Playing the hero may get you the girl, but playing the bad guy can be a whole lot more fun for an actor. Arguably, no one plays baddies in Hollywood blockbusters better than Brits. But as advancing years reduce the number of sneering, preening arch-villain roles still appropriate for Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman and Anthony Hopkins to play, is there a younger generation of English actors poised to take on their mantles of evil?
Fear not, oh ye worshipers of the loathsome, there are plenty of worthy candidates. Here are five contenders who, based on their early performances as knaves, we consider to show the most promise:
• Mark Strong. The London-born actor, now 47, has come on strong in recent years with several impressive performances as menacing, yet sardonic, gangsters, including in RocknRolla and Kick-Ass, and the megalomaniacal Lord Blackwood in Sherlock Holmes (the 2009 film version). He gets his showiest showcase yet in Green Lantern, opening today (June 17), another of this summer’s umpteen movies devoted to a comic book superhero. Strong plays pointy-eared Sinestro, a galactic guardian for good on a distant planet who helps to train the film’s titular man in tights (Ryan Reynolds) in the use of his superpowers. The movie strongly hints at the end — spoiler ahead — that if there’s a sequel, Sinestro could be representing the forces of evil the next time around.
• Ralph Fiennes. Two words: Lord Voldemort. It doesn’t get more evil than that in the world of Harry Potter. Fiennes, 48, who became a star portraying a sensitive leading man (The English Patient), is following the Jeremy Irons career path, hitting his stride as a big, bad meanie in middle age. As Voldemort, he wins the baddest badass title by, ahem, a nose.
• Jason Isaacs. When it comes to oozing malevolence on screen in the Harry Potter series, almost as fine as Fiennes is the Liverpool-born Isaacs, as the supercilious, long-locked Lucius Malfoy. The 48-year-old actor also earned scumbucket stripes most notably when he portrayed a vicious Red Coat officer plotting to bring down Mel Gibson’s Revolutionary War freedom fighter in The Patriot. For an interesting BBC interview with Isaacs in which he discusses playing villains and Malfoy, click here (that part begins at about 2:39).
• Cillian Murphy. Okay, he’s Irish, but that puts this 35-year-old actor geographically close enough to qualify for this list. With his creepy pale blue eyes and choirboy face, there’s something otherworld about Murphy’s turns as villains. While he stirred up scares as Scarecrow in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, our favorite evil turn of Murphy’s came when he played the seatmate from hell in Red Eye. It put us off flying for months.
• Helena Bonham Carter. So what if she’s not a guy? She’s still a bad, bad dude, leavened with humor, when she wants to be. We just wish she’d do it more often. Did you see her giant-headed Red Queen screaming “Off with their heads!” in Alice in Wonderland? Brilliantly evil (not to mention hysterically funny). Ditto for her Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, a woman not at all queasy about stuffing her meat pies with human flesh. And whenever the London-born Bonham Carter, 45, makes a shivery appearance as Bellatrix LeStrange in Harry Potter movies, we always hoot and a holler.
Which British actor is your favorite to be Hollywood’s next go-to villain?