Brit actors should embrace villainy
By Daniel Bettridge
Reports suggest that former Doctor Who Christopher Ecclestone is set to play the villain in Marvel’s upcoming sequel Thor: The Dark World. The Lancastrian actor’s affinity with villainy is of course nothing new, after all he’s shown up as everything from a dodgy car thief in Gone in Sixty Seconds to the villainous Destro in 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
He’s not the first Brit to play a bad guy either. For decades our actors have been turning up as scoundrels in big budget blockbusters, and doing a pretty good job of it too, but why?
A lot of it has to do with the accent. Cinema, especially in the form of mass marketed studio flicks, is typically built on stereotypes. Modern movies are crammed full of easily recognisable characters designed to appeal to as large a percentage of the audience as possible. In the same vein the upper class English accent has become a by-word for bad guys, just like the Russian heavies of Cold War era flicks or the black clad knights of films long before.
It’s easy to see why. Our friends across the pond still associate the English accent with intelligence, eloquence and sophistication (or in other words super villainy) and no doubt the historical factor of the British as the old masters who must be overthrown no doubt helps matters too.
If you don’t believe me then you need look no further than a galaxy far far away and the original Star Wars trilogy. On the side of evil were the Empire who’s fleet was populated almost entirely by English accented officers, whilst the heroic rebels were, save for Alec Guinness’ Obi Wan Kenobi, to a man American.
"As a nation we have a habit of breeding great character actors who’ve cut their teeth on jobbing roles in gritty soap operas, Shakespearian stages and BBC dramas."
But to simply peg our penchant for villainous roles on our accent is far too reductive. It comes down to the fact that our boys and girls are just great actors. Think back to some of the best villains to grace the silver screen and you instantly recall the likes of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter and Alan Rickman’s delicious turns in Die Hard and Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves. Today’s generation are similarly well served with the likes of Mark Strong, Ben Kingsley and more recently Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises.
The common factor amongst all of these actors is not just their Englishness but their talent. As a nation we have a habit of breeding great character actors who’ve cut their teeth on jobbing roles in gritty soap operas, Shakespearian stages and BBC dramas. They don’t care if the audience loves them or hates them. By comparison their American counterparts traditionally follow a set path to stardom. A-list actors like Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Tom Hanks rarely, if ever, take on the role of a villain for fear that it may tarnish their all American image.
"There’s never been a better time for Brits to be bad guys..."
Whilst some people have complained that our actors are getting typecast, in my opinion there’s never been a better time for Brits to be bad guys. In today’s paint by numbers blockbusters where the heroes are stereotypical poster boys with square jaws and stunted characters, it’s generally the villain of the piece who gets the most memorable part and the best lines. So, with that in mind, why would we ever want to be good, when we’re so good at being bad?
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