Prolific character actor Powers Boothe died Sunday at age 68. His more recent TV and film roles included Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nashville and Hatfields & McCoys, and memorable roles in Deadwood, 24, Sin City, Tombstone and Nixon.
At Channel Guide Magazine, we fondly remember Boothe’s role as the Roman general Flavius Aetius in USA Network’s 2001 miniseries Attila.
Boothe gave this thoughtful interview with Channel Guide‘s Karl Paloucek, originally published in January 2001:
Conquest And Democracy
Powers Boothe Talks About His Role In “Attila”
History discloses that the relationship between Aetius and Attila, King of the Huns, was a strategic one. During the fifth century, the Roman Empire held Europe tightly within its grasp. But corruption of its leadership and attacking tribes from the East threatened to undermine its power. Aetius courted a friendship with the most dangerous of these tribes’ leaders, Attila, hoping to harness his power for the good of the Roman Empire instead of constantly having to negotiate the danger he represented. Over two nights, USA Network’s latest original feature Attila (January 30-31) allows the intricacies and complexities of their relationship to come forth.
“It’s amazing how much actual factual data that we can pull up,” Powers Boothe says, talking about the history behind his role as the Roman general Flavius Aetius. “You could find out who was the son of whom and what the relationship was — all those things — relatively easily, and even down to how many men were in a legion and what the formations were, how they actually did battle, how roads were built.” Boothe obviously is pretty engaged in the history surrounding his role.
Best known for his roles in Nixon and Tombstone, Boothe is quick to point out that, unlike most “Hollywood” productions, there is no clearly defined villain in the story. Many of the film’s heroes are fraught with complex flaws that make them seem more human and less idealistic. “I think one of the exciting things, to me, about [Aetius] was he may have been manipulative in some respects, but he was not Machiavellian,” Boothe asserts. “And his goal, as is clearly expressed in the film, is Rome. And the idea of Rome, which is a noble idea. For instance, he had no use for the emperors, but he — and this is historically factual — he never made any attempt to assassinate them or wrench power from them. He, in fact, was like the Kissinger of Rome in that he was a tremendous diplomat in trade and treaties, plus being a great general.
“Of course, we know the problem with the emperors, etc. But the idea of Rome — there’s so much positive that came out of that, that affects our life today,” Boothe continues, reflecting on the impact that even one individual might have over the history of the world. “One of the things I found interesting … if Attila had been victorious, as opposed to Aetius — what [would] the population of Europe and what we know as Italy, etc., have been? Therefore, what would the immigration to this world have been? How would it have changed society or life as we know it … in the world today?”
Boothe sincerely hopes that people will take away from Attila something about the fragility of democratic society, particularly in the wake of the recent presidential election’s ugliness. As a result, he’s that much more thankful for the role. “I’ll tell you — and I’m not BS-ing here — I just feel, as an actor and as a human being, really fortunate to have been able to have been in a project like this that can both entertain and tweak the mind. … They don’t come along very often.” — Karl J. Paloucek