Not all villains must be British, says Mirren

From middle earth to a galaxy far far away, there exists a truth universal since the dawn of Hollywood time: bad guys speak with British accents. But it is a truth that British actress Dame Helen Mirren has become fed up with.

Speaking at an event in Los Angeles to celebrate British success in Hollywood, Dame Helen said British actors were an "easy target". "I think it's rather unfortunate that the villain in every movie is always British," she said.

Dame Helen, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 2007 for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, said it was "important to let Americans know that we're not just the Royal family – there's a lot more to us than that".

"It's just nice to say we're not snooty, stuck-up, malevolent, malignant creatures as we're often portrayed. We're actually kind of cool and hip! I love the idiosyncracy of the British people, I love the eccentric nature," the 64-year-old added.

The birth of the British bad guy in Hollywood is hard to pinpoint. Some cultural commentators have pointed to the War of Independence, which concluded 113 years before the first movie was shot in the United States.

Its consolidation, though, is likely to date from the maniacal laughs of Christopher Lee in the Hammer Horror films of the 1950s and 1960s. From then on, baddies have been almost uniformly Brits.

More recently, Christopher Lee portrayed the evil wizard Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Though the action takes place in Middle Earth, the accent is unmistakeably Thames Estuary.

In the more recent Star Wars trilogy, it is only after the young heroic Anakin Skywalker's conversion to the dark side that he shakes off his transatlantic tone to become Darth Vader. In the earlier movies, when James Earl Jones overdubbed the lines of the cyborg villain, he was asked to do so in a British accent.

For all its predictability, the tradition has not been without success. Sir Anthony Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of arguably the most famous baddie of them all, Dr Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Despite the character being Lithuanian by birth, American by residency, and with a penchant for Italian wines (and human flesh), the accent was English.

More recently, Sir Ian McKellen played the role of the villainous Magneto in the X-Men films, Paul Bettany was an unlikely Silas in The Da Vinci Code and Alfred Molina played Dr Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2. Brian Cox too played Ward Abbott in the Bourne films, and Christopher Lee played Count Dooku in Stars Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Dame Helen herself is soon to appear in a film adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest, playing a female Prospero, a character originally from Milan who lives on an island somewhere near Africa, and whose status as goodie or baddie has divided theatre-goers and English literature students since the 17th-century. The accent, though a little higher pitched, will likely be as English as ever.

Best of British baddies

Sir Anthony Hopkins

Hopkins won the Best Actor Oscar for his 1991 portrayal of Dr Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

Sir Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen played Magneto in the X-Men films, his ability to control magnetism proving a thorn in side of the more benevolently disposed X-Men.

Alfred Molina

Alfred Molina plays the eight-armed and English-tongued Otto Octavius in Spider-man 2. He also appeared as the double-crossing Satipo in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Sir Christopher Lee

Arguably the greatest English baddie of them all, having played Dracula, Count Dooku in Star Wars and Saruman in the Lord of The Rings trilogy.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss