16 January 2008 | Brad Renfro (1982-2008)

I first caught sight of Brad Renfro when he was kicking a football around with Bryan Singer on the half-built set of Apt Pupil in Hollywood. He was a kid having fun and that's how I shall always remember him. But he was more than that. He was a proper actor and when we worked together he was determined to be accepted as such.

His success in Joel Schumacher's The Client had lifted him out of his disadvantaged life in Tennessee and swept him into the film industry when he was only ten years old. He told me how the Knoxville police department had recommended him to the casting director, as a reward for having written and produced a short film against drugs, even though he was no stranger to them.

In Hollywood he was a teenage charmer, chaperoned by his beloved grandmother and by his admirers who protected him as best they could from the dangers of being a child in a careless adult's world. On set, he was blusteringly confident although it was obvious he would have benefitted from training as an actor. Yet, as Todd, the disturbed teenager in Apt Pupil, he tapped into an inner demonic world and carried the film on his young shoulders.

Off the set he played football, played his guitar and one magical evening I shall never forget, invited me to his home in the Hollywood Hills. We chatted a bit about acting and his dreams to direct films, to write music and to return to Tennessee. When he heard a dog barking wildly across the valley, he mimicked the animal and the dog replied; a kid at play but capable of growing into someone special.

He longed to belong in the alien world which perhaps in the end overwhelmed him. He was only 25 and it is dreadful we shan't see all that he might have achieved.

With love, Ian McKellen, 16 January 2008

(AP Photo/Jennifer Graylock, file)
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