Jason Isaacs: The Most Alluring Villain

After starring as the bad guy in The Patriot, Jason Isaacs signed up for a slew of wicked roles, including one in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. But what he likes best is to play cross-dressers.

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Jason Isaacs wasn't always the bad guy. In fact, when he was a pre-law student in college, he was a very nice guy, which, in a strange way, led to his pursuing an acting career. One day at school, he was walking past a room where students were rehearsing for a play and he became intrigued. "I was poor and everyone around me was rich," recalls Isaacs, 39. "I was from Liverpool and I had tried to drop my accent to reinvent myself--to no avail, I might add. Once I got my first taste of acting, it was like that first hit of crack, and I was completely addicted." He admits the addiction had something to do with the women who walked around naked in the dressing rooms.

Perhaps out of a sense of competition with his actor buddies, he applied to London's prestigious acting school, The Central School of Speech and Drama. He did his audition, then forgot about it until they called to tell him they would be thrilled if he would start in September. "I sort of mumbled to the woman, 'Yes, sure, see you then,'" he says. "A little later I was walking down the street and realized I might have just decided my fate because I was too polite to tell her I wanted to be a lawyer."

For years Isaacs had supporting parts in films like Armageddon and The End of the Affair, but it wasn't until he played the deeply menacing Colonel William Tavington opposite Mel Gibson in The Patriot that Hollywood took notice of him (his character was so hated, audiences cheered when he died). Next Isaacs shook up his image by playing Charlize Theron's cross-dressing neighbor in Sweet November, and then returned to tough guy roles in Black Hawk Down ("I've been stocked by the number of women who tell me how much they liked the film," he says) and Windtalkers. He just played the dashing 007 type opposite Jackie Chan in The Tuxedo. And next he's starring as the devilish Lucius Malfoy, father to Harry's cunning enemy Draco, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Currently Isaacs is in Australia's Gold Coast playing perhaps one of the most evil characters of all time--Captain Hook--in P.J. Hogan's live-action version of Peter Pan (Isaacs is also doubling as Wendy's father Mr. Darling). Does he relish playing the bad guy roles?

"Actually, I had the most fun on Sweet November," he says. "I loved it, loved it. Who wouldn't? I got to put on these clothes that are so much fun. I have a whole new appreciation of women."

"What about The Patriot, wasn't that fun?" I ask.

"Mel Gibson is amazing to work with," he says. "There are actors who, if you split your head open with an ax, would still say their lines without blinking. But Mel can go with the flow. One day, we shot the scene where he tells me he's going to kill me. I was supposed to say something like, 'We'll see about that.' Instead, I turned to him and said, 'Go ahead,' and I threw him a gun. He went with it as if that's just what he imagined I'd do. I loved that."

"How about Windtalkers?" I ask. Isaacs was all over the trailer, but had only a small, if pivotal, scene in the film.

"They called and asked if I wanted to fly to Hawaii for a week, play some golf and do half a day's work," Isaacs laughs. "It sounded like heaven. Then they called back to say that I didn't have to make the trip--they could shoot my scene in Malibu. I went in at 9 a.m. and was home for lunch. But my lines basically explained the whole story."

"You played a priest in The End of the Affair. That couldn't have been a joy; it's such a depressing story."

"That was one of the hardest films I've ever shot. Neil Jordan keeps kind of a serious set. Next door, Kenneth Branagh was shooting Love's Labour's Lost. I wandered in there one day, and Ken says, 'Jason, have some cake. We have the greatest fucking cake on this set.' And then someone comes in from my movie and says, 'Jason, sorry, but we need you for the funeral scene.' I think that says it all."

"Harry Potter must have been at least better than that. After all, those sets are incredible."

"It was fun in a way," he says. "They shot in London, which is my home, and I got to bring my godkids with me and impress the shit out of my friends."

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