Pete Postlethwaite, 64, the British character actor with the rough-hewn visage and an Oscar nomination for his role as one of the wrongly imprisoned Guildford Four opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1993 movie In the Name of the Father, died Sunday following a battle with cancer.

A fierce, intense presence in a number of memorable films, Mr. Postlethwaite appeared recently as the tough Boston Irish crime king ensconced in his little flower shop in Ben Affleck's The Town. He was in Terence Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), Michael Mann's The Last of the Mohicans (1992), and he portrayed the mysterious lawyer, Kobayashi, in Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects (1995).

In Baz Luhrman's retelling of Romeo + Juliet (1996), Mr. Postlethwaite plays the priest who agrees to marry Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes' star-crossed lovers. Steven Spielberg also cast Mr. Postlethwaite in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Amistad (both 1997).

In addition to The Town, Mr. Postlethwaite - who did sinister with palpable, but rarely overplayed, force - appeared in two other 2010 releases that were among the year's biggest hits. In Clash of the Titans, he's the weatherbeaten fisherman, Spyros, who pulls the orphaned baby Perseus out of the sea and raises him as his own. And in Christopher Nolan's Inception, Mr. Postlethwaite plays Maurice Fisher, the corporate titan whose son (Cillian Murphy) becomes the target of DiCaprio's dream thievery.

Although his tough, etched features and raspy line-readings (he was a life-long cigarette smoker) gave casting directors an easy reason to pin him as tricksters and criminals, Mr. Postlethwaite had a gentler side and a glint of humor in his eyes that gave depth and nuance to even the most menacing of turns. In the feel-good British art-house hit Brassed Off, Mr. Postlethwaite stars as the harried leader of the band trying to keep his disgruntled troupe of coal miner musicians together. In the hit 1994 BBC miniseries Martin Chuzzlewitt, Mr. Postlethwaite - whose name could have come out of a Dickens' book - was Montague Tigg, the tale's nefarious Ponzi schemer.

Mr. Postlethwaite, born in Warrington, Cheshire, Feb. 7, 1946, taught drama in a Manchester high school before training as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Mr. Postlethwaite's early professional work was with the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, with a company that included Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce and Julie Walters.

Mr. Postlethwaite performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and started, in the mid-1970s, working in British television. He was also active in political and social causes.

Walters, quoted Monday in the British paper The Independent, called Mr. Postlethwaite "quite simply the most exciting, exhilarating actor of his generation. He invented 'edgy.' He was an exhilarating person and actor."

Mr. Postlethwaite, who received an Order of the British Empire in 2004, was famously described by Steven Spielberg as "probably the best actor in the world today" at the time of Amistad's release. In response, Mr. Postlethwaite joked: "I'm sure what Spielberg actually said was, 'the thing about Pete is that he thinks he's the best actor in the world.' "

Mr. Postlethwaite is survived by his wife, Jacqui, son Will, 21, and daughter, Lily, 14.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/