Born to be Bad
There are some actors out there who are destined to play the bad guy. And it’s not only because Americans always cast us Brits as the villain, some actors just have that look. The look that says, I’ll never be your romantic lead, but I’m totally the guy you’re going to run to when someone has trapped a load of hostages in some precarious cliff dangling situation. Some such actors have tried to deny their evil side and play the good guy, but more often than not they come back to the dark side, and the true masters know that hiding in the shadows is exactly where they belong.
One such master is the recently knighted Sir Christopher Lee. Arguably the boogie-man of choice if you’re making a movie. From Dracula to Saruman, Dooku to Scaramanga, no one quite does menacing like Sir Chris. I think the voice has a lot to do with it, that deep baritone is perfect for a dark overlord. In fact, I simply can’t imagine him playing the good guy. I doubt this is something which bothers him, since he’s crafted a pretty damn succesful 61 year career, but I wonder if he ever did want to play the hero. It’s something LOTR counterpart and fellow knight Ian McKellen has managed, juggling Magneto and Gandalf with ease, but then again, Magneto never was that evil…
The American equivalent had got to be Willem Dafoe, the true master of the evil eyes. In the kindest way possible, Dafoe has one of those faces that just says “I’m planning something nasty,” he just looks scary! As the Green Goblin in Spiderman he was flawless, and in Once Upon a Time in Mexico he is equally creepy. He has had some departures into the nice guy arena, even trying his luck as a fish in Finding Nemo, but even there, he was a slightly scary fish! Like Lee, there’s something in his voice which makes him so well suited to life on the dark side and I don’t think it’s something he ever will, or really should, escape.
The next two names that immediately jump to mind for me when listing quintessential bad guys are Alan Rickman and Christopher Walken. Again, I think it’s probably all about the voice. Rickman has played some iconic villains, from the brilliant Hans Grueber to the Sherriff of Nottingham and, of course, Judge Turpin, but he’s also managed to step into the light every now and then, mainly for comic roles (the only thing that saves Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is Rickman’s Marvin).
As for Christopher Walken, anyone who’s seen his entirely silent but undeniably spooky headless horsemen in Sleepy Hollow will agree that he makes a good ghost. He too has managed to escape type casting though, also scoring laughs in Hairspray and playing for sympathy in Catch Me If You Can.
I think persistance as a movie menace depends on the roles you’ve had. If you were Dracula, it’s going to be pretty hard to turn an audience around to your good side, but it seems that one route out is to play for laughs. This defintely worked for the legend that is Robert DeNiro, whose spectacular performance in Stardust has completely replaced my memories of Taxi Driver. Everyone has their favourite villain, and honorable mentions also have to go to Michael Madsen, Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel and Kevin Spacey who have all played a good baddie in their time, but I think the undisputed King of the Dark Side is our very own Christopher Lee.