When I first read Helen Mirren’s statements about how Hollywood treats British actors, I thought “The crazy old broad is at it again.” Then I read it again, trying to give her a chance. Now that I’ve fully assimilated Helen’s point, I still think she’s off the mark, but she’s got a good start towards making a good generalization about Hollywood. Dame Helen’s theory is that Hollywood always makes British actors and characters “the villains” of big Hollywood films. She claims that the British people are portrayed as “snooty, stuck up, malevolent, malignant creatures” and that it‘s “very important to let Americans know that we’re not just the royal family.” Um… okay. Not really true, Helen. But here, read her whole statement:
Dame Helen Mirren has urged Hollywood to stop portraying villains as British. The actress, 64, wants film companies to end their frequent casting of British actors in the role of “bad guys”.
A host of stars from this side of the Atlantic, including Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Anthony Hopkins, have played villains in Hollywood films in recent years.
Dame Helen, speaking at an event in Los Angeles to celebrate British success in American movies, said: “I think it’s rather unfortunate that the villain in every movie is always British, we’re such an easy target that they can comfortably make the Brits the villains.”
The Oscar winner added: “It’s just [a nice way] to say we’re snooty, stuck up, malevolent, malignant creatures as we’re so often portrayed.”
Notable British performances as villains include Sir Ian McKellen who played the role of Magneto in the X-Men films and Paul Bettany, who was Silas in The Da Vinci Code.
Sir Anthony Hopkins played one of the most infamous villains – Dr Hannibal Lecter while Christopher Lee was cast as a villain in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and in the Lord of The Rings trilogy.
Sir Ben Kingsley is to play Nizam in the soon to be released Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Dame Helen, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the Queen in the 2006 film of the same name, also said it was “very important to let Americans know that we’re not just the royal family”.
“There’s more to us than that,” she added.
Except Ben Kingsley has also played Mohandas Gandhi and Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List, as well as his morally ambiguous Behrani in The House of Sand and Fog - you know what all of those characters have in common? He was nominated for Oscars for all of them. And Anthony Hopkins played one of the most (if not The Most) incredible, delicious, amazing villain in Silence of the Lambs (for which he got his Oscar), but he also played lovely, interesting, complicated men in films like Howards End, The Remains of the Day, and Amistad, amongst others. And f-cking Ian McKellan played Gandolf, for the love of God! The good wizard!
Sure, I get what Helen is saying – but I’ve also seen enough interviews with some of the best actors to know that most of them love playing villains. Villains are more fun to play, and actors love it, especially if a big Hollywood paycheck comes along with the opportunity.
But what Dame Helen should have been complaining about, in my opinion, is the tendency of Hollywood to simply villainize non-Americans. If it’s not British actors, it’s Arab actors, Persian actors, French actors, German actors, Semitic actors, Asian actors. All get to play villains, hoodlums, freaks, psychos and general bad dudes all the time. And don’t get me started on what Hollywood does to African and African-American actors. See what I mean?
You know what Dame Helen’s comments made me think of? Alan Rickman’s brillant performance as Hans Gruber in Die Hard. A British actor, doing a German accent, as one of the most awesome film villains ever. And it made Rickman’s career!
Dame Helen also made me think of my favorite British villain (in the bedroom, because he’s so bad he’s f-cking fine), Clive Owen…