Lawrence of Arabia: Characters and Actors–How Peter O’Toole Landed the Lead?

Casting the Lead, Lawrence of Arabia:

Peter O’Toole as T. E. Lawrence. Albert Finney was unknown at the time, but he was Lean’s first choice to play Lawrence. Finney was cast and began principal photography but was fired after 2 days for reasons unclear.

Marlon Brando was also offered the part, and Anthony Perkins and Montgomery Clift were briefly considered before O’Toole was cast.

Alec Guinness had previously played Lawrence in the play Ross and was briefly considered for the part, but David Lean and Sam Spiegel thought him too old.

Lean had seen O’Toole in The Day They Robbed the Bank of England and was impressed by his screen test, proclaiming, “This is Lawrence!”

Spiegel disliked Clift, having worked with him on Suddenly, Last Summer. Spiegel eventually acceded to Lean’s choice, though he disliked O’Toole after seeing him in unsuccessful screen test for Suddenly, Last Summer.

Pictures of Lawrence suggest also that O’Toole bore some resemblance to him, though at 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) tall O’Toole was significantly taller than Lawrence. O’Toole’s looks prompted a different reaction from Noël Coward, who quipped after seeing the première of the film, “If you had been any prettier, the film would have been called Florence of Arabia”.

Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal

Faisal was originally to be portrayed by Laurence Olivier. Guinness performed in other David Lean films, and he got the part when Olivier dropped out. Guinness was made up to look as much like the real Faisal as possible; he recorded in his diaries that, while shooting in Jordan, he met several people who had known Faisal who actually mistook him for the late prince. Guinness said in interviews that he developed his Arab accent from a conversation that he had with Omar Sharif.

Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi

Quinn got very much into his role; he spent hours applying his own makeup, using a photograph of the real Auda to make himself look as much like him as he could. One anecdote has Quinn arriving on-set for the first time in full costume, whereupon Lean mistook him for a native and asked his assistant to ring Quinn and notify him that they were replacing him with the new arrival.

Jack Hawkins as General Allenby

Sam Spiegel pushed Lean to cast Cary Grant or Laurence Olivier (who was engaged at the Chichester Festival Theatre and declined). Lean convinced him to choose Hawkins because of his work for them on The Bridge on the River Kwai. Hawkins shaved his head for the role and reportedly clashed with Lean several times during filming. Guinness recounted that Hawkins was reprimanded by Lean for celebrating the end of a day’s filming with an impromptu dance. Hawkins became close friends with O’Toole during filming, and the two often improvised dialogue during takes to Lean’s dismay.

Omar Sharif as Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish

The role was offered to many actors before Sharif was cast. Horst Buchholz was the first choice but had already signed on for the film One, Two, Three. Alain Delon had a successful screen test but ultimately declined because of the brown contact lenses he would have had to wear. Maurice Ronet and Dilip Kumar were also considered.[13] Sharif, who was already a major star in the Middle East, was originally cast as Lawrence’s guide Tafas, but when the aforementioned actors proved unsuitable, Sharif was shifted to the part of Ali. A combination of numerous Arab leaders, particularly Sharif Nassir—Faisal’s cousin, who led the Harith forces involved in the attack on Aqaba, this character was created largely because Lawrence did not serve with any one Arab leader (aside from Auda) throughout the majority of the war; most such leaders were amalgamated in Ali’s character.

José Ferrer as the Turkish Be.

Ferrer was initially unsatisfied with the small size of his part and accepted the role only on the condition of being paid $25,000 (more than O’Toole and Sharif combined) plus a Porsche car.

However, he afterwards considered this his best film performance, saying in an interview: “If I was to be judged by any one film performance, it would be my five minutes in Lawrence.” Peter O’Toole once said that he learned more about screen acting from Ferrer than he could in any acting class. According to Lawrence himself in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, this was General Hajim Bey (in Turkish, Hacim Muhiddin Bey), though the film doesn’t name him. Some biographers (Jeremy Wilson, John Mack) argue that Lawrence’s account is to be believed; others, including Michael Asher and Lawrence, James argue that contemporary evidence suggests that Lawrence never went to Deraa at this time and that the story is invented.

Anthony Quayle as Colonel Harry Brighton

Quayle, a veteran of military roles, was cast after Jack Hawkins, the original choice, was shifted to the part of Allenby. Quayle and Lean argued over how to portray the character, with Lean feeling Brighton to be an honourable character, while Quayle thought him an idiot. In essence a composite of all of the British officers who served in the Middle East with Lawrence, most notably Lt. Col. S. F. Newcombe (in Michael Wilson’s original script, the character was named Colonel Newcombe, before Robert Bolt changed it). Newcombe, like Brighton in the film, was Lawrence’s predecessor as liaison to the Arab Revolt; he and many of his men were captured by the Turks in 1916, but he later escaped. Brighton was created to represent how ordinary British soldiers would feel about a man like Lawrence: impressed by his accomplishments but repulsed by his affected manner.

Claude Rains as Mr. Dryden

Like Sherif Ali and Colonel Brighton, Dryden was an amalgamation of several historical figures, primarily Ronald Storrs, a member of the Arab Bureau, but also David George Hogarth, an archaeologist friend of Lawrence; Henry McMahon, the High Commissioner of Egypt who negotiated the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence which effectively trigged the Arab Revolt; and Mark Sykes, who helped draw up the Sykes–Picot Agreement which co-divided the post-war Middle East. Robert Bolt stated that the character was created to “represent the civilian and political wing of British interests, to balance Allenby’s military objectives.”

Arthur Kennedy as Jackson Bentley

In the early phase of production, when the Bentley character had more prominent role in the film, Kirk Douglas was considered for the part; Douglas expressed interest but demanded a star salary and the highest billing after O’Toole and thus was turned down by Spiegel.

Later, Edmond O’Brien was cast in the part. O’Brien filmed the Jerusalem scene, and (according to Omar Sharif) Bentley’s political discussion with Ali, but he suffered a heart attack on location and had to be replaced at the last moment by Kennedy, who was recommended to Lean by Anthony Quinn.

The character was based on famed American journalist Lowell Thomas, whose reports helped make Lawrence famous. However, Thomas was a young man at the time who spent only weeks at most with Lawrence in the field, unlike Bentley, who is a middle-aged man present for all of Lawrence’s later campaigns. Bentley was the narrator in Wilson’s original script, but Bolt reduced his role significantly in the final treatment.

Donald Wolfit as General Murray

He releases Lawrence to Mr. Dryden. Calls the British occupying Arabia as “a sideshow of a sideshow.”

I. S. Johar as Gasim. Johar was a well-known Indian actor who occasionally appeared in international productions.

Gamil Ratib as Majid. Ratib was a veteran Egyptian actor. His English was not considered good enough, so he was dubbed by Robert Rietti (uncredited)[citation needed] in the final film.

Michel Ray as Farraj. At the time, Ray was an up-and-coming Anglo-Brazilian actor who had previously appeared in several films, including Irving Rapper’s The Brave One and Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star.

John Dimech as Daud

Zia Mohyeddin as Tafas. Mohyeddin, one of Pakistan’s best-known actors, played a character based on his actual guide Sheikh Obeid el-Rashid of the Hazimi branch of the Beni Salem, whom Lawrence referred to as Tafas several times in Seven Pillars.

Howard Marion-Crawford as the medical officer. He was cast at the last possible minute during the filming of the Damascus scenes in Seville. The character was based on an officer mentioned in an incident in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence’s meeting the officer again while in British uniform was an invention of the script.

Jack Gwillim as the club secretary. Gwillim was recommended to Lean for the film by close friend Quayle.

Hugh Miller as the RAMC colonel. He worked on several of Lean’s films as a dialogue coach and was one of several members of the film crew to be given bit parts (see below).

Peter Burton as a Damascus sheik (uncredited)

Kenneth Fortescue as Allenby’s aide (uncredited)

Harry Fowler as Corporal William Potter (uncredited)

Jack Hedley as a reporter (uncredited)

Ian MacNaughton as Corporal Michael George Hartley, Lawrence’s companion in O’Toole’s first scene (uncredited)

Henry Oscar as Silliam, Faisal’s servant (uncredited)

Norman Rossington as Corporal Jenkins (uncredited)

John Ruddock as Elder Harith (uncredited)

Fernando Sancho as the Turkish sergeant (uncredited)

Stuart Saunders as the regimental sergeant major (uncredited)

Bryan Pringle as the driver of the car which takes Lawrence away at the end of the film (uncredited)