10 MCU Villain Actors Explain Their Relationship to the Character

Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes get all the glory, but MCU villains seem to have all the fun (until their almost inevitable defeat). Read what these 13 actors had to say about what it was like to play an MCU foe.

Without the mustache-twirling baddie, a superhero would never get a chance to show off his powers. Some of the most popular characters in movie history are the bad guys. Darth Vader and Freddie Krueger are mythological in their popularity, despite their evil proclivities.

Find out which Academy Award-nominated actor needed to go to intensive therapy after playing his vicious baddie. Which actor based his legendary MCU antagonist on famous Shakespeare villains? Which prolific actor suffered panic attacks from the inherent pressure of entering the MCU?

Make your voice heard. Vote up the interesting stories that make you appreciate villainous characters even more.

1. Michael B. Jordan Started Therapy After Playing Killmonger

Michael B. Jordan Started Therapy After Playing Killmonger

Michael B. Jordan has played his share of big-screen heroes, including boxer Donnie Creed in Creed and the Human Torch in Fantastic Four. However, the Academy Award-nominated actor crossed over to the dark side for his super villainous role as Erik Killmonger in 2018’s Black Panther.

Killmonger seeks to overthrow his cousin T’Challa to avenge his father’s death and take over the throne of Wakanda. It may look like a lot of fun to play the villain in a superhero movie, but the experience had an emotional weight on Jordan. 

“I went to therapy, I started talking to people, starting unpacking a little bit,” said Jordan. “I was by myself, isolating myself. I spent a lot of time alone. I figured Erik [Killmonger], his childhood growing up was pretty lonely. He didn’t have a lot of people he could talk to about this place called Wakanda that didn’t exist.”

He went on to say that readjusting to normal life was “tough” but that therapy helped.

“It was a little tough for me at first,” added Jordan. “Readjusting to people caring about me, getting that love that I shut out. I shut out love, I didn’t want love. I wanted to be in this lonely place as long as I could… Your mind is so powerful. Your mind will get your body past a threshold that it would have given up on way before.”

“Honestly, therapy, just talking to somebody just helped me out a lot. As a man you get a lot of slack for it… I don’t really subscribe to that,” Jordan continued. “Everyone needs to unpack and talk.”

2. Daniel Brühl Has Enjoyed Showing Off The Fun Side Of Zemo’s Personality

Daniel Brühl Has Enjoyed Showing Off The Fun Side Of Zemo's Personality

With the exception of perhaps Thanos and Loki, Helmut Zemo from Captain American: Civil War and the Disney+ TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may be the most popular supervillain in the MCU.

Daniel Brühl plays the criminal mastermind who has to rely on his wits because he doesn’t possess superpowers. The Spanish-Brazilian-German actor has enjoyed playing the gregarious villain in a format where he gets the opportunity to show off more of his character’s complex personality.

Brühl explained

In the show, you get to understand why he’s a baron. So, you have that aristocratic background explained a little more. You see him flying private, and having his glass of champagne. Wearing that wonderful coat, with that little fur, that Anthony Mackie wanted to have the minute he saw it. He said “Give it to me!” That side of Zemo also is a bit arrogant, and posh, and suave.

Also, the sense of humor that was added, I really loved and embraced. I’m always a fan in other Marvel films, that no matter how serious everything is, it’s always good to every now and then lighten up the tone and give them the chance to be funny. So, I really enjoyed the scenes talking about Marvin Gaye, and the scenes with the three of us. Such an awkward trio.

3. Robert Redford Played Alexander Pierce Because He Wanted The Opportunity To Bring A Character To Life Through Technology

Robert Redford Played Alexander Pierce Because He Wanted The Opportunity To Bring A Character To Life Through Technology

The landscape of the film world has changed dramatically since the original Iron Man came out in 2008 and helped to launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many veteran actors and filmmakers have balked at the low-stakes world of superheroes.

However, cinema legend Robert Redford chose to embrace the new Hollywood blockbuster fare. He agreed to take the role of villain-in-hiding Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier because he wanted to experience the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He related:

One of the reasons that I did [Captain America: The Winter Soldier] was I wanted to experience this new form of filmmaking that’s taken over where you have kind of cartoon characters brought to life through high technology. The Avengers series is a product of high technology playing a major role in the new order of filmmaking so I wanted to experience that – I just wanted to know what that was like and I had that opportunity, so for me it was like stepping into new terrain just to experience what it was like.

4. Cate Blanchett Struggled Getting Into Character

Cate Blanchett Struggled Getting Into Character

Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett may not seem like the most obvious choice to play the villainous goddess of death, Hela, in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok. 

During a 2017 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Blanchett explained her reasons for joining the MCU. “A) It was Taika. B) It was the goddess of death. And C) There’s never been a female Marvel villain,” said Blanchett. 

The third standalone Thor movie was directed by New Zealand auteur Taika Waititi.

The Australian actress said her agent called to inform her that Marvel producer Kevin Feige was interested in sending her some Thor material. 

“I was trying to play cool, but I was so excited because you don’t get offered these things often,” said Blanchett. “Then after doing a little bit of research, I realized there had not yet been a female villainess in one of the Marvel movies before. I felt the role could be really exciting.”

Blanchett spoke about why Hela became such a mythical character. “You can be mysterious… but also give enough information of the back story so you understand why the character does what she or he does, because I think the best villains are those that you kind of love but hate what they do,” said Blanchett. “You sort of understand it. There is a logic to it. They are just not completely nuts.”

Even with her decades of acting experience, Blanchett still had some issues feeling comfortable in the role of the Marvel baddie. She didn’t have a lot of experience working in a motion-capture suit. Plus, her onset costume did not look very intimidating. 

“Half of my costume was done in post,” revealed Blanchett. “So a lot of the time I was trying to look fierce and bad and indomitable in a mocap suit which is pretty hard to do. That’s a lot of polyester to wear in Queensland.”

5. Michael Keaton’s Driving Force For Vulture Was His ‘Where’s Mine?’ Mentality

Michael Keaton’s Driving Force For Vulture Was His ‘Where’s Mine?’ Mentality

Not many actors get to go from beloved superhero to plot-twisty villain. Michael Keaton played the Caped Crusader in two Tim Burton Batman movies, Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). The success of those films brought back the idea that superhero movies could bring in major box-office dollars. 

Keaton has dabbled with playing the bad guy a few times throughout his career, perhaps most notably in the psychological thriller Pacific Heights in 1990. 

What made the Academy Award-nominated actor turn to the dark side and step back into the superhero world for 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming? It turns out that the veteran performer sees his arms-dealing character Adrian Toomes/the Vulture as more complex than just a run-of-the-mill bad guy.

“Yeah, Vulture, recently. But not to give too much away, but interestingly, he is and he isn’t, that character,” explained Keaton. “He’s a really interesting — and more interesting than I thought — villain because there’s parts of him that you go, ‘You know what? I might see his point.’ Really, really. It makes it interesting to play.”

Keaton discovered that he could relate to the supervillain. He said:

He’s interesting to me because he’s a citizen and he thinks to himself, “why what’s fair about this?” It’s a good question and the thing that I used as my driving interior motivation… but the question in his head is probably a really good one – which is “where’s mine?”

I think he sees it above and beyond Tony Stark. When they all have theirs. Where’s mine? I’ve been working for mine. You’ve taken this from me. So I’ll figure out a way to get mine.

6. James Spader Called Ultron ‘Batsh*t Crazy’

James Spader Called Ultron 'Batsh*t Crazy'

James Spader plays the eponymous villain Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The veteran actor has had the opportunity to play all kinds of characters over the course of his prolific career – some good, some not so good. 

In the 2015 movie, Spader voices Ultron. His face and body were also used for motion capture. The film’s director Joss Whedon said, “Spader was my first and only choice. He’s got that hypnotic voice that can be eerily calm and compelling, but he’s also very human and humorous.”

Spader compared his popular character Red on Blacklist to Ultron. “Ultron takes abrupt turns in scenes. Red isn’t psychopathic but Ultron is. Yes, he is psychopathic. He’s really batsh*t crazy!”

“There’s a humorous aspect to him, which is something that drew me in from the very first conversation I had with Joss [Whedon],” Spader added. “In many ways he’s a child, this character, because he’s a brand new being who’s just come to be. And yet, through artificial intelligence, he has an incredible capacity for knowledge. So he’s a very powerful, smart child.”

7. Taika Waititi Told Jeff Goldblum To Play Grandmaster Close To His Own Personality

Taika Waititi Told Jeff Goldblum To Play Grandmaster Close To His Own Personality

The MCU supervillain Grandmaster is not your everyday antagonist. The immortal godlike alien is the king of manipulation. He loves nothing more than to see heroes and villains duke it out battle royale-style. 

Grandmaster is a lover of good times and seemingly fun to be around. In fact, some spectators wondered if he was in fact a villain at all. However, the Grandmaster’s charm is only skin deep. He is brutally sadistic.

Director Taiki Waititi wanted Goldblum to play the humorous, over-indulging Grandmaster in Thor: Ragnarok as close to his own real-life character as possible. 

The Fly actor revealed during an interview with GQ:

I jumped on board and he said, “You know, I don’t want you to do anything theatrical or cartoony. I think who you are – kind of in your – part of your straight behavior is a little bit useful in this so-called character. I think we’ll dress you up in some way, but I think you can be contemporary and kind of a little bit in this vein that we’re talking about. And I like to improvise a lot.”

And I said, “Well, me too.” And then we got to the set and I’ll be darned if it wasn’t as much fun as I’ve ever had.

8. Tom Hiddleston Originally Based Loki Off Of Shakespearean Villains

Tom Hiddleston Originally Based Loki Off Of Shakespearean Villains

Loki is hardly an ordinary villain. Tom Hiddleston has played the God of Mischief in multiple Thor standalone films, several Avengers movies, and the Disney+ series Loki.

Loki is a complicated and manipulative villain. The illegitimate son has sparked chaos across alternate timelines in multiple variants, yet he still remains a fan favorite. 

Where does the British-trained theater actor draw his inspiration for Loki? Hiddleston revealed that he looked to classic Shakespeare villains like Iago from Othello and Cassius from Julius Caesar. Along with Shakespeare actor (and Marvel director) Kenneth Branagh, the two were able to meld together various Shakespearean villainous traits to craft Loki.

“My inspirations for building Loki were from Shakespeare,” said Hiddleston. “Loki is very Shakespearean. He has a lean and hungry look, like Cassius. He’s a plotter, like Iago. He’s ambitious like Macbeth.”

“If Shakespeare were alive today, I think he’d be writing for the movies and television,” added Hiddleston. “He’d be in the popular media. He wrote to entertain the masses.”

Loki has also changed his mentality. “Over time he’s become more self-aware, perhaps … I don’t know, maybe that’s just the nature of getting older,” said Hiddleston. 

9. Josh Brolin Only Agreed To Play Thanos Because He Fought ALL Of The Avengers

Josh Brolin Only Agreed To Play Thanos Because He Fought ALL Of The Avengers

Perhaps no actor over the past two decades has been busier than Josh Brolin. The prolific performer can afford to be choosy with the roles he takes because he is clearly in high demand. 

Brolin dipped his toe in the MCU waters by playing supervillain Thanos in an uncredited role in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Next, he appeared during the post-credits of 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Finally, he shone as the main villain in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame

What made Brolin want to play the genocidal maniac? The actor revealed during an interview with ACE Universe Presents that it wasn’t about the Benjamins. Brolin said:

I turned down quite a bit of those things and again people were like “money!” When I said yes to Avengers it was a small thing. It was basically a cameo, so there was not a lot of money involved. So that wasn’t the reason. But when they came to me they gave me a big bible. I loved that it was all [of them]. If it had been one of the Avengers – and I don’t mean this, I probably shouldn’t say this but I’m just gonna say it – I probably wouldn’t have done it. But the fact that it was all the Avengers against this one guy. I liked that aspect of it.

10. Willem Dafoe Would Only Return As Green Goblin If He Had Action Scenes

Willem Dafoe Would Only Return As Green Goblin If He Had Action Scenes

Veteran actor Willem Dafoe took on the villainous Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in two Spider-Man movies: Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2: No Way Home (2021). Green Goblin became Spider-Man’s main antagonist after being exposed to Goblin Serum. 

The Green Goblin proved to be one of the most monstrous villains in the MCU thanks to Dafoe’s dedication to the character. The Academy Award nominee was concerned that his return to the Spider-Man universe nearly 20 years after his first appearance could feel contrived. 

Dafoe told director Jon Watts and producer Amy Pascal how important it was for him to be 100% into the production, not just as an actor. Dafoe explained

To do this physical stuff was important to me. One of the first things I said to Jon and Amy, basically when they pitched it to me, before there was even a script, was, “Listen, I don’t want to just pop in there as a cameo or just fill in in close-ups. I want to do the action because that’s fun for me.”

It’s really impossible to add any integrity or any fun to the character if you don’t participate in these things because all that action stuff informs your relationship to the characters and the story, and also it makes you earn your right to play the character.