It can be a thankless task, being an actor who signs on to portray a Marvel villain. True, you could well end up being the next Alexander Pierce. Chances are though, you’ll end up being the next Aldrich Killian….
Marvel Studios can never be accused of cutting corners with the creation of their bad-versaries. Audiences have experienced a long shuffling line of Hollywood A-listers, utilizing the studio’s finest prosthetics and CGI to go head to head with The Avengers and their compatriots.
But playing your average comic book evildoer has an inherent problem. You’re essentially disposable. The bad guys are usually there to cause some collateral damage, get beaten, and then have their motives and actions reflected on in the closing scenes. No solo outings. No spin-offs. Maybe a cameo in a sequel if they’re lucky.
It takes a gifted character actor to defy this stereotype and turn in a performance that truly breaks free from the constraints that a script places on them. Undeniably, it was the strength and screen presence of Tom Hiddlestone that managed to turn lift the character of Loki from a boo-hiss naughty God into a recurring fan favorite.
So that got us to thinking. What exceptionally talented actors has the industry already sadly lost, who given the chance, could have turned in a truly ground-breaking performance as a Marvel baddie?
Here’s what we came with, as ever, feel free to let us know who we missed, or where we went wrong:
7. Richard Harris
First of all we go all the way back to 2002. Already a little way into the Harry Potter series, former hell-raiser Richard Harris finally succumbed to pneumonia, and passed away.
With a career spanning back to the 1950’s, Harris had made his name playing powerful characters such as Cromwell, Richard The Lionheart, and Marcus Aurelius. Using his grizzled looks and raspingly gentle tone, he had managed to bring a compelling blend of confidence and vulnerability to these roles.
There’s a part of me that wonders how the Spidey films might have panned out if instead of going for numbers of villains, they had instead gone with Harris bringing that ability to play both emotions to the role of an arch nemesis such as Silvermane. The desperate yet fiercely proud head of a dying Mafia organisation, fighting to stay relevant amongst the rise of costumed heroes and villains.
6. Heath Ledger
Hop forward six years. The senseless and tragic loss of a young actor has rarely been felt across the breadth of film industry as deeply as that of Ledger, dying as a result of a drugs overdose in 2008.
The tragedy is heightened by the fact that his career was on the up and up, and had been supercharged by his career-defining performance as the Joker in Chris Nolan’s reimagined Batman series.
For an actor to able to take a character and push it to such an overtly extreme portrayal, and convincingly convey such a sense of volatile instability, only two candidates come to mind from the pages of Marvel. The deeply unbalanced Sentry, never too far away from descending into the brink of madness, or the deliciously unhinged symbiote serial killer of Carnage.
5. Patrick Swayze
One year on. Having fought a rather public battle with cancer in his final months, Swayze eventually succumbed to the disease in 2009. A gifted character actor, the loss was perhaps more keenly felt due to the fact that he was starting to graduate back into mainstream projects following somewhat of a lull in his career.
With the first half of his career built on very physical hard-man roles, you have to wonder if Swayze might have benefited from the arrival of The Expendables franchise. But his defining roles in Point Break, Ghost and Donnie Darko all demonstrate that he was more than capable of covering the spectrum of human emotion. For me, he would have made been a perfect fit for The Hood. An ambitious and ruthless kingpin, riven by internal conflict and aggression.
4. James Gandolfini
Roll on four years. This larger than life Hollywood personality suffered a heart attack in 2013 whilst on holiday. An imposing actor of gigantic proportions, he built a career playing nasty, threatening and bullying characters, but was never afraid to make light of his size and menacing looks, with humorous roles such as In The Loop.
No stranger to playing criminals, or career soldiers, Gandolfini would have been perfect for any number of Marvel bad-guys. Despite Wolverine’s main military adversary, William Stryker having already been cast a number of times, the former Tony Soprano would have been just as good, if not better than those already cast. Failing that, he would have been a far better choice for Mr Hyde than the physically inferior and shouty Kyle McLachlan. Though he’d most likely have ended up landing a role like Grizzly.
3. Maximilian Schell
Staying in 2014, talented actor/director Max Schell passed away in his native Austria. With a career spanning 60 years and over 100 film credits, this Schell was no stranger to playing an onscreen bad guy. He was best known outside his homeland for his portrayal in Hollywood of either high-ranking Nazis or high-ranking corrupt Vatican officials.
That in mind, we could go down the obvious route, and have had him playing Heinrich Zemo, the father and predecessor of Daniel Bruhl’s forthcoming portrayal of Helmut Zemo in ‘Civil War’. But sidestep that, and hark back to one of his best his best loved roles in ‘The Black Hole’. Schell was more than capable of menace, but also of being able to persuade others that there was a genuine cause and justification to the methods he was employing. Who else would be a better call for the Kree Supreme Intelligence in future GOTG films?
2. Philip Seymour Hoffman
2014 was a bad year for Hollywood. Lauded as one of the cinematic greats of our time, the oft-troubled Seymour Hoffman died as a result of a drugs overdose. At 46, he was an amazingly versatile performer of both arthouse and mainstream cinema.
The native New Yorker graduated from early castings as bullies and misfits, to demanding roles of true depth and character, culminating in his Academy Award for the titular Capote. Examining his performances in MI:3, Charley Wilson’s War, and Mockingbird, his best role within the MCU’s available villains would have been of a bad guy able to outthink his opponents. Possibly the Mad Thinker, or maybe more likely in some form as the Hulk’s main enemy, The Leader.
1. Robin Williams
The most recent of the extraordinarily talented actors on this list, this perennial King of Comedy tragically took his own life in 2014, having spent some time seemingly managing to shield his own personal demons and problems from the prying eyes of the public.
Williams famously spent a number of years being courted by DC in various guises to play The Riddler in a Batman franchise. The most comparable Marvel character that would have suited his ability to balance darkness and humour would be the as yet unseen Arcade. Much as Heath Ledger had managed to take The Joker, and make it his own, having delivered landmark performances in Insomnia and One Hour Photo, Williams could have been sensational in the role of the demented genius, obsessed with reducing the heroes of the MCU to little more than the proverbial rats in a maze.
What do you think of the list? Let us know in the comment section below!