Still, Warner’s neurotic line delivery and manic energy came to personify Hall’s production. Speaking of Warner’s Hamlet, theater critic Ronald Bryden writes: “This is a Hamlet desperately in need of counsel, help, experience, and he actually seeks it from the audience in his soliloquies.” Bryden adds that “[Warner’s] Hamlet communes not with himself, but with you.” Warner characteristically accepts praise for his performance by shying away from it: “I don’t know whether I learnt a great deal about Hamlet, but I learnt an awful lot about myself.”
Warner also notably starred in “Morgan—A Suitable Case for Treatment,” a 1966 film adaptation of David Mercer’s stage play. In the movie, Warner plays the title character, a mischievous angry young man who continually tries to prevent his ex-wife (Vanessa Redgrave) from remarrying. Time Magazine celebrated Warner’s performance by saying that, as Morgan, Warner “catches every kink and twitch of a natural misfit who can only sense progress when he is swimming against the stream.”
Some critics sniffed at Warner’s performance since Morgan was obviously meant to speak to (or simply about) his disaffected generation. So it’s not surprising that Warner didn’t receive any awards until the 1980s, when he earned a Primetime Emmy for his supporting role as Pomponius Falco in the TV miniseries “Masada.” Warner would, however, go on to work with great film directors like John Frankenheimer (“The Fixer”), Joseph Losey (“A Doll’s House”), and Sidney Lumet (“The Sea Gull”). And because good work begets more of the same, those collaborations led to some of Warner’s more iconic on-screen performances.
Speaking with Harris, Warner remembers that Lumet suggested that he work with Sam Peckinpah, and that Peckinpah supposedly delayed the production of “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” in order to accommodate Warner, who couldn’t bring himself to cross the Atlantic by plane. (Warner suffered from vertigo and panic attacks) Warner would notably collaborate with Peckinpah on two other films, “Straw Dogs” and “Cross of Iron.” They remained friendly until Peckinpah’s death, despite rumors that Warner had his name removed from “Straw Dogs” because Warner disapproved of its content. Instead, Warner claimed that his name wasn’t formally attached to “Straw Dogs” because his agents tried to get him higher billing than his name alone was worth. “‘Oh, to hell with it!’ Warner recalls saying. ‘I want to do the movie. Don’t have me on the credits at all. Don’t have me anywhere. Let’s not fight over it. Just ignore it.’”