Surprisingly Interesting Stories About Actors Who Played '90s Villains

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While movie audiences may love to root for the hero, many actors have built successful careers by playing the bad guy. Villains can be more complex - or more challenging - than protagonists. Sometimes, they are just more fun! This list sheds light on some of the reasons actors who typically play more sympathetic roles have decided to play villains.

Bad guy roles tend to be less age-specific than "hero" parts, which allows an actor to play bad guy roles when they might be thought of as "too old" to play the hero. Indeed, all of the actors listed below have been playing villains and antagonists since the '90s - and some of them for even longer than that.

Of course, these on-screen villains have their own unique backstories in terms of their career paths; for example, both Alan Rickman and Charles Dance originally planned to be graphic designers, while a near-fatal boating accident prompted Robert Patrick to quit his job and head for Hollywood. And as John Malkovich showed, even a movie bad guy can be a real-life hero.

Read on to learn some behind-the-scenes stories about actors who have played memorable bad guys.

  • Anthony Hopkins Is The First Openly Autistic Person To Win An Acting Oscar
    Photo: The Silence Of The Lambs / Orion Pictures

    In 2021, the then-83-year-old Anthony Hopkins became the oldest person to win an Academy Award for acting (winning best actor for his performance in The Father). But that win was notable for another reason; he apparently became the first openly autistic actor to win an Academy Award.

    In 2017, Hopkins revealed he had been diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome, which falls on the autism spectrum. The actor had previously won the Academy Award for best actor for his chilling performance as serial killer Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. But at that time, he had yet to be diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.

    In an interview with the CBC, Hopkins denied that Asperger's hampered his work:

    It doesn’t affect me. I am obsessive. It’s a great gift, actually. I was a bit slow as a school kid, and so I made up for it by working hard, and I became, you know, a successful actor. Obsessiveness about the details. I will work and work and work on the script, and I learn every single line. […] But I’m not quirky. I think I’m a bit - actually, I’m an absent-minded professor. I forget things, and I get obsessed with stupid details. 

    175 votes
  • Although John Malkovich has portrayed his share of good guys in his career, he may be better known for the films in which he played the antagonist (e.g., In the Line of Fire, Con Air, Rounders, Penguins of Madagascar).

    But in 2013, Malkovich became a real-life hero when he, along with two other men, came to the aid of 77-year-old Jim Walpole after he took a fall on the sidewalk outside Toronto's King Edward Hotel. According to Walpole, "John Malkovich saved my life."

    The retired autoworker expanded on his story to the Toronto Sun, "I went out for a walk and just stumbled. Bang. I fell right into the scaffolding along the hotel wall." Walpole accidentally slit his neck in the fall, causing blood to pour from the wound. When his wife started yelling for help, Malkovich, who reportedly had been smoking a cigarette outside the hotel, appeared.

    Two other men - Ben Quinn and King Edward Hotel doorman Chris Mathias - also soon arrived to help in the rescue. Quinn told the Toronto Sun that Malkovich calmly attended to the injured Walpole, saying, "The guy really seemed to know what he was doing. We didn’t know who he was. I just asked if I could hold the man’s head and he said yes."

    Walpole never lost consciousness. When the paramedics arrived, he finally asked the man who had been first to respond to his wife's call for help what his name was: "He said, 'My name is John, and you are going to be all right.'"

    Unlike Walpole and Quinn, Mathias recognized the actor and tipped reporters off to Malkovich's role in the rescue. But the actor, who was in town to perform in a stage production of The Giacomo Variations, denied he had done anything out of the ordinary, saying, "Any citizen would do the same. It's nothing special."

    166 votes
  • Alan Rickman Had A Successful Graphic Design Business Before Applying To Acting School At Age 26; He Didn't Make His Film Debut Until His 40s
    Photo: Die Hard / 20th Century Fox

    Although Alan Rickman became a very well-respected actor known for playing roles like the villainous thief Hans Gruber in Die Hard and the antagonistic Severus Snape in the Harry Potter film series, his path to becoming an actor wasn't exactly typical.

    After studying graphic design at England's Chelsea College of Art and Design and Royal College of Art, Rickman founded a graphic design company called Graphiti with some friends. But at age 26, he made a decision that would change his life; he applied to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). He explained his decision years later:

    There was an inevitability about my being an actor since about the age of 7, but there were other roads that had to be traveled first. A voice in the head saying, "It's time to do it. No excuses."

    At age 32, he briefly joined the Royal Shakespeare Company (an experience he disliked), but he spent the 1980s working in television, on radio, and in repertory theater. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his portrayal of the villainous Le Vicomte de Valmont in the Broadway production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but when the play was turned into a film, Rickman was passed over in favor of John Malkovich. He was in his 40s when he finally made his film debut in Die Hard.

    Rickman passed of pancreatic cancer in 2016. He was 69 years old.

    120 votes
  • Robert Patrick Moved To Hollywood After Surviving A Sailing Accident
    Photo: Terminator 2: Judgment Day / Tri-Star Pictures

    Robert Patrick was working as a house painter in Cleveland, OH, before his life took a drastic change after he went sailing on Lake Erie one summer day. 

    As the actor explained in an interview with NPR, a bad storm suddenly blew in and the boat Patrick and some friends were on began taking on water:

    [I was] standing there, watching the nose of this boat going underwater, and within seconds, there was nothing. I grabbed a life preserver, and I started throwing out everything I could see that would float.

    Since he was the only one in his group wearing a life preserver, Patrick volunteered to swim the three hours to shore, where he was able to find help for the stranded boaters.

    After recovering, Patrick rethought his life plans; he quit his job, packed up his car, and drove west, hoping to fulfill his dream of breaking into the film industry. He traced it all back to that storm, saying, "That single incident made me stand up and realize, 'If you don't hurry up and do something quick with your life, it can be snatched away.' This was a last, desperate attempt to give purpose to my own life. Getting into this business."

    After arriving in Los Angeles, Patrick originally lived out of his car but eventually was able to rent a place in Koreatown, telling NPR, "I had a view of the Hollywood sign. I would sit there and look at that Hollywood sign and [think], 'Alright, you're here - let's make something happen.'"

    His first role in a major Hollywood film was playing a bad guy in Die Hard 2 (1990). A year later, he landed the role for which the actor may be best known: the cyborg T-1000, the villain of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

    100 votes
  • Gary Oldman Had To Relearn His British Accent After Living And Working In The US For So Long
    Photo: True Romance / Warner Bros.

    Gary Oldman's performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017) won him the Academy Award for best actor. But he is also well known for portraying villains in films like True Romance, The Fifth Element, Air Force One, and Léon: The Professional.

    Oldman was born in London, England, in 1958, but has lived in the United States since the early 1990s. As the years passed, the actor's natural accent faded, replaced by a very slight American one. In an appearance on The Graham Norton Show in 2014, Oldman admitted to the talk show host that he'd had to hire a voice coach in order to play the British spy George Smiley in the 2011 film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He explained:

    I have lived in America for so long, my kids are American, and that's what I hear around me all day... I had to brush up my English.

    Oldman ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination for best actor for his performance as Smiley.

    91 votes
  • Hugo Weaving Doesn't Drive Because He Is An Epileptic
    Photo: The Matrix / Warner Bros.

    Hugo Weaving first found recognition as an actor through his performances in the Australian films Proof and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. But his best-known film roles may be Agent Smith, the main antagonist in the Matrix films, and Johann Schmidt, the evil head of the Nazi science unit - AKA the supervillain Red Skull - in Captain America: The First Avenger.

    In 2012, Weaving admitted to the New York Post that he was an epileptic, although he hadn't had a seizure in years:

    I was really lucky. I probably had one major seizure a year. Every now and then I’d fall down and wake up to someone saying, "Are you okay?" but it never affected any jobs I was doing. It started at 13, and I figured if I grew into it, I could grow out of it. I don’t drive as a result because I couldn’t get my license. Now I could, but I can’t be bothered. It’s easier to walk. At least, that’s my excuse, anyway.

    In a 2014 interview with The Guardian, the actor said that when he did suffer a seizure, the last thing he thought was always, “I’m dying."

    101 votes