Actors love to talk about playing the villain. It's a favourite topic that often comes up in interviews, particularly in certain episodes of Inside the Actor's Studio. The key, actors say, is to never play it as though your motives are impure, but lean into it fully and play the part as if convinced your actions are just. It's a wise piece of advice, and it's evident in some of the best villain roles in history.
Where those actor's tips become more complex is when you're not the lead, when you have to invent more of an M.O. for the character. This is true when you're cast as a second-fiddle henchman. When you're role is often little more than standing around and looking imposing, your mind tends to go places.
Many films have utilized the henchman or lackey role ingeniously, turning narrative contrivances on their head or using them as blunt instruments of masterminds. On other occasions, they're the hidden masterminds themselves.
The role of the henchman should never be underwritten or ignored, as they can always strengthen an action picture, particularly when there's an action beat missing. But here are some that just by casting alone made the part something a little more than just an obstacle for the hero to overcome.
10. Bokeem Woodbine - The Rock
From The Rock's opening moments, you know you aren't in for your typical action film - a bit of a surprise from Michael Bay. General Francis X. Hummel he lays out his motive and logic for taking over Alcatraz with hostages and chemical weapons. And they're the only reasons for terrorism a movie audience will accept: America betrayed he and his fellow soldiers for fighting honourably. The solution, in his warped mind, is to fight dishonourably.
That's enough to make everyone's veteran father in the crowd tear up. Unfortunately, Hummel hired bloodthirsty mercenaries (hiring Candyman and Melvyn from Renaissance Man wasn't ideal), and they betray him the moment he has a change of heart.
The cast is stacked with a veritable who's who of character actors, from the aforementioned Tony Todd to old reliables like David Morse and John C. McGinley.
But of the impressive crew of villains, a young Bokeem Woodbine seems out of place. Woodbine, then unknown, plays Gunnery Sergeant Crisp, who wears his inexperience on his face throughout the movie. Woodbine doesn't have many lines, making it all the more impressive. He mostly stands around in the background, but his uncertainty about what they're doing is obvious.
That's what makes it all the more heartbreaking when he's ordered to pull a gun on his commanding officer. The doubt, the concern is so obvious right up until he takes a bullet to the chest. The look of shock on his face is palpable.