When you think of on-screen villains, you probably play a highlight reel of iconic characters like Michael Myers, Voldemort, and Loki in your head — figures that make a habit of terrorizing protagonists in ways that we can’t quite shake when the show’s over. But you might be shocked to know that there are some infamous movie villains played by super-nice actors.
While their particular brands of evil vary by degree, it’s hard to imagine even an iota of kindness in the people who play them so masterfully, but as it turns out, even the guy who brought Hannibal Lecter to life is actually chill as hell. From the man who gave us Voldemort to the transformative Charlize Theron as Eileen Wuornos, here are 18 silver screen cons, thieves, killers, and psychopaths you may actually want to hang out with in real life.
18. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter
When it comes to infamous movie villains, few characters measure up to the liver-eating, chianti-loving madman Hannibal Lecter played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. The Silence of the Lambs, a thriller released in 1991, tells the story of psychiatrist-turned-cannibalistic killer Dr. Lecter and his interviews with FBI agent Clarice Starling which were conducted in hopes that his insights would help catch another gruesome killer, Buffalo Bill.
While the character of Hannibal Lecter is evil enough to make anyone’s skin crawl, Hopkins — who prefers to be called Tony — is known in the industry to be a mild-mannered, kind guy who liked to play tricks on cast members while filming the Oscar-winning horror flick by silently creeping up on them and saying, “Good morning,” in that chilling Lecter tone.
17. Heath Ledger as the Joker
Far from his cute role as Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You, the late, great Heath Ledger shocked audiences with his incredible portrayal of The Joker in 2008 film The Dark Knight. Ledger used a method acting approach to get inside the evil villain’s head before they started filming, and some say that this method contributed to his untimely death, though his family says this is totally untrue.
In real life, Ledger was a proud dad and an all-around good guy. On set for The Dark Knight, Ledger was known to go on and on about how proud he was of his little girl all while hanging around in his ghoulish makeup. In another instance, while filming, Ledger wanted to stay late to perfect a scene and then personally thanked every single crew member for staying on longer than anticipated that day.
16. Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West
Margaret Hamilton is best known for her classic portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. Although she sticks flying monkeys on Dorothy and her crew in the movie and generally seems like someone who hates kids (and little dogs too), Hamilton was actually a huge advocate for children!
She even appeared alongside Fred Rogers on an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood to distance herself from the infamous villain. She was so nice, in fact, that Judy Garland had a hard time being afraid of Hamilton on set.
15. James Earl Jones as Darth Vader
Dad of the Year Darth Vader is another infamous villain played by a super-nice actor. James Earl Jones lent his famous voice to the sinister figure in Star Wars and gave tons of kids nightmares, but he’s actually a pretty stand-up guy when he’s not hanging out in the Death Star.
Over the years, he’s been involved in AIDS awareness work and is known to join in on community service in his hometown of Pawling, New York. He’s also been outspoken throughout his life about dealing with speech impediments to help people, and particularly children, who may be struggling to communicate. As it turns out, the man known for his booming voice dealt with a stuttering problem for years.
14. Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy
If you’re a ‘90s baby, then you probably grew up with Harry Potter books and movies. While Harry, Hermione, and Ron are clear standouts, the villains in the Harry Potter universe are huge story-drivers as well. One that stands out is the cunning, snide Draco Malfoy, who was played by Tom Felton.
But outside of that magical universe, Felton’s known to be a pretty down-to-Earth guy and an amazing musician. He’s noted with sadness in interviews that there have been times when little kids started crying when they saw him in public, thinking he was really the little sadist he played in the movies. This made him upset because he’s not actually a garbage person, believe it or not.
13. Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape
First of all, Alan Rickman, we’ll miss you forever. And that’s because this all-around great human was such a good actor, he convinced all of us that he was an evil genius after playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. Snape was so serious and dark that it seemed like if he were to smile, it’d crack his face in half.
But that’s far from who Rickman was as a person. In fact, he adored little kids. He had tons of nieces and nephews, and he even revealed that he took the role as Snape because he knew it’d make them smile to see their uncle play a part in their favorite series. There’s even a funny story about a young Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley, drawing a crude cartoon of Rickman behind his back. Instead of scolding Grint for it, however, Rickman actually laughed and had the young actor sign his work of art for him so that he could keep it.
12. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort
It’s easy to forget that there was an actual human hanging out under all that Voldemort makeup in Harry Potter, but without the stellar performance of Ralph Fiennes, Voldemort the noseless wonder would probably inspire a few more giggles than he should have. (Because come on, the nose situation was funny.)
For some reason, the soft-spoken Fiennes is great at playing horrific characters. He also played Commander Amon Goeth in Nazi period piece Schindler’s List with a frightening degree of cruelty, which reportedly left everyone on set feeling totally stunned that such a nice, quiet man could act so truly evil.
11. Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown
Unless you were hiding out under a rock in 2017, you probably saw New Line Cinema’s reboot of Stephen King’s IT, starring Bill Skarsgård as the terrifying monster Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Finding out that this young actor was hiding under all that scary makeup was a shock for most people since he’s 1) freaking gorgeous and 2) a nice, level-headed, funny guy when he’s not busy terrorizing children on screen.
While filming the box-office hit, Skarsgård voiced concern about scaring the kids too much, so he tried to chat with them between scenes because he felt bad for terrifying them when he was in character. And while we’re sure these kiddos are great actors, the horror on their faces tells us that all the chatting in the world couldn’t get rid of all the sheer terror they must’ve felt while the cameras were rolling.
10. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn
In terms of rising Hollywood darlings, the beautiful, kind Margot Robbie is on everyone’s radar. Still, it’s hard to remember that she’s a pretty normal woman when you think about how well she played the sinister Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. While it may seem like there’s real evil in those eyes when she raises hell in the city alongside Jared Leto as The Joker in the film, in real life, she’s just a beer-drinking, burger-loving, everyday kind of girl.
9. Angelina Jolie as Maleficent
When rumors circulated that a film dedicated to villainous Disney favorite Maleficent was in the works, the internet went nuts and immediately begged Disney to cast Angelina Jolie in the role. As it turns out, the folks at Disney had already picked up when the rest of us were putting down. They knew the black-haired stunner could bring just the right amount of evil to the Maleficent film.
But it’s not just that Jolie is nice in real life. She’s downright world-changing. When she’s not acting, directing, and taking care of her gaggle of children, Jolie can be found working as a UN ambassador on behalf of women, girls, and refugees worldwide. She’s basically a real-life superhero.
8. Charlize Theron as Eileen Wuornos
First, let’s just talk about the transformation Charlize Theron underwent to go from leggy, tall, supermodel-level goddess to worn-down truck stop serial killer Eileen Wuornos for the film Monster back in 2003. It really boggles the mind, doesn’t it? In Monster, Theron plays the abused, maligned serial killer Eileen Wuornos in a true story documenting the killer’s escape from abuse and growing penchant for murder. When she’s not playing a murderer, though, Theron can be found participating in charity work for AIDS research.
7. Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
The film 12 Years a Slave is one of those movies that sticks with you. The story of enslaved people enduring the abuse of slave master Edwin Epps made waves the second the movie was released, leaving viewers to sit with the horrific reality that was slavery in America. The endless cruelty of Epps, played by Michael Fassbender, is often difficult to watch on screen. He is incredibly racist and even sociopathic.
As a person, though, Fassbender is known for being a polite, kind man. On set for 12 Years a Slave, the actor was known to apologize profusely to other actors between takes. Scenes often had to be reshot because he was so uncomfortable using the N-word that he stuttered and struggled to get it out.
6. Danny Trejo as Machete
The grizzled face of the iconic Danny Trejo is one we all know. Famous for his work in Machete films, Trejo plays a rough-around-the-edges villain who isn’t afraid of a little (or a lot) of bloodshed.
But in real life, Trejo stays busy by speaking at high schools and colleges about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse to encourage kids to stay on the straight and narrow — something he wishes he’d done as a young man. In Hollywood, people clamor to work with Trejo, who is known to be extremely kind and fun to be around, which explains why the Machete films are often jam-packed with familiar faces.
5. Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees
While the name Jason Voorhees might not sound familiar to you, when it’s put in the context of Friday the 13th it becomes clear that yes, we’re talking about that Jason. As far as infamous movie villains go, he is among the worst. Kane Hodder gave us the most famous portrayal of this madman in the 1988 take on the famous slasher story, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood.
Hodder is fortunately not a masked murderer in real life. In fact, he sadly suffered a horrific burn performing a stunt in a film and now spends a lot of his time doing volunteer work with burn victims.
4. Gunnar Hensen as Leatherface
Real horror buffs know Gunnar Hensen all too well as the terrifying Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Leatherface and his entire band of bloodthirsty murderers had a penchant for grisly killings in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films. If you can believe it, though, cast and crew members used the following term to describe the actor who played Leatherface: “teddy bear-like.”
One anecdote paints a cute picture of Hensen’s kind nature. While filming another movie, Hensen decided to stop at McDonald’s one morning before the workday began to grab breakfast for the whole cast and crew. When he handed one crew member her breakfast, she stared at him totally dumbfounded. He asked if anything was wrong and all she could say was, “Leatherface just bought me an Egg McMuffin.”
3. Harrison Ford as Norman Spencer
When we think of Harrison Ford, we often envision a hero. After all, he did famously play Han Solo in Star Wars and eponymous adventurer Indiana Jones. One role of his that isn’t so heroic, however, is that of Norman Spencer in supernatural thriller What Lies Beneath. The film comes to a head when Spencer’s wife figures out that he’d not only had an affair with a younger woman, but then went ahead and killed that woman to hide his secret.
But outside of the movies, Ford is just your average guy. He’s known for being friendly and nice to work with and he supports good causes like environmental protection and gun control. The nonsense he pulled in What Lies Beneath definitely isn’t on his radar.
2. Tom Hiddleston as Loki
Ah, Loki. The trickster god played by Tom Hiddleston is about as swoon-worthy as villains get. In all of the Thor films, Loki cleverly manipulates everyone around him to get what he wants. He’s a selfish, evil thing.
But Tom Hiddleston? Not so much. He’s known in Hollywood as one of the most affable dudes around. If you asked anyone who’s ever interviewed him, they’d probably tell you that he was a pure delight to work with because there is honestly no one who loves their job more than he does. And since he’s English, he’s genetically polite. (On top of all that, he’s fine as hell. Just saying.)
1. Steve Buscemi as Garland Greene
Steve Buscemi just has one of those odd faces that lends itself well to playing psychopaths, killers, and sleaze-bags. He has certainly done all of those things well over the years. One particularly chilling role was that of Garland Greene, a psychopathic serial killer in the movie Con Air. In the movie, one of Greene’s prison buddies stated that Greene made “the Manson Family look like the Partridge Family.”
As a person, however, Buscemi is far from evil. In fact, everyone who’s worked with him has said that he’s really nice and super funny. Before acting, the Brooklyn native worked as a firefighter, and when tragedy struck on 9/11, he showed up at his old firehouse to help the team search through the rubble of the Twin Towers. He apparently doesn’t have a psychopathic bone in his body. It’s always reassuring to learn that the people who play such infamous movie villains are pretty normal at the end of the day.