Ask any actor what sort of a role they prefer and the answer is likely to be “the villain.” There’s something about playing the baddie that sparks a glint in their eye, serving as a form of catharsis and exorcising of life’s demons. As Jeffrey Dean Morgan said about portraying Negan in The Walking Dead, “I love playing a villain. I think that there’s something freeing about [it].”
However, there are more than a few actors who’ve portrayed loathsome characters that are so far removed from who they are in real life. In some cases, it’s impossible to even fathom how the casting agents could suggest a legitimate sweetheart for such a heinous role. Could you imagine the king of nice guys, Hugh Jackman, as a serial killer, for example?
However, that’s an actor’s job at the end of the day. It’s to convince us that the person behind the role doesn’t exist any longer and only the monster remains. If we walk out of the movie saying, “Wow, that villain was intense and scary as [X],” then it’s a job well done and they’ve earned their dough.
With that said, here are the 15 Actors Who Played Despicable Characters In Movies But Are Legitimate Sweethearts.
15. Elijah Wood – Sin City
Apart from Roark Junior, the most twisted character in 2005’s Sin City was Kevin, as portrayed by Elijah Wood. The bespectacled, mute creeper was a serial killer who enjoyed sinking his teeth into the city’s prostitutes and then mounting their heads on the wall as trophies. It doesn’t sound like he had an Xbox or PlayStation to keep him out of trouble, unfortunately.
In the real world, though, the evergreen Wood is as kind as his face suggests. You never hear of any on-set drama involving him, while his co-stars and directors shower endless praise on him for being such a nice guy.
14. Rachel McAdams – Mean Girls
She might’ve made a name for herself as Regina George, the cruelest girl and queen of the Plastics in Mean Girls, but Rachel McAdams is nothing like the despicable Regina. In fact, she’s often referred to as the nicest actress in Hollywood.
She’s polite, warm, and always flashing a smile to those around her. Additionally, she prefers not to find herself in the gossip magazines for mouthing off about others or the lack of meaty female roles in Tinseltown.
Speaking to Metro, McAdams said, “Yes, it’s tough out there, but there is always something to be found in each role – and that’s my job: to make it creatively satisfying for myself and compelling for the people watching. I am just grateful people want to watch me – and that I’ve been able to find some diversification.”
13. Tom Hardy – The Revenant
Tom Hardy has become the go-to person for bad guy roles and has portrayed menacing villains, from the likes of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises to John Fitzgerald in The Revenant. It’s also scary how Hardy easily disappears into his projects, whereby it’s impossible to actually tell where the actor begins and the characters end.
Away from the villainous roles, Hardy is a family man and a huge dog lover. His affection for his four-legged friends is so strong that he’s been part of PETA campaigns and he regularly discusses how special his canines are to him in interviews.
Sadly, this year his beloved companion Woody passed away and Hardy took to his blog to pen a heartfelt tribute to him. Be warned, though: reading about Woody will bring a tear to your eye.
12. Lena Headey – Dredd
Lena Headey is best known for her role as the manipulative, conniving, and incestuous Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones, but her performance as drug lord Ma-Ma in 2012’s Dredd showed us that she’s supremely talented when it comes to playing any type of villain. Seriously, Ma-Ma was one kick-butt lady, and she wouldn’t have hesitated to rip you apart with her teeth (literally).
Headey, though, is witty and incredibly personable. She often displays her ability to take a joke and isn’t against getting into character to mess with reporters and fans. However, some Game of Thrones fanatics do struggle to separate the actress and Cersei, and she suffers a great deal of abuse because of it.
11. Tom Hiddleston – Thor
Ignoring the fact that Loki’s a popular supervillain in the same vein as the Joker, he’s actually a pretty atrocious dude. Not only does he betray and kill when necessary, but he nearly made Earth go to the dogs in The Avengers.
When he’s away from Asgard, Tom Hiddleston is someone you’d want to be BFFs with. In 2012, a reporter jokingly asked Hiddleston to bring soup to the red carpet premier because it would be freezing. Guess what? Hiddleston actually showed up with a thermos full of tomato soup for the guy.
Probably the only person on the planet who doesn’t think Hiddleston is a nice guy is his ex, Taylor Swift. However, she dates people so she can have song material, so her opinion is slightly skewed in this regard.
10. Catherine Keener – An American Crime
In An American Crime, which is based on a horrific true story, Catherine Keener played the role of Gertrude Baniszewski, a housewife who temporarily took in 16-year-old Sylvia Likens and her young sister, Jenny. It wasn’t long before Baniszewski tortured, abused, and murdered Sylvia in a case that shocked the country.
It was a wicked role – albeit one that earned Keener a Primetime Emmy nomination. On the set of the film, though, she went out of her way to apologize and reassure her young castmates that her character was nothing like her.
Keener might have built up a reputation of portraying mean, angry characters in the past, but this actress is actually friendly, fun-loving, and hilarious in person. She chooses to ignore the Hollywood diva lifestyle as well, with interviews showing her to be down to earth and completely approachable in person.
9. Isabelle Fuhrman – Orphan
Watching the 2009 psychological horror Orphan, it’s hard not to get uneasy when thinking about Isabelle Fuhrman’s Esther. She was psychotic and creepy, drawing spooky comparisons to Linda Blair’s performance as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist.
Yet, the now 20-year-old actress is anything but sinister. In fact, she has a gigantic heart, using her time to volunteer to Save the Children, a charity that helps to reduce the death rate of newborns in developing countries.
She is also on the advisory board of the Love & Art Children’s Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to reach out to children in need and offer them a way of expression, empowerment, and hope through art.
8. Robert Englund – A Nightmare On Elm Street
One, two, Freddy’s coming for you!
Freddy Krueger caused more than a few sleepless nights to generations of children (and teenagers) since he first appeared in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street film series. From his clawed glove to his heavily burnt face, Krueger isn’t exactly someone you’d want to meet in a… uh, anywhere.
Robert Englund, the actor who portrayed this horror icon for many years, is actually the life of the party on set and at fan conferences. He’s known to be friendly and extremely chatty (a headache for make-up artists when they’re trying to turn him into Freddy), and he never shies away from a photo opportunity with fans.
7. Charlize Theron – Monster
Charlize Theron underwent a radical transformation for her award-winning role as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Patty Jenkins’ Monster. It was undoubtedly Theron’s darkest turn yet, as she portrayed the infamous former prostitute who was executed for killing six men.
While Theron is not averse to playing the antagonist in films, she’s no scoundrel in her day-to-day life, choosing the path of philanthropy instead. If truth be told, you actually have to wonder where she finds the time for all of this.
In 2007, she started the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) in an effort to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Fast-forward a year later, Theron was recognized for her work and named a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
6. Clancy Brown – Highlander
He’s known for his booming voice and villainous portrayals, but co-workers have cited Clancy Brown as a soft-spoken, warm, and sensitive man. Not exactly the words you’d associate with the man who’s became the definitive voice of Lex Luthor over the years.
According to various sources, Brown proved exactly how much of a nice, compassionate guy he was on the set of Highlander – specifically during the church scene. The initial confrontation between Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert) and the Kurgan (Brown) took place in a real church, and the scene required for the Kurgan to use several blasphemous lines in an attempt to provoke MacLeod.
5. Sheri Moon Zombie – House of 1000 Corpses
Rob Zombie’s little lady, Sheri Moon Zombie, has made a career from being a scream queen in the horror genre. Her most popular role to date was that of Baby Firefly in 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel, 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects. Baby might’ve looked all childlike and squeaky-voiced, but she was a full-blown psycho who scalped and stabbed her victims.
While her husband might be one of the biggest rockstars in the world, they live a clean, vegan lifestyle and are said to be some of the nicest neighbors around. Heck, they even teamed up with their neighbors to ask for some relief from the noise levels caused by a skate park in their ‘hood (tsk, tsk, those pesky kids).
In terms of interactions with fans and reporters, Zombie is also known to be gracious with her time and forthcoming with her answers. House of 1000 Corpses? More like House of 1000 Cupcakes when it comes to Zombie.
4. Frank Langella – Masters Of The Universe
He’s made a career out of playing bad guys, vampires, sorcerers, and Richard Nixon, but behind the scenes Frank Langella is one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. Despite all his success, he’s still as humble as they come and has no ego to speak of.
While many critics might think his role as Skeletor in 1987’s Masters of the Universe is a blemish in the award-winning actor’s filmography, he vehemently disagrees.
Speaking to IFC, Langella said, “It’s one of my very favorite parts. I played him because my son was four years old and walked around with a sword, yelling, ‘I [have] the power!’ And he loved, loved, loved Skeletor. I didn’t even blink [when offered the role]. I couldn’t wait to play him.”
3. Tony Todd – Candyman
Being six foot five and possessing an intimidating voice that would make a grown man soil himself, Tony Todd was the picture-perfect choice for the titular role in Candyman. Since then, Todd has established himself as a firm favorite in the horror and voice-acting worlds.
Yet, the scary-looking man is anything but. He’s known to be incredibly sweet (cue the Candyman jokes), thoughtful, and a family man who hasn’t let success get to his head. Refusing to take anything for granted, Todd is extremely humble and fans absolutely love chatting to him at conventions.
In an interview with Cryptic Rock, Todd spoke about how important it is to not lose sight of what’s important in life. “Sometimes you just have to take a second, take a breath, and appreciate what you have and not what you think you need,” he said. Wise words, indeed.
2. Glenn Close – 101 Dalmatians
The name Cruella de Vil is capable of sending shivers down anyone’s spine. How monstrous must you be to want the fur of poor little Dalmatian puppies?! It’s like evil incarnate, really.
This is why Glenn Close is such a good actress for convincing us that she could be so heinous in 101 Dalmatians and 102 Dalmatians. Renowned as a big dog lover and supporter of pet charities, Close insisted on all her coats being faux fur for the role since she’s a firm believer in animal rights.
Recently, Close has gone on record as a supporter of the Puppies Behind Bars. Speaking of this charity to InStyle, she stated, “I am very proud to have sponsored two dogs. I plan to sponsor one every year. Growing up surrounded by dogs, I have known first-hand, from a very early age, how much they enrich our lives, providing humor, companionship, comfort, and always love.”
1. Gary Oldman – Air Force One
From Sid Vicious to a terrorist in Air Force One, the Chameleon, aka Gary Oldman, becomes who you need him to be for any movie role. You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who’s as diverse and capable of portraying as many characters as Oldman is.
With the reputation of being so multifaceted, not many people actually know who Oldman really is underneath the surface. Fortunately, he’s nothing like the weirdos he plays, and is described as a normal, polite gentleman.
Even Oldman himself is unsure how he got typecast. “I don’t know how it happened,” he said. “I really don’t. I was this… Psycho guy. I just got into these parts. Then it contaminates people. And they think that you’re Crazy-Scary-Gary.”
When asked which character is the closest to the real him, Oldman says it’s Jim Gordon, the police commissioner from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy.
Did we fail to mention any other king actors who have played despicable roles? Let us know in the comments!
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