Julian Sands, a British actor who defied typecasting but was best known for his portrayal of free-spirited passion in the Edwardian period piece “A Room With a View,” was found dead more than five months after he went missing while hiking near Mount Baldy in California’s San Gabriel Mountains. He would have been 65.
Mr. Sands, an avid outdoorsman, was reported missing on Jan. 13. Rescue teams undertook a ground search, which was soon suspended because of weather and the threat of avalanches. They continued surveilling the area by helicopter and drone.
More ground searches followed, and on June 24 hikers discovered human remains in the area where Mr. Sands had gone missing. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department announced on June 27 that the remains had been positively identified as those of Mr. Sands and that the manner of death is still under investigation, pending further test results.
Mr. Sands was a mainstay of European and Hollywood movie sets for the past four decades and felt happiest, he once told the Guardian, when he was “close to a mountain summit on a glorious cold morning.”
With his blond locks and blue eyes, Mr. Sands could appear unconventionally handsome or icily sinister, a range that he embraced as he amassed more than 150 film and TV credits over his career.
He delivered his first notable screen performance — small but distinguished — as a photographer covering the Cambodian genocide in the 1984 drama “The Killing Fields.” His breakthrough came the following year in “A Room With a View,” an acclaimed 1985 film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel. Produced by Ismail Merchant and directed by James Ivory, the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three.
Playing the ebullient George Emerson, Mr. Sands appeared opposite Helena Bonham Carter as Lucy Honeychurch, an upper-crust Englishwoman on holiday in Florence in the early 1900s. With his unbridled verve — at one point, Lucy catches George unawares and in the nude, skinny-dipping with friends in a sylvan romp — he reveals to her what life might be like unconstrained by her high lace collars.
In one scene, backed by a soaring operatic aria, George and Lucy kiss in an Italian field under the scandalized eye of Lucy’s chaperone (Maggie Smith). That moment, Mr. Sands said he heard from fans, was “more of a turn-on for some people than an explicit sex scene could ever have been.”
After the success of “A Room With a View,” Mr. Sands moved to Hollywood, although he said he didn’t wish to become “a Hollywood actor.”
“I was looking for something exotic, things that took me out of myself,” he told the Guardian. “I think I found myself a little boring.”
In one of his first post-“Room” roles, he tried an entirely different style of period piece, playing the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in “Gothic” (1986), director Ken Russell’s horror-film version of an actual encounter between writers including Shelley, his wife Mary, as played by Natasha Richardson, and Lord Byron, as played by Gabriel Byrne.
“James Ivory is like an Indian miniaturist, and Ken Russell is a graffiti artist,” Mr. Sands told the New York Times, reflecting on the differences between the two directors. “James Ivory is like an ornithologist watching his subjects with a pair of binoculars from afar, whereas Ken Russell is a big-game hunter filming in the middle of a rhino charge.”
Mr. Sands moved even further from Merchant-Ivory fare as the title character in “Warlock” (1989), about a 17th-century male witch transplanted to modern-day Los Angeles. “As the warlock, I am the prince of malevolence,” Mr. Sands told a reporter. “He’s so totally bad there is something attractive and pure about his evil.”
Reviewing the film in the Times, critic Vincent Canby wrote that “as such nonsense goes, ‘Warlock’ is unexpectedly entertaining.” Mr. Sands again appeared as the witch in “Warlock: The Armageddon” (1993).
Throughout his life, Mr. Sands straddled the American and European film worlds, and he seemed equally at home in art house films and blockbusters.
He ventured into the experimental with his appearance in “Siesta” (1987), about an American skydiver (Ellen Barkin) who awakens on the grass of an airport runway to find herself mysteriously dropped in Spain.
In “Boxing Helena” (1993) — a “pitifully pervy piece of work,” as a Washington Post film critic described it, that drove Kim Basinger and Madonna from the cast — Mr. Sands played a surgeon who amputates the arms and legs of a woman who is the object of his desire.
“It just got the worst reviews and was dismissed as kind of pornographic,” Mr. Sands told the Guardian. “But, actually, the poetic and political content is, I think, very enduring.”
In the more popular category, he appeared memorably as Dr. James Atherton, an entomologist, in “Arachnophobia” (1990), about a killer South American spider that invades the United States.
“The fortunate thing about ‘Arachnophobia’ is that I don’t have arachnophobia,” Mr. Sands told an interviewer years later, referring to the fear of spiders. “Although my nerves were challenged in the death scene, when I had to have about 200 of these small, little spiders on my face. … It was all real, no CGI. … Yeah. That was a memory.”
He said he found no conflict between the two poles of his work, the high brow and the low.
“I don’t apologize to either camp. Though sometimes they feel I should,” he told the Guardian. “Quite a lot of films in Europe have depth and subtlety and nuance — which may or may not translate into a good movie. Some of the American films like ‘Warlock’ … or ‘Arachnophobia’ are much more like being in a cartoon. To play the character makes slighter demands on one’s emotion, intellect, imagination, but the demand on one’s technical skills is quite sharp.”
Mr. Sands was born in the town of Otley in West Yorkshire. According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, his full name was Julian Richard Sands, and he was born Jan. 4, 1958.
Mr. Sands’s father conducted agricultural soil surveys, and his mother, a secretary at a garage, was an amateur actress. Mr. Sands was still a child when she took him to see Laurence Olivier in a production of Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” sparking his interest in acting.
Mr. Sands studied at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London before embarking on his career. One of his first roles was in the British TV miniseries “A Married Man,” starring Anthony Hopkins as a tortured adulterer.
Even after “A Room With a View,” historical films maintained their pull on Mr. Sands. He played the 19th-century composer Franz Liszt in “Impromptu” (1991) and King Louis XIV of France in “Vatel” (2000). Thrillers and horror films, too, attracted him through his life; his more recent credits included “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), based on the novel by the Swedish writer Stieg Larsson.
Through his work in “The Killing Fields,” Mr. Sands formed an enduring friendship with American actor John Malkovich, who also appeared in the film. Malkovich directed the one-man play “A Celebration of Harold Pinter,” which premiered in 2011 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Mr. Sands in the title role of the Nobel Prize-winning English playwright and poet.
Mr. Sands’s marriage to the former Sarah Harvey ended in divorce. He was married in 1990 to Evgenia Citkowitz. He had a son from his first marriage, Henry, and two daughters from his second marriage, Natalya and Imogen, but a complete list of survivors was not immediately available.
“What has always interested me about actors isn’t the peaks and troughs but their endurance, their resilience, their maturing response to material, either at the highest level or the most humble,” Mr. Sands once said. “One isn’t conscious of a pattern being formed but one sees it retrospectively, as if someone were unrolling the stair-carpet behind you. I’m a great believer in providence.”