British actors have a long tradition of playing right villains in Hollywood movies. Whether it’s Basil Rathbone in Robin Hood or Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, British character actors have crossed the pond to prove that just as in music the devil has the best tunes, so in movies he usually has the best lines.
MALCOLM MCDOWELL – When he first appeared on the scene, Malcolm McDowell carved out a position for himself as the young anti-hero, whether it was the rebellious public school boy in If… or the horrorshow ultraviolence of Alex in A Clockwork Orange (you can watch it on CHILI). Although there were some attempts at a more conventional lead – he played HG Wells in Time After Time – his stock in trade was either the amoral cad – see Royal Flash – or the outright villain. A memorably mad Roman Emperor/perv in Caligula, McDowell went on to play a sadistic Nazi in The Passage, a Russian serial killer in Evilenko, a cockney gangster in Gangster No. 1, a post-apocalyptic villain in Tank Girl and a baddie helicopter pilot in Blue Thunder.
ALAN RICKMAN – Following in the footsteps of Basil Rathbone, Alan Rickman played the superlative villain as the Sheriff of Nottingham to Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. His obvious pleasure was so apparent that Rickman seems to be in another movie, rewriting his own script to give himself more scene-stealing deliciousness like his threat to cut off Robin Hood’s head with a spoon. His Hans Gruber was a silky Euro-villain pitched against Bruce Willis’ blue collar cop in the first and best Die Hard. His later performances as the perennial villain Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series gave him the opportunity to play for hisses while at the same time giving those of us who found the boy wizard annoying someone to cheer for.
GARY OLDMAN – ‘Everybody!’ shouts Gary Oldman, the speed freak corrupt New York cop who terrorizes Natalie Portman in Leon: The Professional. At once ludicrous and terrifying, he’s a sweaty, over the top psychopath who dominates every scene he is in. Just as ludicrous, he camps it up in Luc Besson’s Fifth Element, with a Hitler slick haircut and tries to kill Denzel Washington in Book of Eli. Like Malcolm McDowell – an actor he credits with inspiring him to enter the business – he made his name playing anti-heroes such as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy and his football hooligan estate agent in The Firm. Once in Hollywood, villainy was the order of the day with an iconic Dracula. He even played villain/patsy Lee Harvey Oswald in Oliver Stone’s JFK.
RALPH FIENNES – Ralph Nathaniel Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes is famous for playing He Who Must Not Be Named. And with a name like that who can blame him. Although he would go on to play romantic leads in The English Patient and Maid in Manhattan, it was his role as the Nazi villain of Schindler’s List Amon Goeth that really put Fiennes on the map. This portrait of the banality of evil was extended with a weirdly sympathetic serial killer Dolarhyde in Silence of the Lambs prequel Red Dragon. On the more mythic end of the scale is the snake-like baddie in the Harry Potter series as well as Hades in the Clash of the Titans films. And who could forget the terrible toff Lord Victor Quartermaine, who Fiennes voiced in Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit. In Bruges, featured Fiennes in one of his most enjoyable turns as a mad gangster.
CHRISTOPHER LEE – Perhaps the most classic English villain and certainly, with over two hundred feature films in the bag, the most prolific has to be the wonderfully debonair Christopher Lee. He’s played Count Dracula (here you can watch him in Taste the blood of Dracula), Frankenstein’s monster, The Mummy and Rasputin for the legendary Hammer House of Horror studios. He was the leader of a cult in The Wicker Man, the treacherous wizard Saruman in Lord of the Rings, Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels and, of course the triple-nippled James Bond villain Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. Mixing malevolence with panache, Christopher Lee became an iconic presence who nevertheless could turn his hand to other roles when he had the opportunity, such as Mycroft Holmes in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.