Effeminate, campy, queenish villains in Hollywood aren't exactly a new thing. Examples go as far back as say, Claude Rains' bad guy in "The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), Peter Lorre as the delicate Mr. Cairo in “The Maltese Falcon” (his business cards are gardenia-scented for crying out loud), Conrad Veidt as the SS villain in “Casablanca,” Charles Laughton in “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), and these types can be found in plenty of eras (Vernon Wells as the leathery, Pillsbury Doughboy-esque villain in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s "Commando" is sort of known as the plump Freddie Mercury of action movie villains).
But as of late, this trend, the fey, not-so-ambiguously gay villain (often with bleached blonde hair for some reason) seems to be coming back with a vengeance in modern cinema. While we're not completely omg offended per se — we're not so politically correct to assume we can tell storytellers how they should write their characters — we are starting to tire of this recent trend and lazy way of conceiving villains: the swishy, bleached-blonde villain with nefarious plans who comes with a dollop of (suggestively or outright) gay on top.
Worse, a lot of the characters appear to be conceived by the actors and not on the page. Both Guy Pearce in "Lawless" and Javier Bardem in "Skyfall" have openly discussed how they "fleshed out" their characters much more than what was in the screenplay initially (in our recent interview “Skyfall” director Sam Mendes told us he essentially let Bardem do whatever he wanted with the character). As such, it's somewhat alarming that "run wild and free with the bad guy" for some actors immediately means: makes this character not so subtly flaming.
With "Skyfall" in theaters this week, and Javier Bardem's villain being the latest offender of this new stereotype, we thought we'd chronicle five recent villains that fit this mold of the not-so-ambiguously gay villain.
1. Javier Bardem – “Skyfall”
“Mommy was very, very bad," Javier Bardem's Silva character says in the latest Bond, with pronounced theatricality. His near-ridiculous villain character, dressed as a dandy in a tan blazer and cravat in "Skyfall," seems to be earning great reviews, and we're not so sure why. It's just another madman character who's soooo crazy and off-the-rails, and well, of course he's got to have dyed-blonde hair (the new signifier for dangerous and queenish apparently), possess a lispy mannerism and maintain a well-coiffed sartorial style. And there’s almost nothing closeted about the character despite Sam Mendes and Bardem’s interview talk of the character’s sexuality being “ambiguous.” When he spreads Daniel Craig’s legs, gets on his knees between them and says “there’s nothing in the rulebook about how to prepare for this” as he’s slowly and gently moving his finger around his captor’s neck, there’s lots of hunter/prey connotations swirling about. More troubling is how the scene, and our introduction to Silva, essentially evinces him to be repugnant and vile. While Bond does shoot back well, disarming him with the, “How do you know this is my first time?” line in their sexual tête-à-tête, it’s still rather unfortunate that Bardem’s Silva amounts to a good boy who disobeyed, didn’t follow the rules, was tortured, became unhinged psychologically and then turned bad.
2. Tom Hollander – “Hanna”
There's almost nothing subtle about Tom Hollander's eyeliner-wearing, aging-clubber character Isaacs in Joe Wright's coming-of-age action drama "Hanna." Doubly disconcerting is how "Hanna" is built on fairy tale archetypes. Cate Blanchett's character is essentially the evil queen, Saoirse Ronan is like an innocent Snow White, and Eric Bana is like a Huntsman figure, but Tom Hollander's character is what exactly? The Cheshire Cat? It’s very unclear where his character fits in these molds, and worse, on top of being uber-swishy, Hollander's character is annoying, sniveling and weasely in his one-colored tracksuit, peroxided hair, and designer sunglasses (worse: he’s based on a childhood friend of Wright’s who used to beat him up as a child). Hollander's imp character is, to put it bluntly, supposed to be a little bitch that might as well lustfully lick blood off a dagger. It's like the character is built to be so hyper-poncy that you can't wait for him to die, and that's disconcerting. The character certainly mars what is otherwise a pretty fresh and interesting take on both the coming-of-age story and the action thriller.
3. Michael Sheen – "Tron: Legacy”
Sexuality is a nebulous thing in "Tron: Legacy," Disney's $200 million video art installation, especially when the two romantic leads (Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde) come across less as full-blooded humans capable of a sexual connection and more like two Disneyland animatronics placed in close proximity of one another. Michael Sheen, though, as a duplicitous and thoroughly evil club owner, carries his own swishy sexuality – in a world full of ciphers and users and gamers, he stands out as a big ol' queer. Visually, he carries a number of cues to pansexual greats of the past, equal parts Ziggy Stardust and Yves Saint Laurent, and his flamboyant way of speaking ("Electrify the boys and girls!" he coos at a "TRON"-ized version of Daft Punk) and walking (at one point he does a little Charlie Chaplin shuffle) suggests a kind of Broadway-style theatricality. And you know who populates Broadway, right? When Sheen brings the heroic Flynn, Jr. (Hedlund) into his office, it reeks of a sexual proposition, with an older man preying on a younger one, complete with the exchange of favors and a mysterious alcoholic beverage. What's unclear is why the most identifiable sexual traits in all of the mostly asexual "Tron: Legacy" should be oversized, outdated homosexual identifiers and why they should be assigned to a villainous club owner.
4. Guy Pearce – “Lawless”
Among the bootleggin’ brothers, rugged local authorities and tough guy gangsters of John Hillcoat’s “Lawless,” there is special agent Charlie Rakes. Emphasis on “special.” Portrayed by Guy Pearce, he’s certainly ruthless, but coming from the mysterious land of Chicago, with shaved eyebrows, a carefully manicured head of hair, and wardrobe of well-formed clothing, his dandy-ish ways stand out against the rugged, outwardly masculine landscape he gets caught up in. Yes, he does avail himself of a prostitute, but one could argue his abuse of her is a reflection of his own self-hatred. Aghast at filth, upset when his white gloves becomes soiled, intentionally or not, Charlie Rakes is presented as an “other.” It’s not overt or even intentional, but the subtext is certainly there — he’s not just unlikeable for being the antagonist for the Bondurants, but also for embodying a distinctly different set of rules when it comes to how he embraces his manhood.
5. Sam Spruell – "Snow White and the Huntsman"
Like "Tron: Legacy," "Snow White and the Huntsman" is a largely sexless affair, despite a love triangle wedged in its gooey center (between Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin, all of whom look like they're incredibly uninterested in one another), and saves its most outwardly sexual character traits for Sam Spruell as Finn, Charlize Theron's villainous brother and loyal henchman. While Theron's Ravenna has some agency – she wants to rule the land, kill Snow White, and turn into a weird puddle of birds – Finn is ineffectual and wimpy, conversely attracted to and repelled by his sister's staggering beauty. The filmmakers chose to slap Spruell with a Lord Fauntleroy pageboy haircut that automatically puts him in the realm of an outcast. We're not sure Spruell played the character as gay, but it seems like a concerted effort between all departments to make him as bizarre and off-putting as possible, with a strong shellacking of homosexual otherness on top. He might not be the fairest in the land, but he is the most fey.
And that's just scratching the surface, really. He may not have been entirely aware of it (nor were some audiences), but Christoph Waltz's "that's a bingo!" turn in "Inglourious Basterds" as a deliciously officious and articulate Nazi was as swishy as jello. Michael Caine as the demented therapist in “Dressed to Kill,” Ted Levine as the drifter in “Silence of the Lambs,” even Sam Rockwell’s uber-strange drug-dealer in the “The Sitter” and Alan Tudyk as King Candy in “Wreck-It Ralph” are suspicious enough to send the gaydar alarm off.
Thoughts? Do you care? Have you seen more examples or offenders? Does it bother you or otherwise? Let us know what you think and weigh in below.
– RP, Drew Taylor, Kevin Jagernauth