The Best Villain Performances By Actors Who Always Play The Hero

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Vote up the best villainous performances by our most reliably heroic actors.

Actors are often typecast as a specific type of character. Those who become defined as "good guys (or girls)" and "heroes" wind up playing, more often than not, good guys and heroes. When actors play the same kinds of roles over and over again, it can be easy for audiences to start accepting them only in those roles.

But actors often like to stretch and challenge themselves by taking roles outside the bounds of their typical persona. Just as a comedian might be eager to take on a dramatic role, an actor known mainly for playing a hero might relish the chance to finally take on a true baddie. Sometimes the role reversal is successful and goes down as one of the performer's most loved performances; other times, it's a bad fit, or audiences are simply unable to accept the star in an unfamiliar role.

Here are some of the actors who have generally played trustworthy characters but broke away from that typecasting to play a villainous role. Which of these risks paid off?

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  • How We Usually See Him: Robin Williams is remembered mainly as a brilliant comedian, a man with great improvisational skills and comedic timing. After gaining success with his stand-up routines and on the television sitcom Mork & Mindy, his breakthrough film role came as a Vietnam-era Army disc jockey taking on the system to entertain the troops in Good Morning, Vietnam. Throughout the '90s - including with the massive commercial success of Mrs. Doubtfire and, in a voice role, Aladdin - he was the very face of sentimental, family-friendly comedy. He was far more than just a comic, of course - three of his four Academy Award nominations, including his one win (for Good Will Hunting), came for his sympathetic performances in dramas.

    How He Broke Bad: In Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, Williams's character is the prime suspect in the slaying of a teenager in a small town in Alaska. Walter Finch is a crime novelist who beat the girl to death after she rejected his advances. He uses the knowledge he's accumulated by researching his books to stay one step ahead of the detectives. He also isn't above using a little blackmail - when the lead detective (Al Pacino) accidentally lets his partner perish and then tries to cover up the transgression, Finch uses that to strong-arm him into pinning the homicide on the girl's boyfriend. Finch taunts Detective Dormer, saying the two share something in common: They both know how easy it is to take a life. He remorselessly revels in the belief that if he goes down, Pacino's character will go down with him.

    In his research for this role, Williams watched hours of interviews with real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. In an interview with The Morning Call, Williams said he was fascinated that so many of these infamous real-life figures seemed to otherwise live such normal lives.

    • Age: Dec. at 63 (1951-2014)
    • Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • How We Usually See Him: Denzel Washington is probably best known for playing real-life activists (Cry Freedom, Malcolm X) or for roles in films in which his character has to overcome prejudice in order to succeed in his goal (Remember the Titans, Philadelphia). His characters are often men of integrity who stand up against injustice or prejudice and inspire others. He's played his share of tough guys and even outlaws, too - but one part in particular stands out as a true bad guy amid a career's worth of heroes and complicated, sympathetic leading men.

    How He Broke Bad: In Training Day, Washington's Alonzo Harris is an unscrupulous cop who needs to pay off a large debt to Russian gangsters by the end of the day. As he mentors a rookie cop, he shows that he has little use for the law as he polices poor, drug-infested neighborhoods. A master manipulator and bully, he uses intimidation tactics against the residents and even puts a side arm to his trainee's head to force the young officer to ingest PCP - an incident he later uses to blackmail the idealist trainee. Ironically, he ends up getting brutally wiped out by the Russian gangsters when he does obey the law for once, simply stopping for a red light. This performance earned Washington the Academy Award for Best Actor.

    • Age: 68
    • Birthplace: USA, New York, Mount Vernon
  • How We Usually See Him: While films like Romeo + Juliet and Titanic made him a heartthrob, DiCaprio has long been considered one of the top leading men in Hollywood. He's known for taking risks in his choice of roles, and for his range as an actor. But while he has played several characters who have dubious moral values and/or are on the wrong side of the law, he still maintains point-of-view and audience sympathy. His protagonists may be complicated - sometimes truly heroic, sometimes not so much - but they aren't, in movie terms, the "bad guy." That is, except for his role in Django Unchained.

    How He Broke Bad: Calvin Candie is one of the only truly villainous DiCaprio has played - and perhaps the first who's wholly evil. When Quentin Tarantino says this is the only character he's written that he truly hates, that means something - the filmmaker has created more than a few vile characters over the course of his career. Originally, the character was meant to be an older man, but Tarantino later came up with the idea of modeling Candie more along the lines of a petulant boy emperor like Caligula. A sadistic plantation owner in the antebellum South, Candie takes great pleasure in watching his dogs tear slaves to pieces when they attempt to run away, not to mention forcing his slaves into fighting each other to the death. In one such contest, one man ends up ripping his opponent's eyes out. Although Candie was pretty much raised by his family's slaves, and has allowed one of them to more or less run the plantation, he still treats them as if they're less than human. He even casually wipes his own blood all over the face of a slave (who turns out to be Django's long-lost wife) as he threatens to smash in her skull with a hammer.

    • Age: 48
    • Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
  • How We Usually See Him: Han Solo. Indiana Jones. Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. President Marshall in Air Force One. Is there any actor in the last 40 years who has portrayed more good-guy heroes than Harrison Ford?

    How He Broke Bad: In What Lies Beneath, Ford flips his good-guy image on its head. On the surface, Ford's Norman Spencer is a good guy - he's a respected scientist, happily married to Claire (Michelle Pfeiffer). But beneath the good-guy facade is a murderous nature that is revealed whenever Spencer thinks his reputation is endangered. When Claire realizes her husband took the life of a female student after she threatened to tell the university president about their affair, Spencer attempts to off his wife and make it look self-inflicted - after all, she knows too much now, and has thus become a threat to his reputation and career. His absolute calm as he attempts to drown his drugged wife in a bathtub is chilling - and a far cry from the Harrison Ford we're used to seeing.

    • Age: 80
    • Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois, USA
  • How We Usually See Him: Steve Carell is best known for comedic roles in films such as Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin - and that's just the big screen. On the small screen, he received six Emmy nominations for portraying Michael Scott in the beloved sitcom The Office. His characters are often a bit off-center or idiosyncratic, but are usually "good guys."

    How He Broke Bad: One of Carell's first roles in a dramatic film was as John Eleuthère du Pont in the true crime drama Foxcatcher. He gives a darkly chilling performance as the paranoid, mentally ill heir to the Du Pont fortune who forms a dysfunctional relationship with Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz, the latter of whom he ends up slaying. Carell's portrayal of the millionaire wrestling enthusiast, who sees himself as the Schultzes' mentor, has deeply sinister undertones, even though he seems to consider Mark a real friend. Du Pont's abusive behavior plays a part in Mark's eventual decision to leave du Pont's training facility; Dave, however, makes the ill-fated decision to stick around. While some of Carell's other roles have had him play characters that don't quite fit in, this is the darkest, most dangerous role the actor had taken on up to this point of his career. He was rewarded for this risk with an Academy Award nomination.

    • Age: 60
    • Birthplace: Concord, Massachusetts, United States of America
  • Kevin Costner In 'Mr. Brooks'
    Photo: MGM

    How We Usually See Him: Kevin Costner became a star playing likable underdogs in movies like Bull Durham and Tin Cup, and stoic heroes in the likes of The Bodyguard, Dances with Wolves, and The Untouchables. A common characteristic of many of his best-remembered characters is integrity, whether it's to a game (as in Bull Durham), or his oath to represent the law (as in The Untouchables). He generally comes off as trustworthy.

    How He Broke Bad: In Mr. Brooks, Costner plays a serial killer with a split personality. On the one hand, he's a successful businessman and a devoted husband and father. On the other, he's a psychopath who's gleefully addicted to taking innocent lives. His responsible, good side is appalled by his actions; he admits he's an addict (without saying to what) at an AA meeting and recites its 12-step program in an attempt to rid himself of his cruel desires. But he's egged on by his alter ego (William Hurt), an imaginary friend named Marshall, who coaxes Costner into continuing his reign of carnage. While Brooks has a tormented conscience, Marshall is a happy-go-lucky sociopath who gets off on the thrill of killing for the hell of it. If the Marshall half of his personality didn't exist, Brooks could be seen as being right in line with a bunch of other straight-laced Costner characters. It's the gleefully maniacal side of this man that sets him apart from anything Costner had done before.

    • Age: 68
    • Birthplace: Lynwood, California, USA