's Men") or a historical figure ("Sandburg's Lincoln") or politician ("The Senator"), is no stranger to receiving accolades for his performances. He has won four Emmys and collected numerous other Emmy nominations for about 50 telepics and miniseries while performing his one-man show "Mark Twain Tonight!" onstage for more than 53 years.

"I'm indebted to the Mark Twain character that I've done for so many years, and it's a great relief to get on the stage and play him," Holbrook says. "But I never wanted it to get in the way of being an actor, and I have never thought of myself as being a star. I just wanted to be the best actor I could possibly be."   Continued...

<p>In this file photo U.S. director and actor Sean Penn poses at the premiere of "Into the Wild" at Leicester Square during the London film festival October 25, 2007. REUTERS/Anthony Harvey</p>