5. Lolita (1962)
Kubrick’s take on the ultimate story of forbidden love is an amazing feat considering all the censorship restrictions he had to deal with at the time he made this movie. It was Sellers manic take on the amoral and creepy American playwright Clare Quilty that helped give a comedic tinge and much needed moments of levity to the film. In fact, the story hinges on Sellers’ chameleon like abilities when Clare disguises himself as the mysterious Dr. Zempf in order to later abduct Lolita. Kubrick praised Sellers performance and acknowledged that his portrayal of Dr. Zempf prefigured Dr. Strangelove. Sellers was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in this film.
Behind the scenes: Prior to making this film, Kubrick hadn’t been that open to improvisation, but Sellers convinced him otherwise. Many Kubrick enthusiasts consider Lolita a defining film in Kubrick’s identity as an auteur.
4. I’m All Right Jack (1959)
Sellers performance in this famous British satire on Industrial life in the 1950’s earned him a BAFTA for best actor and brought Hollywood calling for his services. Sellers portrays communist factory owner Fred Kite who takes on a fight for the rights of his workers. He steals every scene he’s in and delivers a surprisingly powerful and poignant performance in an outlandish story about greed and corruption.
Behind the scenes: After working with Sellers, the makers of this film known (the Boulting Brothers) described him as “the greatest comic genius that Britain has produced since Charles Chaplin.”
3. The Pink Panther (1963)
The film that made Sellers a household name was not originally meant to feature that much of the character that he would become synonymous with. In fact he wasn’t even originally cast in the role, Peter Ustinov was. Ustinov later dropped out and Edwards’ having wanting to work with Sellers cast him as the inept and incompetent Inspector Clouseau. Sellers’ improvisations throughout filming not only altered the story but in turn created a successful franchise. Sellers won the BAFTA for best actor and was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a comedy for his career defining performance.
Behind the scenes: The film was originally meant to be a starring vehicle for David Niven who played jewel thief Sir Charles Lytton. It was during the filming of the spinning globe scene, when Sellers surprisingly fell after he put his hand on it that changed the film and lead to more screen time for him.
2. Being There (1979)
Not only did Sellers receive a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination for this role but he won the Golden Globe and several Critics Awards (National Board of Review, New York Film Critics, London Film Critics) for best actor. This oddly profound film, directed by auteur Hal Ashby, about a simple and sheltered gardener, Chance, who becomes a sage advisor to a powerful businessman and eventually leads to his rise to the top of DC society, even though all his knowledge is derived entirely from what he sees on television, was a passion project for Sellers and the perfect bookend to his career.
Behind the scenes: Sellers was very upset with director Hal Ashby for putting outtakes in the ending credits. He believed it hurt his chances at winning the Oscar because it “broke the spell” of the movie.
1. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Sellers took on three very different roles in what is considered one of the greatest comedies of all time. As milquetoast U.S. President Merkin Muffley, Sellers took on a midwestern accent and faked a cold to emphasize the characters weakness. It is well noted that filming his scenes as this character resulted in multiple takes because fellow cast and crew couldn’t hold it together. As Captain Lionel Mandrake, Sellers pulled from his experience serving in the RAF during World War II by mimicking his superiors. Sellers also portrayed the film’s titular character, the wheelchair bound nazi sympathizer. Even though Kubrick’s mastery drove the film, it’s hard to say that it would be quite the classic it is today without Sellers’ contribution. Sellers earned both a BAFTA and an Oscar nomination for his performance in this film.
Behind the scenes: Colombia Pictures agreed to finance the film on the condition that Sellers play at least four major roles. The studio believed that much of the success of Lolita was due to Sellers’ performance, in which his character, Clare Quilty assumed a number of identities. Sellers was originally slated to play T.J. “King” Kong, in addition to the three he was already playing, but he was reluctant because he believed that the workload was too much. Sellers even shot a few scenes but sprained his ankle and could not handle the cramped cock pit set.
Author Bio: Alex Moore is a filmmaker living in Los Angeles with his B.A. in Drama and Comparative Literature from the University of Washington and a degree in film production from Vancouver Film School in Canada. He will definitely promote something when he has something to promote.