I’m not exactly sure why, but British actors really seem to relish their villainous roles, do they not? It might be their extensive drama school training. Do they actually practice oozing snobbish and ruthless disdain tinged with a hint of threatening menace?
I daresay the accents alone can intimidate some American viewers. Perhaps there are people out there for whom the dulcet tones of the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish accents are not delightful, but downright sinister. And just maybe they are the people who cast voice actors for the old Disney movies.
Whatever the reason, be it the standards of excellence at RADA or a mild form of xenophobia, British baddies have been the trend for quite some time now. And seeing as Halloween is quickly approaching, I thought now might be a good time to discuss actors who have turned in some of the most deliciously evil performances on the big or small screen. So without further ado and in no particular order…
Alan Rickman – In Die Hard, Mr. Rickman portrayed the suave, intelligent and very dangerous mastermind, Hans Gruber. He played a cruelly racist cattle baron in Quigley Down Under. And admittedly though appearances were deceiving, for many years we couldn’t help assuming that Severus Snape was under the influence of the Dark Lord.
Here I invite you to enjoy Rickman in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as the intimidating yet campy Sherriff of Nottingham.
Tim Roth – From the Incredible Hulk’s nemesis, The Abomination to Archibald Cunningham, the smarmy, depraved, brown noser with a violent streak from Rob Roy, Roth’s name is synonymous with evil brilliance.
And he’s been building this villainous reputation since his very first TV role as Trevor, a 16 year old skinhead in 1982’s Made in Britain.
Jason Isaacs – Mr. Isaacs’ villains tend to be cowards, despite their superior attitudes and sadistic sensibilities. Sure, Death Eater Lucius Malfoy had no qualms about bullying a young Harry Potter just as Captain Hook’s greatest nemesis is a boy who won’t grow up. Possibly the most despised of Isaacs’ characters though is Colonel Tavington from the 2000 film, The Patriot, a solider without honor and a murderer of children.
Anthony Hopkins – This award-winning thespian has played a few real life bad guys in his career. From the cruelly self-absorbed and womanizing Alfred Hitchcock to the morally conflicted Richard Nixon to the outright diabolical Adolf Hitler in his final days, Hopkins is a chameleon of malevolence. But of course Sir Anthony won his Oscar for playing a charmingly horrifying fictional character, Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, a role he went on the resurrect in two sequels.
Ralph Fiennes – Speaking of Hannibal Lecter sequels, Mr. Fiennes has been a bitey serial killer in Red Dragon, as well as merciless and violent crime boss In Bruges, and the very scariest of Harry Potter villains, the slithery Lord Voldemort. But it was Fiennes’ role in 1993’s Schindler’s List as Commandant Amon Goeth that first made our blood run cold.
Let’s not forget the ladies, shall we?
Helena Bonham-Carter – Once upon a time, Ms. Bonham-Carter used to play young, innocent costume drama maidens, but it would appear that villainess roles are her calling. Whether she’s the maniacal Voldemort fangirl, Bellatrix Lestrange, from the Harry Potter saga or the world’s least nurturing mother, Madame Thenardier, from Les Mis, Helena does wickedly deranged very well.
Here she is (with some CGI assistance) in 2010’s Alice in Wonderland as the extremely irritated Red Queen.
Pam Ferris – We all know her now as the blunt, no-nonsense yet dedicated Sister Evangelina from Call the Midwife, but Ms. Ferris has played a number of memorable bullies in her day. Who can forget her cameo in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as Aunt Marge who compared Harry’s mother to a female dog of inferior breeding?
But I’m sure many of us were first introduced to her intimidating presence in the 1996 film Matilda as the terrifying educator and shot put champion Miss Agatha Trunchbull.
Let’s turn now to TV villains. The screen may be smaller but their performances can be just as disturbing.
Andrew Scott – He’s making a name for himself on stage and on the telly, but THE role that places Mr. Scott on this list is his interpretation of the lunatic genius, Jim Moriarty. The Sherlock actor won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor in 2012 based on performances like this one…
Philip Davis – Speaking of Sherlock adversaries, Mr. Davis was the very first of the new batch appearing as the serial killing cab driver from A Study in Pink. He’s also been a Doctor Who baddie in The Fires of Pompeii episode. But his run as the supernaturally evil Captain Hatch in the final season of Being Human is his most demonic role to date.
And last but not least…
Gary Oldman – The king of modern villainy, Oldman’s CV is chockablock full of dastardly characters. Among other things, he’s played violent pimp in True Romance, a ruthless prison warden in Murder in the First, and a futuristic corporate tyrant in The Fifth Element.
It’s difficult to select the seminal creepy Oldman villain so I decided to share a few clips. You may have to look closely to find him as Gary is renowned for his transformative talents.
Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
Mason Verger in Hannibal (2001)
Norman Stansfield in Leon: The Professional (1994)
How does my list match up with your picks? We’d love to have you share your favorite baddies in the comments!
Carmen is an American wife and mother of two college students who live away from home. With her yellow lab Malcolm by her side, she watches and writes about British television for her own blog Everything I Know about the UK I Learned from the BBC. Read more of Carmen’s posts here.