We were talking about this exact same thing at work today, and then I saw the article on the BBC.
For years the Brits have most often been known as the villains of the piece when it comes to superhero movies – but the tables have now turned, with the two latest heroes set to hit the big screen hailing from British shores.
Forget Terence Stamp as General Zod in Superman, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto in X-Men and Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man.
Enter Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man and Henry Cavill as Superman. Not to mention Christian Bale, who will play Batman for the third time in The Dark Knight Rises.
Cavill’s casting marks the first time Superman – who fights for “truth, justice and the American way” – has been played by a non-US actor.
It certainly is nice to see the British actors not being comical villains anymore (not that I don’t like a good comical villain). But I wonder why the sudden reversal? Purely coincidence, part of a wider British invasion (The Walking Dead springs to mind), or is there something more to this – perhaps that, across most most forms of media, these days characters are generally darker than before, possessing many more shades of grey (especially Batman on film), so the elements that once suited a villain now suit the hero? But just what the hell are those traits? Maybe British actors simply do complex and ironic very well, or maybe they’re shorthand for those things.
Anyway, what do I know – I liked the Watchmen movie.
Professor X was played by a Brit, too.
Well, of course British people are cast as villains. No one loves watching other people fail as much as they do!
I mean, you guys birthed Simon Cowell.
The downside is, there aren’t any British actors left in Britain! Because they’re either doing US movies, or acting in US TV shows. If you try and cast a movie, you end up having to make them in the brief 2-3 month ‘hiatus’ period when American series aren’t filming.
Please, can we have our actors back…?
The interesting thing is, all these British actors are playing their roles American, but the traditional British supervillain always speaks with received pronounciation. Probably because their origins are always set in stone (Gotham is in the US, even though there’s a real village outside of Nottingham with the same name. Which could lead to an interesting rural derbyshire Batman, but I digress…). Although Patrick Stewart didn’t play Professor X American, which he probably should.
Sam – we might have birthed him, but we’ve inflicted him on your people too.
Philip – that’s a good point! Is there are shortage of good talent in the UK, do you think?
Sam – I don’t actually live far from Gotham. I always chuckle when I drive past. But yes, I suppose the accent always makes for a more classy supervillain .
Umm, I hate to be the party pooper, but they’re not being cast *as* British characters, but as American characters. The fact that they’re British is nice, but they aren’t changing the dynamic in which British characters are portrayed as villains. Nothing has changed except that the non-British good guys are now played by British people. And that’s great and wonderful, but not the same as saying “the tables have turned.” So, in the end, British people are still the villains, but maybe they’ll be played by Americans pretending to be British…and I suppose that’s a lot like Marlon Brando in The Teahouse of the August Moon…
If you include australians there’s even more of a theft of american superheroes. I guess the main reason it’s happening is because a lot of superheroes are being directed by British directors, which helps.
The other reason is because they tend to be able to act – something that isn’t always guaranteed with american actors. I’m not saying all american actors are bad but I think the theatre training in the UK helps and there is often a wider ranger of appearances in the UK – although most of the recent ones are all falling into the pretty bracket.
“the traditional British supervillain always speaks with received pronounciation” < Yep. He's always upper class and English. I think the British villain comes from a mixture of leftover colonial animosity and class prejudice. For all that is terribly, terribly wrong with it, by the way, I think the most recent Indiana Jones flick bucked that trend by having a British villain who, for once, was a cockney!
"The other reason is because they tend to be able to act – something that isn’t always guaranteed with american actors. I’m not saying all american actors are bad but I think the theatre training in the UK helps and there is often a wider ranger of appearances in the UK" < given that UK film is basically a cottage industry, and the television industry is much smaller than that of the US, of course many British actors are going to go over there to a much bigger pond where there's a greater chance of success and greater earning. Good luck to them, I say.
I have to second Neil P – it’s hard to top theatrically trained British actors for classiness.