The Top 10 Actors Who Play Great Jerks
5. John Vernon
Source: Universal Pictures
Doug Neidermeyer wasn't the only jerk-off played by a pro in Animal House. John Vernon also turned in a tour de force performance as Dean Vernon Wormer--the Crusty Dean to end all Crusty Deans. Although he first came to widespread attention in Animal House, Vernon was already a veteran actor when he was cast as Wormer. In his native Canada he was even a star, playing a hard-nosed Medical Examiner who solved crime years before Quincy ever hung out his shingle. But it was in Animal House that he found his true talent:
With his sharp features, clipped speaking style, and rage-filled eyes, Vernon dripped with frustration and anger as the Dean of Faber College. As the members of Animal House break every code of conduct and decency imaginable, Dean Wormer tries and fails repeatedly to have them expelled. John Vernon was so good at playing an impotent authority figure in the movie that he went on to play crusty killjoys in Herbie Goes Bananas, Ernest Goes To Camp, and once he got tired of bossing around imbeciles, the '80s sexploitation women-in-prison classic Chained Heat.
4. Louise Fletcher
Source: United Artists
To be a good evil character, you got to have creepy eyes. Sure, being built like a brick s***house, or having a vaguely Middle Eastern accent doesn't hurt, but the best bad guys are the ones who freak you out just by looking at you. And boy, does Louise Fletcher have some creepy eyes. Large, piercing, and icy blue, Fletcher has the kind of eyes that look permanently disappointed. That, along with her pissed off mom voice, makes her perfect for playing ball busters, hysterics, and all kinds of evil characters.
Louise Fletcher played a severe, tightly wound nurse in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (for which she won an Oscar), a severe, tightly wound grandmother in Flowers In The Attic, and a severe, tightly wound religious leader in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She had severe and tightly wound down pat, but one of Fletcher's greatest strengths is how she uses her voice. Dripping with false kindness and passive aggressive concern, Fletcher's plays her characters with such conviction that you almost understand when they murder children, lobotomize difficult patients, or even try to destroy the universe. If an actor can make you sympathize with a monster, they've got some serious chops.
3. Anthony Heald
Source: Orion Pictures
It takes a special kind of actor to make audiences cheer for a sadistic mass murdering cannibal. At the end of Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal Lecter, free after years of captivity, is preparing to eat his former jailer, Dr. Chilton. Played for laughs, the scene is only going to work if the guy playing Dr. Chilton has made him a world class smarmy jerk. And in Silence Of The Lambs, Anthony Heald plays one hell of a world class smarmy jerk. In tons of TV shows and movies, Heald has specialized in playing preening officious blowhards who are only interested in listening to the sounds of their own self-aggrandizing voices. With his impeccable wardrobe and s***-eating grin, Heald has a face you just can't help but despise. Add to that his cultured, I'm-so-much-better-than-you voice, and you've got an actor custom made for playing characters that the audience can't wait to see eaten alive by murderous psychopaths.
2. Michael Ironside
Source: Republic Pictures
With his supremely grizzled face and manic eyes, Michael Ironside looks like Jack Nicholson if he had spent twenty years in a Thai prison for running guns and heroin. He's got all of the menace and manic energy that makes Nicholson dangerous, but none of the playfulness that makes Nicholson a leading man. And lucky for us, because Michael Ironside plays a terrific bastard.
The classic tough guy, Ironside played the villain or lead henchman in tons of movies like Scanners, Total Recall, Highlander 2, and a bunch of others. More than almost any other Hollywood bad guy, Ironside actually looks like he'd enjoy wasting punks, terrorizing innocent civilians, and generally adding to the general level of misery in the world. A big fan of the genre, Ironside has appeared in lots of sci-fi flicks, spreading pain throughout the universe and creating a loyal fanbase of people who really like watching him beat the snot out of people. He doesn't always play killers, though. But even when he does play a nice guy, it's a nice guy who's not afraid to kick a little ass if that's what it takes. With a name like Ironside, what else is he going to do?
1. Michael Emerson
One of the most underrated kinds of bad guy is the seemingly weak, nerdy guy who looks like he'd rather organize his stamp collection than terrorize a sexy doctor or hatch a masterplan for world domination. They slide under the radar just long enough to completely surprise the hero when they grab him by the balls and start to do serious damage. Actors who plays these kinds of characters have to pull off a pretty tough balancing act. Sometimes, they have to appear to meeker than an asthmatic library assistant, while others, they have to be threatening enough to lay waste to a Hollywood action hero.
In the last few years. Michael Emerson has made a name for himself (and bagged a few Emmys) playing these types of guys. Whether it's the serial killer William Hinks on The Practice, or as the master manipulator Ben Linus on Lost, Emerson excels at playing deeply wounded bad guys who hide their evil under a thin veneer of respectable geekiness.