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Oh, That Guy: 15 Character Actor Villains You Love To Hate

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 3, 2013 at 3:03PM

When we talked to William Fichtner about his role in "The Lone Ranger," as reptilian villain Bartholomew "Butch" Cavendish (a character boldly reimagined from the character's original incarnations), he told us, "I've played some characters who are rough in nature but I've never looked at a character like, 'Oh I can't wait to play this bad guy.'" Well, we can't wait for him to play the bad guy. Fichtner is one of countless character actors, many who were steadily employed in the '80s and '90s, whose oversized personalities and penchant for playing villainous goons, made them unforgettable (even if you couldn't quite place their names). Those of us who would study movie posters like they were the stats on the back of baseball cards, would easily recognize, identify, and follow their careers, but for many, these actors would appear and be met with a knowing, "Oh yeah, it's that guy..." For those guys everywhere, and to celebrate Fichtner's truly awesome villain, we thought we'd run down some of our favorite character actor creeps.
45

JT Walsh
J.T. Walsh
What You Know Him From: J.T. Walsh was felled by a heart attack at the age of 54. Had he lived, he would probably have amassed a resume that rivals the great bad guy actors. As it stands, he already kind of did. He's got the face and body of a suburban dad, which probably explains why not too many people could place him, but man was he good at being bad.
Movies: While Walsh often played bad guys, or at least guys you loved to hate, like in the fantasy "Pleasantville," his best and most memorable role was probably as an insane truck driver in Jonathan Mostow's underrated gem "Breakdown." This was Walsh in full effect: he comes to the aid of Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan, whose car has suffered from engine trouble. Walsh, milking that suburban dad thing for all its worth, offers to drive her to the nearest service station while Russell waits for a tow truck. And then Russell never hears from his wife again. It was like an incredibly taut episode of "The Twilight Zone," and Russell and Quinlan made such an unassuming couple that you rooted for Walsh to get his comeuppance. Which he does. Spectacularly.
Rating On the Creep-O-Meter Scale: Off the charts. He doesn't just make your skin crawl - it drives away to find a gas station and never comes back.

Lance Henriksen
Lance Henriksen
What You Know Him From: A voice that suggests a layer of hell below the sulfur. A craggy old visage that paint his life as a hard one where he’s had to fight and scrap for every inch. This man has LIVED.
Movies: The original choice for “The Terminator” was apparently Henriksen, which would have been a decidedly different version of film history. While Arnold The Superstar has been responsible for several unforgettable movie moments, there’s no argument that the less physically-imposing Henriksen would have been scarier. There’s a lanky, haunted menace in Henriksen, a weary spirit that suggests a spirit constantly running from the devil, eager to cause just a little extra pain. Leading the vampires in “Near Dark” was a major turning point for him, coming after his good guy android in “Aliens” and painting him as a potential sadist to match those sunken, dead eyes. He would go on to play scum-of-the-earth thugs in “Johnny Handsome,” “Hard Target” and “Stone Cold” (the latter a particularly thrilling, and apparently improv’d lead villain performance), marking him as king of the b-movie set.  The stories of Henriksen’s niceness are legendary, but onscreen, you just couldn’t trust him, even in his neutral roles as law enforcement agents are cowboys, cementing him as a man out of time. His choice of roles improved considerably after a run as an unlikely leading man in TV’s “Millennium,” which showcased his underrated skills as a dramatic performer, but soon it was back to the same direct-to-DVD schlock and historical roles that were his bread and butter. Never one to turn his nose up at a dubious role, he’s showed up in some peculiar places as of late, but you sense the actor has one last great villain left in him.
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Seven packs of cigarettes, which the invincible Henriksen has likely just finished on his lunch break.

Brion James
Brion James
What You Know Him From: “My mother? Let me tell you about my mother.” BLAM. There's no way the opening interrogation scene from “Blade Runner” was ever going to end nicely, but the moment still makes you jump, even on the umpteenth rewatch, thanks above all to the seething menace of Leon Kowalski, all forehead and bicep and played by the one and only Brion James.
Movies: James, who died in 1999 aged only 54, was great muscle in a number of excellent Hollywood flicks because he was also, always, more than great muscle. Skin-job Leon Kowalski is still his best part, but James brought his oddly loveable lunkheadedness to many other '80s and '90s classics, some great (“The Fifth Element”, “48 Hrs.”), some terrible (“Tango & Cash”, “Enemy Mine”), some with James as villain, some as hero (or supporting hero, at least): and that's without even starting in on his TV work, and the fact that he produced a film called “Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills”. And the fact that he was in “Blazing Saddles”! We could go on all night...
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: 6. Nexus-6, that is.

Jason Isaacs
Jason Isaacs 
What You Know Him From: Aristocratic asshole behavior of the worst kind. This guy is probably bullying your favorite hero because his servant buttered his toast incorrectly.
Movies: Best known as the patriarch to the snobby Malfroy clan in the “Harry Potter” movies, Isaacs certainly has perfected a certain queenly upper-class sort of villainy, the type that would have swallowed up 'Potter' co-star Alan Rickman had he not rejected the sea of post-“Die Hard” villain parts he was offered. But Isaacs, a legit capital-A actor, also brought a nastiness to Col. Tavington in Mel Gibson actioner “The Patriot,” proving a memorable, vicious foil that could not be more British against the apparently super-American Gibson. Isaacs’ condescension also shined in the kidflick “Peter Pan,” where he outdid Dustin Hoffman’s contemporary, campy Captain Hook in “Hook” with his own savage, bitter, slimy swashbuckler. 'Pan' is just one of many roles where Isaacs brings so much more to the role beyond what’s on the page, bringing great dimension to his baddies to suggest there was once a good man there. Even if he’s talented enough to ham it up, Isaacs is the guy when you want a baddie with layers.
Rating On The Creep-O-Meter: Honestly, maybe a ½ magic spell. Isaacs would likely charm you off your feet before revealing he had evil plans for you. He’s so good at it, but it’s simply not the main quiver in his bow.

Christopher McDonald, Happy Gilmore
Honorable Mention
There are plenty of undersung bad asses that we didn't have room for but still deserve our respect (and cold, mortal fear). Christopher McDonald is probably best remembered in his villainous role in "Happy Gilmore," but he's been more serious (and far creepier) in things like Robert Rodriguez's "The Faculty," Ridley Scott's "Thelma and Louise," hell, even Brad Bird's "Iron Giant"; Walton Goggins is a villainous superstar in the making, thanks to turns in "Predators" and "Django Unchained" (and a prolonged arc as a very bad dude on FX's "Justified"); John Getz is the perfect eighties sleazeball in "The Fly" (he even showed up in "The Fly II!"); not even an Oscar nomination for "Babe" could take away the low rent anonymity of James Cromwell, who proved he could be very bad in "L.A. Confidential" (and other, less films like "Species II"); Anthony Heald was so memorable as Chilton, the warden who looked after a band of incredibly deadly psychopaths in "Silence of the Lambs" (and later "Red Dragon") that when the character was introduced on NBC's "Hannibal," we let out an audible sigh because it wasn't him again; Mark Strong continues to do excellent work in often marginalized bad guy roles in things like "Sherlock Holmes," "Sunshine," "John Carter" and "The Guard" - maybe being British makes you bad; MC Gainey has had a host of memorable bad guy roles, starring alongside Goggins (at least for a little while) as a similarly fiendish character on "Justified" and in last year's "Django Unchained," as a bible-quoting slaver named Big John Brittle; Billy Burke can strike fear into your heart without you ever knowing his name, both as an abusive husband in the J. Lo basic cable staple "Enough" and as a Satanic cult leader in "Drive Angry;" Gary Cole might have been the boss from hell in "Office Space" but he brought a little more heat to "Pineapple Express" as a murderous drug lord and (even chillier still) a gangster in Sam Raimi's woefully underappreciated "Simple Plan;" and ending on a high note, Gregg Henry, a favorite of director Brian De Palma (who knows a thing or two about bad guys), was unstoppable in "Body Double" and returned for even more ass-holey-y fun in James Gunn's horror throwback "Slither." - Erik McClanahan, Gabe Toro, Rodrigo Perez, Drew Taylor, Ben Brock

This article is related to: William Fichtner, The Lone Ranger, Features, Feature


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