Born to be Bad

Posted on June 25, 2009. Filed under: Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , |

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.

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12 Responses to “Born to be Bad”

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I saw an interview Christopher Lee. He loves Lord of the Rings and has read it numerous times and it was his lifelong wish to play Gandalf. He has played the good guy a few times, most notably in the classic Hammer Horror The Devil Rides Out. Having said that the film came out in 1968, he did play Dracula and Fu Manchu the same year! Willem Dafoe has played lots of good guys (he even played Jesus) but his best heroic role was Platoon. He played the good Sgt. Elias opposite the evil Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger).

I was actually introduced to Christopher Lee when I was about 10 years old and had no idea who he was. A few months later I saw Dracula on TV for the first time.

Yep he reads all three books once a year. He’s a proper Tolkein expert. I know he was really gutted when he got cut from the third film, thats why I always watch the extended version of ROTK you need that final moment with Saruman (even if it is completely different from whats in the book)

I meant to write about Platoon but i got sidetracked (im really tired today) but yeah that is the most notable hero Dafoe moment. i need to re watch the film, but am i right in thinking we’re not all that certain of SDafoe’s character for most of the movie, they keep him ambivalent so he could be the bad guy. Which is the sort of thing he’s perfect for.

Very jealous of you meeting Christopher Lee, even if you didn’t know who he was.

There are actually a few more when you look at the films he has made.:
Mississippi Burning
Clear and Present Danger
The English Patent
American Psycho

If you haven’t already seen them a couple of great villain roles:
Streets on Fire
To Live and Die in LA
Wild at Heart

I must admit I haven’t seen platoon for years but as I remember it he comes across a little creepy to begin with but it soon becomes clear he is a good guy.

As I remember Christopher Lee lives up to his reputation. He was imposingly tall (remember I was only about 10, my dad is 6” and Lee was noticeably taller) he wore a black suit a sort of smock/coat thing (not a million miles from a cape) and a black trilby he carried a black cane that he didn’t need /use as a walking stick.

That is so perfect. If I was going to meet Christopher Lee I’d want him to dress like that.

Giving my age away that was about 20 years ago. From what I have seen on TV I don’t think he has changed that much just a bit older. (by the way my previous comment should have read 6’ not 6” but you probably worked that one out 🙂 )

Lol imagine a 6 inch christopher lee. that might actually be scarier….

You’re right about Christopher Walken — with a face like that, it’s hard to see him play anything but a villain. Still, I’m glad he’s gotten a chance to take other roles because he’s highly underrated as a comedian. His comedic style is very understated, but when you couple it with his looks (which don’t say “comedian,” or even “mildly humorous fellow,” to anyone) it’s a dynamite combination.

M. Carter at the Movies
http://mcarteratthemovies.wordpress.com/

Good point in comedy roles he is brilliant. I think the fact we’re used to him as the bad guy makes it even funnier. Like Robert DeNiro’s amazing performance in Stardust. That was the most briliant thing I’ve ever seen.

I was never a fan of De Niros’s comedy work but he was brilliant in Stardust but that is such a unique film. I went in expecting to hate it but it really won me over and I loved it!

I loved it (No.49 on The List) Everyone in that film is great but you can see how much fun DeNiro is having with it. It’s sort of like letting the audience in on a joke. Especially since the whole point is he’s this scary pirate with a rep to worry about.

….maybe I need to do a Stardust post….

Good idea, I would be interested to see what you have to say about it. Have you been busy? You haven’t posted anything new for a week.

Done! https://storiesthatreallymattered.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/stardust-vs-the-princess-bride/

And yes I have been, but I’m trying not to go too long without a new post.


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