So who would play the villain?

By Allison Brennan

I never visualize real people when I create a character. They are as unique as anyone, and I don’t model them after specific people. But they do tend to certain “types” and I’ve had fun over the last few years picturing which actor or actress would play my heroes. For example, Nathan Fillion from FIREFLY (a more serious Nathan than Nathan Fillion from CASTLE) would make a good Quinn Peterson from THE HUNT. And Evangeline Lilly would make a good Miranda Moore from THE HUNT. Or David Boreanaz as Jack Kincaid. I would say Hugh Jackman would make a great Rafe Cooper from ORIGINAL SIN, but long-time JD Robb fans have Jackman pictured as Roarke, and I really can’t argue with that (though I picture Roarke taller and broader . . . )



And then there’s who would play Moira O’Donnell . . . that one I’m not so sure yet. She’s so real to me that no one seems to fit, and I think I need to watch some more of the teen movies to find the right actress.

But honestly? It’s the villains who intrigue me. I especially like actors who don’t traditional play a villainous role as villains because they tend to be more compelling, less stereotypical, and creepier. Anthony Hopkins was brilliant as Hannibal Lecter of course, and I also loved him as the killer in FRACTURE which was a sleeper that was still a good movie. Anthony Hopkins is so well-known as Hannibal that I’d much rather see him as a hero in the future. He’s already played the ultimate villain.

Actors who are truly talented should be able to play both a hero and a villain.

Johnny Depp in THE SECRET WINDOW from Stephen King’s short story. Glenn Close in FATAL ATTRACTION. 

I saw this photo of Colin Firth and instantly thought he’d make a great villain–disarming, attractive, but with the potential of being evil.


He could be the attractive, extremely intelligent sociopath Theodore Glenn from KILLING FEAR. Or maybe Matthew Walker from ORIGINAL SIN, someone who can look and seem very helpful and then turn on you on a dime.

Other talented actors I’d love to see as a really good villain . . . Russell Crowe. Brad Pitt. Johnny Depp. Robert Downey, Jr. Maybe John Cusack as the very tragic erotomaniac Aaron Doherty from TEMPTING EVIL. I doubt Meg Ryan would ever play a bad guy, but I’d love to see her play a sociopath. I think she could pull it off. Or someone like Emma Thompson.

What about you? Is there an actor or actress you’d like to see stretch to play a villain? A specific villain?

I’ll be responding late as I’m at Disneyland all day. But I’m interested in hearing all your ideas!

34 thoughts on “So who would play the villain?

  1. Alafair Burke

    Matt Damon. Ed Norton (again). Agree on Johnny Depp.

    In general, I’d like to see more women play bad guys. Can you imagine if Sandra Bullock followed up on Blindside with a Fatal Attraction-like thriller?

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    This will come as a surprise to no one who read my last post, but Idris Elba (Stringer) as Salk in The Price. Absolutely.

    Or Ian McShane. My idea of going to the devil.

    The interesting thing to me, though is that I would be thrilled with Viggo Mortensen in EITHER role – the hero or the villain.

    I so agree about Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock playing villains – would love to see it. And those two women have always been smart enough about their careers to do it – but it would be REALLY hard to get a studio to cough up the money for a total break in character/perceived fan base expectation like that. They’re wrong, but that’s the reality…

    Johnny Depp – in anything, basically. Robert Downey Jr, too.

  3. Allison Brennan

    Speaking of Ian McShane–yes, he’d make a great bad guy. But I also like Timothy Olyphant as a bad guy. He’s such a great tortured hero, and he was terrific as a bad guy in the last DIE HARD movie.

    I absolutely agree about female villains. Right now, they only let a few major actresses play villainous characters, like Glenn Close. I have five books were the primary villain is female. I wonder if they’d let Nicole Kidman play Fiona from ORIGINAL SIN?

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    Roarke has always been (younger) Pierce Brosnan — Robb/Roberts always talks about his (Roarke’s) Irish background. GREAT photo of Jackman there, though.
    I don’t know if I always picture an actor when I read — I think only sometimes. And the worrying thing is when books are made into movies and the casting is all wrong. I keep hearing Kenneth Branagh (who I’ve always liked quite a bit ever since Henry V) was going to play Shardlake in the CJ Sansom books. No no no. And I don’t want that image in my brain.

  5. kit

    it’s hell to be cynical, at times…however it’s my personal feeling, the *powers that be* won’t look at any of those names,until they get older and are scrablbling for roles(the females).
    I will probably wish I shut up..but ..I veiw it like hunting and sex…at first, you just try to *hit* something, then you try to hit everything…later on, when you’ve made your give it a sporting chance, can pick and choose…it’s only as you mature, that you go for the challenge. my .02.
    enjoy Disneyland! Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone

  6. Robert Gregory Browne

    I’d really like to see Matt Damon play a villain. Maybe he’s done it before, but I don’t remember it.

    Somebody mentioned Pierce Brosnan, and while he wasn’t exactly a villain, he was a great and extremely funny, desperate antihero in The Matador, which, if you haven’t seen, you need to rush out and get. I’d so love to see a sequel to that movie.

    Casting books has been on my mind lately, for reasons I’ll talk about when I’m up next to blog. But I never visualize anyone when I’m writing. And I like to keep my characters’ appearance a bit vague, so that the readers can fill in the blanks with the Hugh Jackman or Colin Firth of their choice.

    Now, I’m off to have Valentine’s Day lunch with the leading lady of my choice. My lovely wife…

  7. alli

    I’d like to see Hugh Grant play a villain – without using his school-boy charm (like he did in Bridget). Sandra Bullock and Meg Ryan (as mentioned by others) would be BRILLIANT to see as villains. I’d also like to see Anotonio Banderas to play the super bad guy. Hmmm…..

  8. anonymous

    Billy Bob Thornton DOES play a hero. Joe in Chrystal? Karl in Sling Blade? Many many others.

    Antonio Banderas DOES play a bad guy. Armand in Interview With A Vampire? (or was he too sexy in that one to be considered "super bad" <g>)

  9. JT Ellison

    You know one of the villains I thought was the best casting ever? Harry Connick Jr as Darryll Lee Cullum in Copycat. Here’s a guy who’s on top of his game as a Sinatra-style crooner who plays a sinister, over the top psychopath in one of the best creepy serial killer movies ever made.

    The list of actors who could play excellent psychos is long and varied – Brad Pitt comes to mind immediately. Jonathan Rhys Meyers does some great evil work already, but he could easily play the Southern Strangler in my first book. Oh, I could do this all day. Fun topic, Allison!

  10. toni mcgee causey

    JT, that was one of the scariest, best thriller movies I’ve ever seen. HC, Jr was unbelievably good in that film. Unfortunately for the film, its release date was the same weekend as a couple of other mega tentpole movies (and now, I don’t even remember them), and the movie just did not have the press it needed to pull in the audience and it was pulled, early.

    Rob, Matt Damon played the villain in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY as well as in THE DEPARTED (which was extremely well-done.)

    I have a hard time casting books… I don’t really see them as an actor (maybe because I’m too aware now of the mechanics behind casting). I do love it when an actor goes against type, though–that makes me drop their reputation crap at the beginning of the movie and immerse more in the story.

    Great shot of Jackman, Allison. The suffering you’ll do for the blog…

    I’m off for a Valentine’s day treat… lunch and then the shooting range. (We are so traditional.)

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Had to LOL when I read Toni’s reply, because the first good guy/bad guy that sprang to my mind, too, was Matt Damon in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’ – he was genuinely creepy in that.

    And we also just spent Valentine’s Day shooting, but a camera at a car, rather than firearms, sadly ;-]

    Timothy Olyphant played the lead role in a should-have-been-DTV called ‘Hitman’. Haven’t seen it myself, but the *best* review I saw for it said, "The title was missing its initial ‘s’…"

    Sam Worthington was brilliant as the conflicted bad guy/good guy/bad guy in ‘Terminator Salvation’.

    But it’s hard to find decent hard-ass roles for women in the movies. Sigourney Weaver in the ‘Alien’ series? Jodie Foster played a great ball-breaking character in ‘Inside Man’.

    But if you cast someone too far against type – and if they can’t quite pull it off – it turns into farce very quickly. An unshaven, gravelly voiced Steve Guttenberg trying to play Black Ops leader Bill McNeil in ‘Airborne’, anyone?

    But, who would I love to see play Charlie Fox. THAT’S an interesting question … ;-]

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Oh, man…Disneyland. You are such the perfect mom.
    I liked Alan Rickman in Die Hard. One of his great lines – "Ah, the benefits of a classical education…"

  13. alli

    Ah, good point Anon re: Antonio Banderas in Interview with a Vampire. Yes, even though he was a bad guy, he was way too sexy to be super bad. So maybe he`d suck (no pun intended) at being super bad because he`s just too yummy!

  14. soupy

    Ya – if I remember right didn’t Colin Firth play a villain in one of his more recent movies? Dorian Gray I believe? I never saw cuz I heard it was so-so, but I also heard that Colin Firth was the only real reason to watch it since he did such a fantastic job of playing a despicable character who gets his come-up-ins. He also has a full-on Pavarati-esque beard going on (it takes place in the 19th century I think) so it helps with his "evil" look….now I kinda want to see it….

  15. Mike Dennis

    Probably the greatest casting-against-type that ever occurred was when Sergio Leone cast Henry Fonda as Frank in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968). Leone saw something cold and distant in Fonda while screening a few of his films, and he knew then that Fonda would be the perfect actor to play one of the most evil, despicable characters ever to walk onto a movie screen.

    And, I might add, Fonda was so hot to play the role, he jumped through a lot of hoops getting out of a studio contract to do it.

  16. Jake Nantz

    Sorry I’m late to the party. FWIW, Brad Pitt has actually done a GREAT job as a villain, showing that he can actually act instead of just being a pretty boy. The movie KALIFORNIA is creepy as hell, and him with the hillbilly beard and pit-stained t-shirts. Antonio Benderas has also played another villain in the movie ASSASSINS, with Stallone. Not great, but not bad either.

  17. Allison Brennan

    PK, I loved Kenneth Branagh in Henry V too!!! And didn’t he also play HAMLET? I think that’s my favorite Shakespeare play.

    Alex, though I don’t see Fiona AS Nicole, I think she could create herself into the character. And while Fiona is technically nearly 48, she looks much, much younger.

    LOL Kit.

    Aww, how romantic Rob! 🙂

    Sandra Bullock would definitely make a good villain, in the right role. She’s had an interesting career. Very popular, not popular, now on the upswing. It’s like . . . actresses seem to have huge popularity when they’re young (or look young), then stumble, and if they’re talented they come back when they’re "old" (I use this loosely!!!) like late 30/40s and they play "mature" roles. I know there are a lot of exceptions, but I’ve seen this happen with lots of my favorite actresses.

  18. Allison Brennan

    BTW, after reading all the comments, I think that most actors have played a villain on occasion, but not necessarily to great success so I didn’t think of it. Also, I haven’t seen as many movies as a lot of you! I’ve never seen KALIFORNIA, now I need to. I knew Brad Pitt had played some darker roles, but I didn’t know he’d been a villain. I like villains who don’t LOOK like villains, except when you catch them at the right moment (like that Colin Firth photo.)

    BTW, I love, love, love THE DEPARTED. Matt Damon was fantastic in that movie, and I’m not a huge Matt Damon fan (though now I am.) That movie worked for me on so many levels.

    Oh, Zoe, I love conflicted bad guys!!! I never saw that Terminator movie.

    Stephen, Alan Rickman always plays a good bad guy, I love DIE HARD. Truly a classic thriller.

  19. Allison Brennan

    Soupy, now I want to see it too, except I loved the book DORIAN GRAY and I really hate it when Hollywood screws up a great story.

    LOL on Antonio Banderas. Some guys are too sexy to be villains . . . not. : ) Sexy villains are fabulous.

    Toni, I’m always willing to suffer for Murderati . . .

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