Ray Stevenson, who starred in HBO’s Rome, appeared in the first three Thor movies, and played the title character in Punisher: War Zone, died on Sunday in Italy. He was 58 — and would’ve turned 59 on Thursday — and no other details about his death, including its cause, were made available, though the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that Stevenson had been hospitalized on the island of Ischia while shooting the film Cassino on Ischia.
Born in Lisburn in Northern Ireland on May 25, 1964, George Raymond Stevenson was born on a British army base, as his father was a pilot in the Royal Air Force. When he grew up, he moved to London to work as a designer for an architectural firm before “deciding” to pursue acting, graduating from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at age 29. Though to hear Stevenson tell it, it wasn’t much of a decision at all.
“I had to face up to the realization — and it was an epiphany — that what I thought was a decision to be an actor was false. There was no decision to make. It’s a vocation. I had no choice. I had to accept to throw myself into it with no guarantee but to launch and just go,” he said in 2016.
Stevenson got his start in European television before landing a role as a charming gigolo in Paul Greengrass‘ 1998 drama The Theory of Flight and moving on to big studio movies such as Antoine Fuqua‘s 2004 film King Arthur, in which he played Dagonet, one of the Knights of the Round Table. A few years later, he would be cast as Frank Castle in Marvel’s Punisher: War Zone, becoming the third actor to play the vigilante following Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane.
The following decade would bring Marvel’s Thor franchise, in which he played Volstagg, one of the famed Warriors Three. The Asgardian brawler helped Thor in battle before being killed by Cate Blanchett‘s villainous Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. He also earned strong reviews as the lead in the indie Kill the Irishman, which surrounded him with legends like Vincent D’Onofrio, Val Kilmer, and Christopher Walken.
Stevenson also played Theo James‘ father in the Divergent trilogy, and appeared in action-packed studio movies such as G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Book of Eli, The Other Guys, and The Three Musketeers, in which he played Porthos. The physically imposing actor also made for a great villain, chasing Samuel L. Jackson‘s POTUS in 2014’s Big Game before playing the evil governor in last year’s acclaimed Tollywood blockbuster RRR.
On the TV side, Stevenson is best known for playing the cunning soldier Titus Pullo in HBO’s Rome, which is where he said “My life completely changed.” He also played vicious Ukrainian mobster Isaak Sirko on Season 7 of Showtime’s Dexter, as well as the Icelandic wanderer Othere in Season 6 of Vikings. He also played Blackbeard on the Starz series Black Sails and co-starred as Commander Jack Swinburne in Season 3 of the German TV series Das Boot.
However, Stevenson’s biggest role may prove to be posthumous, as he plays a Jedi named Baylan Skoll in the upcoming Star Wars series Ahsoka, which is slated to debut on Disney+ in August. The character turns to the dark side and befriends the evil Grand Admiral Thrawn. He previously voiced the animated character Gar Saxon in Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
“Getting to wield the lightsaber is just the best feeling in the world,” Stevenson reportedly said at Star Wars Celebration this past April. “The first time they handed it to me for the camera test, I couldn’t help myself… I made the noise.”
Cassino on Ischia had only recently started production, and Stevenson had been cast as an older action movie star who heads to Italy to make a gritty film that will revitalize his career, only to be forced to reckon with family drama.
Stevenson had also been set to replace Kevin Spacey as the lead in the historical drama 1242: Gateway to the West, though it’s unclear whether that film wrapped prior to his death.
He is survived by three children he had with Italian anthropologist Elisabetta Caraccia — Sebastiano, Leonardo, and Lodovico. Caraccia was Stevenson’s landlady while he was working on Rome. He was previously married to English actress Ruth Gemmell from 1997 until 2005.