From Bin Laden to Miranda Priestly: Famous Actors’ Reflections on Their Most Villainous Roles


Hollywood has always had a flair for creating compelling villains, so it’s only natural that the actors conveying them would covet – or disdain – the experience of being bad. Some actors lose sleep over playing the baddie, carrying their character’s guilt, while others enjoy getting into character perhaps a little too much, and revel in their ability to frighten.

For Ricky S. Sekhon, the actor cast as one of the world’s most hated real-life villains in Zero Dark Thirty – and who wrote about his experience in a recent Times Op-Ed piece – the eight weeks before he took up his role as Osama bin Laden were spent having heart palpitations. Sekhon’s pithy Times piece inspired us to look at other actors’ reflections on playing some of cinema’s most notoriously evil characters. Here’s what we found.

Anthony Hopkins on playing Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

Of all the villains to ever darken the silver screen, Hannibal Lecter may be the most shiver-inducing. The way he licks his lips at Jodie Foster, and that stare he holds her with through the asylum bars have haunted this writer a little more than she’d like to admit. We thought Jim Ferguson’s 1991 interview with Anthony Hopkins might dispel our fear. But how wrong we were; Hopkins is half himself and the rest Lecter in this interview, and speaks of the part “with relish.” And he’s far too quick to take credit for the chilling scene in which we’re introduced to Lecter; Hopkins suggested to director Jonathan Demme that instead of having the character sitting in the corner, he should be ready and waiting for Foster’s Clarice – and for us – at the bars. (It worked, that’s for sure.) There’s also a great reference to Hitchcock in the interview, as Ferguson, speaking of The Silence of the Lambs, said that “Hitchcock would have been thrilled” by the movie. Anthony Hopkins agreed at the time, though we wonder whether the thought crossed the actor’s mind again in his latest role as the master of spook himself.

Leonardo DiCaprio on playing Calvin Candie in Django Unchained

According to this interview, excerpted from The Today Show, relentless plantation owner, Calvin Candie is the first villain Quentin Tarantino has written that he’s actually hated. Speaking of playing such a despicable character in an audaciously violent and darkly humorous movie about slavery, DiCaprio calls Candie “the most deplorable human being I’ve ever read in a screenplay in my life.” Despite his initial reservations about portraying such a vile character, DiCaprio felt compelled to play Candie, who he also spoke of as “an incredibly colorful character.” Talking about the biggest challenge of the role, which came with the film’s dining room scene – in which Candie conducts a “scientific experiment” of sorts, taking a hammer to a black man’s skull in an effort to prove a “totally deranged and ridiculous” theory of race to his dinner guests – DiCaprio said that his focus in the scene was to show his character’s “moral decay.”

Heath Ledger on playing The Joker The Dark Knight

Before his death, Heath Ledger spoke of his role as The Joker in The Dark Knight somewhat nervously, perhaps having been advised not to speak at length about the movie prematurely. Nevertheless, Ledger discussed his role with visible discomfort – he told most interviewers the same thing – that it was a demanding part that required constant energy – as he shifted in his chair. Yet, within seconds of getting the part, Ledger felt he knew exactly how to play The Joker. “The Joker was actually the most fun I’ve ever had – probably ever will have – playing a character,” he said. How sad that statement reads in retrospect.

Frank Silva on playing BOB in Twin Peaks

When we found this interview with Frank Silva, who you know better from your David Lynch-induced nightmares as the terrifying BOB, we were surprised to learn that Lynch recruited him for the role at the last minute. Silva was actually working on the set when Lynch asked him to hover behind a bed, looking creepy. (He did a great job.) Though we’re sure he was perfectly nice in real life – at least, nothing like BOB – it further creeped us out to discover that Silva wasn’t even in costume; he wore his own clothes for the part. So BOB was, in a sense, kind of walking around in the early 1990s…

Meryl Streep on playing Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada

This Guardian interview with Meryl Streep is a gem. Not only because there are few Streep interviews floating around, but because this one in particular catches her after playing one of her most abrasive roles to date – and we’re not talking about Margaret Thatcher. Miranda Priestly, the character based on Vogue‘s indomitable Anna Wintour, had clearly rubbed off on Streep at the time of the interview. While her commanding presence comes off the screen, the interview also presents Streep as the headstrong woman she is, as she speaks of the various “difficult” women she’s rendered, and discusses women in politics. Our favorite part of the interview is the lesson on power acting Streep learned from drama school: “the teacher asks, how do you be the queen? And everybody says, ‘Oh it’s about posture and authority.’ And they said, no, it’s about how the air in the room shifts when you walk in. And that’s everyone else’s work.” Now that is Prada all over.

Russell Crowe in Les Miserables

This writer spent the near three hours of Les Miserables wanting to pellet popcorn at Russell Crowe’s head. While everyone else is haplessly suffering in post-revolutionary France, Javert’s an unflinching baddie, with no ounce of goodness in him, it seems. But Russell Crowe’s interview with Flicks and Bits gives his one-dimensional character some depth, as we learn the story of a man named Eugène-François Vidocq. As Crowe explains, Vidocq was Victor Hugo’s inspiration both for Javert and the noble Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman). “Once you know that, the process becomes far more interesting,” Crowe said, who based his character on Vidocq. “Javert is so much more complex,” he added. It’s a fascinating story, as most villain’s stories are, however atrocious they may be as human beings.