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Ray Stevenson, Actor in 'Thor' and Other Films, Dies at 58

His wide-ranging roles included fantasy characters, a knight, a Roman soldier and a Punisher.
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Ray Stevenson, Actor in ‘Thor’ and Other Films, Dies at 58

His wide-ranging roles included fantasy characters, a knight, a Roman soldier and a Punisher.

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Ray Stevenson, a brown-haired man wearing a sports jacket and a white dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, leans his right arm on a raised surface with his left arm at his side in what looks to be a bar or restaurant.
Ray Stevenson in 2011. He was cast in a British mini-series in 1993 and had worked more or less steadily ever since.Credit...Robert Caplin for The New York Times
Neil Genzlinger
May 23, 2023, 5:45 p.m. ET

Ray Stevenson, who in a 30-year career played a wide range of roles in television and films, among them a talkative soldier in the HBO historical drama “Rome,” the pirate Blackbeard in the Starz series “Black Sails” and the Asgardian warrior Volstagg in the “Thor” fantasy movies, died on Sunday. He was 58.

His publicist, Nicki Fioravante, confirmed his death but provided no further details. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica said Mr. Stevenson died on the Italian island of Ischia, where he had been filming a movie.

Mr. Stevenson was born on May 25, 1964, in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, according to the Internet Movie Database. He had begun a career in interior design when, in his mid-20s, he decided to try acting. Seeing John Malkovich in the Lanford Wilson play “Burn This” in London’s West End in the early 1990s was the catalyst.

“I was dumbstruck by John’s performance,” he told the California newspaper The Fresno Bee in 2008. “Everybody else disappeared. I knew at that moment there was something very valid about being an actor.”

He studied at the Bristol Old Vic Theater School in England, where in 1993 he played the title role in a production of “Macbeth.” Before the year was over he had landed a recurring role in a British mini-series, “The Dwelling Place.” He had worked more or less steadily ever since.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Stevenson appeared on various British TV series, including the crime drama “Band of Gold.” He landed his first significant film role in 2004, playing the knight Dagonet in “King Arthur,” with Clive Owen in the title role.

Then came “Rome,” a breakthrough role in a big-budget HBO series about ancient Rome that was the network’s attempt to create the next buzz-generating series after “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos.”

Mr. Stevenson’s character, Titus Pullo, was, as Alessandra Stanley put it in a 2005 review in The New York Times, “a drunken, womanizing lout — a soccer hooligan in sandals.” Titus Pullo’s friendship with another Roman soldier, played by James Purefoy, was among the show’s most appealing subplots, and Mr. Stevenson, a large man at 6-foot-4, seemed on the verge of something big.

“He’s kind of George Clooney on steroids,” Chase Squires of The St. Petersburg Times of Florida wrote in 2005. “By the time ‘Rome’ completes its run, the Irish-born English actor will probably be a star, and a very real candidate to replace Russell Crowe when Hollywood gets tired of that actor’s notoriously bad behavior.”

But “Rome” flamed out after two seasons, and Mr. Stevenson never quite achieved Clooneyesque stature. He did, however, land a number of meaty roles in lavish projects, including three movies from the Marvel Comics universe: “Thor” (2011), “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) and “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017). All three were box-office smashes.

He often referred to the “Thor” stories as “Vikings in space,” and in 2020 he got a taste of the earthbound version of that life when he joined the cast of the long-running History channel series “Vikings.” He appeared throughout its sixth season.

His other roles included a gangster in the 2011 movie “Kill the Irishman” and a British colonial official in the Indian film “RRR” (2022). He also played the vigilante Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, another character based on a comic book. He took on that role in 2008 in “Punisher: War Zone,” after Dolph Lundgren had played Castle in a 1989 movie and Thomas Jane had taken his turn in 2004.

The 2008 movie was an orgy of violence, as A.O. Scott noted in his review in The Times.

“Guys get their heads blown off, or severed, or pierced with chair legs, or pulverized with fists,” he wrote, “because that’s what they have coming and that’s what the fan base will pay money to see.”

His character, Mr. Stevenson told The Oklahoman, was supposed to be not a hero but an antihero.

“He really is on a one-way path and in his own hell,” he said. “You don’t want to be Frank Castle.”

Mr. Stevenson’s marriage to the actress Ruth Gemmell ended in divorce. He and his partner, Elisabetta Caraccia, had three children.

Neil Genzlinger is a writer for the Obituaries desk. Previously he was a television, film and theater critic. @genznyt Facebook

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