How to Act Like a Villain

It’s fun to play the role of a villain because they are emotionally complex and require a certain amount of nuance to avoid becoming caricatures.[1] However, it takes a little extra work to play a successful villain since it can be difficult to be a character that’s unlikeable. By developing the mindset of a villain and working on your body language, you can be a villain that audiences will remember!

EditSteps

EditGetting into a Villainous Mindset

  1. Determine the sort of villain you’ll be playing. Look at the character and see what type of villain they are. Are they a psychopath like Hannibal Lecter or a cold mastermind that’s always one step ahead of the hero like John Doe? The personality of the villain you have will help you develop characteristics specific to the role.[2]
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    • Some examples of villain archetypes are good guys turned bad like Two-Face, masterminds who have everything planned like John Doe, or people who get pleasure from inflicting pain like Jigsaw.
    • Do medical research if your villain has a certain pathology so you have a better understanding of how your character would act.
  2. Explore your villain’s backstory to understand their anger. Don’t be full of rage during your performance without knowing where the anger is coming from. Find the part of their backstory that’s the source of their anger and justify their rage from that moment. From there, you can show the full extent of how far your villain will go to get what they want.[3]
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    • Consider using revenge or previous trauma in their life as a motive for the reason they’re angry or act the way they do. Syndrome from The Incredibles becomes a villain because Mr. Incredible tells him he can’t be a hero. Always think of their backstory as the heart of every decision they make.
    • Being angry just for the sake of it will make your villain less believable and more generic.
    • Don’t expose their full rage immediately. Showing restraint until a climactic moment will make your villain more terrifying and memorable.
  3. Empathize with the choices your villain makes. Think about the reason your villain is choosing their actions. Is it to protect their family, seek honor, get rich, or are they just evil? No matter their decisions, look in their point of view to see what drives them to the choices they make.[4]
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    • Remember that the villain is the hero of their own story. Your villain must believe that what they are doing is the best thing for themselves.
    • Don’t practice this mindset all the time while getting into the role so you don’t affect your relationships.
  4. Find their redeeming quality. Even the best and most evil villains have flaws and humanizing aspects of their life. Find what your villain cares about the most as you get into the mindset to give them more emotional depth than being a purely evil presence.[5]
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    • Think if your villain has a family to protect or if they’re trying to save the world in their own destructive way. Make the audience empathize with their choices.
    • Showing a diverse range of emotion in your villain will make someone watching understand your actions better. They may even root for you!
  5. Have a devious sense of humor. Develop a dark sense of humor like the Joker, especially if you’re playing a villain with a more comedic role. Find something funny that may be horrifying to others. Humor will help make your villain more relatable and likable to an audience.[6]
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EditFinding Inspiration

  1. Watch other actors portray villainous roles. Find films or TV shows with similar villainous roles as the one you are going to perform. Watch the actors’ facial expressions, listen to the way they speak, and notice any small movements they make with their body. Observing how other actors portray a villain will help shape your performance.[7]
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  2. Study real-life criminals and villains to ground your character in reality. Look up crimes that your villain has committed and see if there are any real-life connections. Watch videos of the suspects or the people guilty of the crimes to see how they act. Read true crime books to get an idea of the characters and apply them to the villain you’re portraying.[8]
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    • Many modern characters are based on actual people and real criminal charges.
  3. Journal as your character to roleplay. Write for at least 10 to 15 minutes per day in a notebook or journal that you only use for your character. Start by introducing your character in the first person, then talk about your backstory, feelings, and answer any questions you may have about your character.[9]
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    • Only write as your character and avoid writing as yourself.
    • Dig deep into your character, like what they are afraid of or what their relationships are. This will help you find more motivation for your character and you’ll understand them on a deeper level so you can portray them better.

EditPerfecting Your Performance

  1. Find a voice that fits your role. Once you’ve determined your villain’s personality, look for a voice that matches. An evil mastermind may speak with a slower, deeper voice to emanate a sense of power while a serial killer may speak like a normal person to blend in with society. Take your character’s history and backstory into consideration as you try out different voices.[10]
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    • If you want to be a classic movie villain like Hans Gruber from Die Hard or Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs, speak with a British accent.[11]
    • Sometimes, a higher-pitched voice can sound more menacing than a deeper one. Practice your range and make sure you can use a full range of emotion in the voice you choose.
    • Try an evil laugh if it fits your character. Don’t overdo an evil laugh unless you’re playing a generic sort of villain.[12]
  2. Stand with good posture and confident body language. Villains must ooze confidence since they are committing heinous crimes most of the time. Straighten your back and stand tall. Tilt your chin up to look down on others and always maintain eye contact. When you move, make slow and deliberate movements, otherwise you’ll seem anxious.[13]
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    • Avoid touching your face or neck since this could indicate your villain is weak or afraid.
    • Tailor individual traits to the villain you’re portraying and make sure they make sense based on your villain’s history.
  3. Steeple your fingers while you speak. Hold your hands out in front of you and touch the tip of each of fingers to the same finger on the opposite hand. Steepling or tenting your fingers while you talk will automatically make you seem more sinister, especially while speaking.[14]
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    • Steepled fingers are a traditional way to convey evil, so it may come across as overdone or generic if you do it too much.
  4. Practice a menacing grin. If you’re playing a classic sort of villain, a grin and laugh is a must. Practice smiling in the mirror and determine if your character will work better showing teeth or keeping their mouth closed when they smirk.[15]
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    • A villain’s smile shows that they’re happy with the evil they’re doing and can send a chill up someone’s spines
    • Look at how Norman Bates smiles in Psycho or how Jack Torrance grins in The Shining for great examples of evil grins.

EditWarnings

  • Don’t use your villainous persona outside of the role. Depending on your character, it could negatively affect your current relationships.

EditSources and Citations

EditQuick Summary

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Author: Droolin' Dog News Team