Top ten examples of ‘Nice Guy’ actors playing evil roles
|LISTS - MOVIE LISTS|
When the good go very, very bad...
The Bad Guy is always the best character in a movie. Hans Gruber, Darth Vader and Gollum are all far more fun than their heroic counterparts, and Anthony Hopkins manages to steal the show in Silence of the Lambs with barely ten minutes of screen time. We all love to hate a villain, and the best baddies are remembered long after they’ve been rightfully dispatched (or not!).
Occasionally, a villain comes along that shocks and horrifies us because they are played by someone we were fooled into thinking was one of us, one of the Good Guys! These baddies are the most effective of all, because they get us where we live. We open our doors to them and invite them in...
10. Vince Vaughn - Psycho (1998)
There wasn’t a huge amount to recommend the remake of this classic horror, and on initial viewing, Vince Vaughn’s casting seemed to be yet another mistake in a long line of errors. For a good twenty minutes after his introduction I couldn’t stop giggling, which never helps build up tension in a horror flick. Having said this, Anthony Perkins' success came partially from the fact that he seemed so sweet and shy, and it wasn’t long before Vaughn’s friendly, if somewhat vacant smile became unnerving. This remake, despite many horrible reviews, had some genuinely chilling moments, and too little was made of the daring decision to film cinema’s most famous shower scene in full colour (yeesh). By the end of the movie, Vince Vaughn’s presence is shiver-inducing, and as with Jim Norton’s hideous giggling in Straw Dogs, his inane grin, amusing at first, eventually has the viewer cringing into the sofa.
9. Keanu Reeves - The Watcher (2000)
The scariest movie villains aren’t monstrous, but presentable. As displayed in American Psycho, one of the most frightening ideas is that of the nutcase who fools us into believing he’s a normal guy, or even quite a hunky one. Keanu Reeves plays the Watcher, and is bizarrely effective as a piano-wire toting murderer. We are all used to Reeves playing the hero in Speed, The Matrix, even as a hopelessly miscast posh good guy in Dangerous Liaisons. Reeves’ performance in The Watcher feels like revenge for all the softie roles of his career, and he plays the part with horrible, goblin-like relish. The chilled out surfer accent doesn’t help, and only adds to the sense of horror as sweetie-pie Keanu dances around with his bound victim, her suspended feet leaving blood trails on the wooden floor of her home. Imagine if rather than snogging Sandra Bullock at the end of Speed, Keanu strangled her to death. So wrong.
8. Jim Carrey - The Cable Guy (1996)
Many of the good guys in this list completely departed from their ordinary acting style to become baddies, but Carrey’s forage into villainy is an exception. Carrey’s mysterious Cable Guy is the Mask, Truman Burbank and Ace Ventura, rolled into one but gone way too far. We’ve all known someone who wanted to be your friend more than anything and just wouldn’t take a hint (if you didn’t, it was you). Matthew Broderick’s discomfort mirrors that of the audience as we giggle nervously at Carrey’s usual crazy antics, darkened by maliciousness in the eyes and several dreadful deeds. Carrey regularly tiptoes the line between funny and disturbing in Me, Myself and Irene and Ace Ventura, but in The Cable Guy, we are confronted by what Carrey’s safer characters could have become - a psychotic, destructive and very believable loon.
7. Elijah Wood - Sin City (2005)
Surely a sign of true evil is if you can be paralysingly scary without saying a word. Silence, in the case of Kevin the Killer, is deadly. This inoffensive looking chap is actually a prostitute-murdering, cannibalising, wolf-owning, martial arts champion with Freddy Kreuger-like knives for fingers. Now that is a seriously scary hobbit. Elijah Wood’s silent little child feet allow him to sneak up on his victims, who he slashes to pieces before sharing them for dinner with his wolf and mounting their heads on his wall. Elijah Wood playing such a character should be hysterically funny, but the Flipper and Lord of the Rings actor uses his huge baby blues to hypnotise his victims and his baby teeth to chew up their flesh. He’s staring at me. Make him stop!
6. Gary Sinise - Ransom (1996)
Gary Sinise is the man I have always wished was my Dad. In every role he plays he is cool, calm and knows just what to do; he’d scare off bullies with a stony glance and a raised eyebrow. Perhaps most famous for playing Mac Taylor in CSI: New York, Sinise’s performance as dirty Detective Shaker is the show-stopper in this film. The calm and composed expression we are familiar with from films like Of Mice and Men and The Stand here becomes a chilly, calculating death-stare. Gibson’s kidnapped son wets himself at the mere sound of Sinise’s silky tones, and it’s easy to see why. Even Sinise’s baddy buddies are scared of him, and at one point he puts a stop to an accomplice’s ranting with a super-swift, karate-style finger blow to the throat. The warm hidden depths in the eyes of Mac Taylor are replaced in this instance by a shark-like emptiness that transforms ‘Dad’ into a truly terrifying villain.
5. Woody Harrelson - Natural Born Killers (1994)
Hey, isn’t that the nice bartender from Cheers? Yes, yes it is. If the bartender from Cheers lost the plot and, together with his jailbait girlfriend, went on a murderous rampage across several states. Despite big rows with director Oliver Stone, Tarantino’s influence is all over this blackly comical film, and if he was unhappy with the way the director was altering his screenplay, he can at least be proud of the fabulous performance given by Harrelson. He is brilliant as softly-spoken, trigger happy Mickey Knox, a completely apathetic murderer who cares only for his equally compassionless partner in crime, Juliette Lewis. The true success of this film lies in the chemistry between Harrelson and Lewis. Regardless of the crimes they commit and the ferocity of their violence, we root for the couple throughout, and Harrelson’s gentle likeability makes the ‘natural born killer’ all the more horrifying.
4. Tom Cruise - Collateral (2004)
This is what Scientology does to nice, normal actors! Who would have thought that the whiter-than-white fighter pilot from Top Gun could turn out such a villainous performance? In Collateral, Tom Cruise proves what we all suspected - that the sparkly teeth are merely bars behind which a secret psychopath roams. Cruise is brilliantly good fun as the professional hit man ruining poor Jamie Foxx’s day, and plays the role with obvious pleasure. It is this manic glee that makes the performance so much fun, and the audience finds themselves egging the little man on and cheering his wicked deeds. As with many of these roles, it is Cruise’s veneer of respectability which makes the character believable. We, like Foxx, wouldn’t hesitate to trust a diminutive dude in a sharp suit, and this is just what makes him so scary. Watch out for the monster inside!
3. Robin Williams - One Hour Photo (2002)
Everyone loves Robin Williams; it’s just impossible not to. Williams’ comedy is legendary, and his hyperactive and hysterical acting style has made children happy for decades. One Hour Photo saw a complete transformation in Williams from a crazy caperer to an unhinged, obsessive lunatic. The film is darkly fascinating; seeing Williams so quiet and slow-moving is spooky and unnerving as the audience is constantly waiting for the explosion into action we have come to expect from him. The sad, lonely character of Sy Parrish is played brilliantly by Williams, and gives us a completely different view of him as an actor. The character is a ticking time bomb that never goes off; even in the climax of the film, Williams is weirdly silent. This leaves the viewer with far more nightmares than if he had let rip, because we are left uncertain of the true extent of his capabilities.
2. Kathy Bates - Misery (1990)
The character of Annie Wilkes was based on a dream Stephen King regularly had of being chased around by his murderous ‘biggest fan’. Both the novel and the film that sprung from this dream are masterpieces of terror, and Kathy Bates' portrayal of Wilkes won her the rarest of things: an Oscar for a horror movie. Bates begins the film in her usual congenial and good-natured manner, and looks every part the caring, homely nurse. Of course, appearances are deceptive, and it’s not long into the film before both the audience and poor James Caan realise that something is not quite right with Annie Wilkes; she’s just a bit too high pitched, the eyes are just a little too goggly. Watching Wilkes’ madness slowly being exposed is like seeing your best mate’s biscuit baking Mum go nutso. And beware the ‘hobbling’ scene, which is rumoured to have made grown men cry.
1. Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight (2008)
Why...so...serious? Because, Heath, you are so damn scary! Nobody could beat this fabulous performance, which is made all the more powerful by the fact we won’t ever see one like it again. Heath Ledger made his name in clean-cut, fun films like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, and rocketed to stardom with his sensitive portrayal of a heartbroken cowboy in Brokeback Mountain. Many were sceptical about the prospect of Ledger as The Joker, particularly after the smashing performance offered by Jack Nicholson as the previous Joker. Heath proved everyone wrong, taking an already terrifying comic character and turning him into an all too human monster. The cackling; the smeared, broken make-up; the slobbering lip licking; everything about the new Joker was horrendously scary, and always kept just on the side of believability through superb acting. The performance won a well deserved posthumous Oscar, and Ledger’s Joker is undeniably one of the most frightening villains of all time.
Anthony Hopkins – Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Joaquin Phoenix – Gladiator (2000)
Charlize Theron – Monster (2003)
Billy Zane – Titanic (1997)
Arnold Schwarzenegger – The Terminator (1984)
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.