When it comes to playing the bad guy, Jason Isaacs is very, very good. He portrayed troublemakers in 1996's Dragonheart and in 1998's Soldier, but he really got moviegoers hating him as the red-coated sadist Colonel Tavington in last summer's The Patriot. Can he top that villainy? Actually, he doesn't want to. "You can't be typecast-- you're only cast if you accept the jobs," says the 37-year-old, who has chosen to appear next in much lighter fare as Charlize Theron's cross-dressing best friend in Sweet November, which also stars Keanu Reeves.
Q: Why are you Brits so often typecast as the heavy?
A: There are a few of us--Jeremy Irons, Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and now me. But, if you look at our resumes, there are all kinds of characters there. It's not that we get typecast as the villains--it's that people notice the villains when we play them because we like to chew up the scenery.
Q: Why did you choose the role in Sweet November?
A: Having played a big tough guy in The Patriot, it was a fantastic contrast to go to San Francisco and put on a dress.
Q: Had you ever done drag before?
A: No. I thought I looked quite sexy, but my girlfriend found me completely repulsive. Then everybody told me I looked like a truck driver in a dress.
Q: Having starred with Mel Gibson, you're now in a film with Keanu Reeves. How do they compare?
A: They have one thing--and only one thing--in common: they are both smart enough to understand that they're only as good as the other people on the screen.
Q: Are you really "a cringing, neurotic mess" as you've described yourself?
A: One of the reasons playing strong characters onscreen comes relatively easily to me is that I'm the exact opposite of that. I've never been a confrontational person--I'm very safe and sane and driven by fear. That's why it's nice to play all these lunatics.
Q: The Patriot was a real showcase for you. Do people recognize you more now?
A: Not unless I'm on a horse.