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Peter Donat worked extensively in theatre, television and film throughout his career.GANSLEN STUDIOS

Peter Donat, a Nova Scotia-born character actor who played a wide variety of classical and contemporary roles in theatre, film and television, died on Sept. 10 at his home in Point Reyes Station, Calif. He was 90.

His wife, Maria, said the cause was complications of diabetes.

Mr. Donat was best known in recent years for his recurring role as Agent Fox Mulder’s father in six episodes of The X-Files.

“Little kids would come running up to him in airports and ask him, ‘Aren’t you Fox Mulder’s father?’ and ask for his autograph," his wife recalled. “So that role really put him on the map.”

But he preferred theatrical work. He performed frequently at the Stratford Festival and with respected U.S. companies, including the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. Over the years, he played Cyrano de Bergerac, Prospero, Shylock, King Lear and Hadrian VII.

“It’s the closest thing to the ideal creative life,” he said of stage acting in an interview with The Honolulu Advertiser in 1984. “I mean, how often can an actor do Shakespeare, Chekhov and a new play, all in an eight-month span? And do TV shows and films in between?”

He worked regularly in television, guest-starring on series such as The F.B.I., Hawaii Five-O, Mannix, McMillan & Wife, Hill Street Blues and Murder, She Wrote, on which he played three different roles over several seasons. On Dallas, he portrayed a doctor who treated the notorious Texas oilman J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) after he had been shot in a famous cliffhanger episode in 1980.

His film career nearly received a significant boost when he was considered for the role of Tom Hagen, the consigliere to Don Corleone, in The Godfather (1972). From a list that also included Anthony Zerbe and Ben Piazza, director Francis Ford Coppola chose Robert Duvall.

Mr. Coppola cast Mr. Donat in a small role as a lawyer in The Godfather Part II (1974) and as Otto Kerner, the U.S. lawyer who prosecuted car maker Preston Tucker for fraud, in Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988).

Pierre Collingwood Donat was born on Jan. 20, 1928, in Kentville, N.S. His father, Philip, was a landscape gardener, and his mother, Marie Bardet, was a homemaker. As a teenager, Pierre wrote and performed plays with school friends in his garage.

He was inspired to act by the films of his uncle, British film star Robert Donat, who won a best-actor Oscar for his performance in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939).

“I think it was very exciting to him that he had an uncle who was such a famous film actor,” Mr. Donat’s wife, Maria, said. He rarely saw his uncle, though. So on one occasion, when he heard that his uncle would be visiting relatives in Connecticut, he rode the bus all the way there from his home in Nova Scotia. His uncle gave him advice on how to become an actor.

After graduating from Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., Mr. Donat toured with the Nova Scotia Players, a group of young actors led by an Acadia professor. They performed in 50 towns in 60 days.

He studied for a year at the Yale School of Drama in the early 1950s, then began appearing in small television roles in 1953.

While working in the United States, he changed his first name to Peter.

In 1957, he took a chance on landing his first Broadway role when he spotted renowned British director Tyrone Guthrie walking in Manhattan’s theatre district with producer Alexander Cohen. The two were collaborating on The First Gentleman, a British costume drama by Norman Ginsbury.

“On the spur of the moment, I dashed across 45th Street and confronted them,” he recalled in 1985 in an interview with the Southam News service in Canada. “I said: ‘Dr. Guthrie, I’m Peter Donat. My uncle was Robert Donat and I’d like to audition for your play.’”

Mr. Guthrie agreed to cast Mr. Donat in the play, which starred Walter Slezak as the Prince Regent of England. For his performance as Prince Leopold, Mr. Donat won a Theatre World Award for best supporting actor. And in his otherwise mixed review of the play in The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson praised Mr. Donat’s Leopold as “the one genuine human being in a palace of courtiers.”

Mr. Donat appeared later that year in the Broadway revival of The Country Wife. In 1958, he had a role in John Osborne’s play The Entertainer, alongside Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright.

That year, he also appeared on stage at the Stratford Festival, in The Winter’s Tale. He performed there for the next seven straight seasons, and returned in later years as well.

In addition to his wife, Maria (DeJong) Donat – with whom he wrote a one-man show about Chekhov that he performed – Mr. Donat leaves his sons, Caleb, Christopher and Lucas; two stepdaughters, Barbara Park Shapiro and Marina Park Sutton; a stepson, Malcolm Park; 11 grandchildren; and his brother, Richard, who is also an actor. Mr. Donat’s 16-year marriage to actress Michael Learned ended in divorce.

Mr. Donat once recalled that his uncle had cautioned him to stay in North America to learn his craft.

“My uncle said, ‘In England, they’ll make you speak with an English accent, which has nothing to do with acting,’” Mr. Donat told The Los Angeles Times in 1968. “I think he didn’t want to see me become a half-baked Englishman.”

With files from The Globe and Mail

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