Leo Genn received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Petronius in Quo Vadis.
Leo Genn portrays one of the advisers of the depraved Roman Emperor Nero (Peter Ustinov). Although he always stays by Nero he is very critical of him, but rather than outright show it he only indicates it through small critiques and suggestion he gives the Emperor. Here is a performance that I almost felt like I should go easy on as if the character just is not that complicated, but really this is in all actuality a wasted opportunity. To say how this is a wasted opportunity I suppose I should say how Genn plays the part, and than say how someone else could have portrayed the part.
Leo Genn plays the part as quite a dull supporting turn as a man who is just basically part of the background most of the time. In his scenes when he is advising Nero there is not a moment where you taken attention away from Ustinov and give it to him. There really is not a passion in his performance, and he most just seems to be going through the motions. The same is true in his scenes with Robert Taylor's Roman soldier who is having a clash of conscience. Genn again just plays in a far too standard of a fashion he says his lines he needs to say in his intellectual, but boring intellectual sort of way, and that is it.
His character is suppose to have a transition of sorts but even this is all one scene, and Genn keeps it quite underwhelming. When he comes to his realization that he must do something he merely, comes to realization there is not a struggle that Genn brings to life. His character eventually commits suicide in a scene that is so nonchalant it almost feels like a scene from a black comedy, but not quite so I still can't even give it credit for that. There certainly is no emotions that really come from this scene even though not just one but two people kill themselves slowly. Genn just is plainly dull in the scene which is quite amazing.
I could put this all up that this is just a simple character or something like that, but no I think this could have been a great character. Reportedly Claude Rains was considered for this part, and I must say I would have loved to see him in this role. Really the constantly criticizing Petronius could have been a wonderful sardonic scene stealing presence. If the actor had really fun in the role in just showing how much Petronius is the smartest man in the room he perhaps could have tried to be as interesting as Nero in their scenes together. He could have sly comedic touch that really could have brought life to the part.
In many ways this character is very similar to Charles Laughton's character in Spartacus who is another character carefully working around a crazed dictator, and how Laughton was in that film shows exactly how another actor like Claude Rains could have been in this film. As it is Genn depiction of Pertronius adds nothing to the film there is not a single moment in his performance that is even interesting. He does nothing with the role past just read his lines in a technically acceptable, but also quite boring fashion. His whole performance is just a dull portrayal which is a real shame since the role could have been a true scene stealer in better hands.