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Why these movie and TV villains look so familiar

Some actors build an entire career out of playing villains, but for many in Hollywood, portraying a bad guy is simply a means to an end. Former WWE superstar Dwayne Johnson has become one of the biggest movie stars in the world (perhaps even the biggest, period), but before he became the blockbuster king, he was the Scorpion King. It took a while for film fans to accept Johnson as the action hero he is today, and he had the distinct advantage of already enjoying global name recognition, unlike the actors we're about to discuss. The following movie and TV villains all fall into that seemingly pervasive category of actor — you're 100 percent certain that you've seen them somewhere before, but you've got no idea where. Well, we're here to scratch that itch. Prepare to kick yourself, because it's time to reveal why these badass movie and TV villains look so familiar.

Marwan Kenzari - Jafar (Aladdin)

Will Smith's hip-hop genie became the main talking point when the first images from Disney's live-action retelling of Aladdin were released in 2018, but the internet was also fascinated by the studio's choice for the movie's villain. The term "Hot Jafar" was soon coined, and it's not hard to see why. In the 1992 animated classic, the treacherous Jafar is gaunt and decidedly unattractive (the animators are thought to have based the character on Conrad Veidt's antagonist of the same name from 1940's The Thief of Bagdad), though the actor portraying him in the remake is neither of those things. He's undeniably easy on the eye, but why does Hot Jafar look so familiar?

Marwan Kenzari is a Dutch actor who has spent the majority of his career to date working in Europe. He received widespread recognition in his home country after delivering a powerful performance in the 2013 crime drama Wolf, playing a recently paroled Moroccan kickboxer. Wolf put him firmly on Variety's radar, but it would take Kenzari a few more years to really start making inroads in Hollywood.

In 2016 he played alongside Anthony Hopkins, Felicity Jones and Nicholas Hoult in crime thriller Collide, and that same year he popped up in the big budget Ben-Hur reboot. 2017 proved a busy year for the jacked actor, who managed to properly establish himself Stateside with appearances in The Mummy, Netflix film What Happened to Monday, and Kenneth Branagh's version of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express.

Ed Skrein - Zapan (Alita: Battle Angel)

Hollywood has an incredibly poor track record when it comes to adapting manga and anime. The less said about Dragonball Evolution the better, and even Scarlet Johansson's star power couldn't sell Ghost in the Shell. When director Robert Rodriguez and producer James Cameron revealed that their long-gestating adaption of Yukito Kishiro's iconic manga Battle Angel Alita was finally happening, hopes weren't exactly high, but the movie actually fared better than most of us assumed it would.

If you saw Alita: Battle Angel, you were probably left wondering why Ed Skrein's Zapan (the arrogant hunter-warrior with a vendetta against Alita) looks so familiar. If you cast your mind back to Game of Thrones season 3, you'll have your answer. The former rapper played Tyroshi sellsword Daario Naharis in three episodes, but didn't return for season 4. Skrein was rumored to have left the HBO show so he could star in 2015's The Transporter Refueled instead, though he's refuted these claims. "It was a lot more political than that," he told Entertainment Weekly. "My plan was to stay with Game of Thrones for the long haul."

You might also recognize Skrein from 2016's Deadpool, in which he played augmented antagonist Ajax. He almost returned to the superhero genre in 2019 with Hellboy, but he decided to step aside to avoid a whitewashing controversy — his character was actually Asian in the comics. "I was at peace with my decision, because I knew it was the right one for me and everyone involved," he told GQ.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II - Black Manta (Aquaman)

James Wan's Aquaman was a billion-dollar hit for Warner Bros. and DC, thanks in no small part to a charismatic performance from its lead, Jason Momoa. The former Game of Thrones star enjoyed himself in the title role, but the supporting cast is also worthy of plaudits, especially the secondary villain. Take nothing away from Patrick Wilson (who provided adequate foil as Aquaman's warmongering half-brother King Orm), but in the scenes that he was given, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II really impressed as Black Manta.

The actor knew nothing about Black Manta prior to winning the role, but immediately became a fan of Aquaman's enigmatic nemesis after some research. "To me, Black Manta is not after world domination," Abdul-Mateen II told The IMDb Show. "He's not a villain. I don't think he's a villain. He wants one thing, a simple thing, which is revenge. My goal going into this was to steal as many fans away from Jason Momoa, and to pull them over onto my side."

The film's mid-credits scene suggests that he'll have another chance to bolster the Black Manta fan club in Aquaman 2, but if you can't wait until then, here's where else you can see Abdul-Mateen II in action — just don't expect to see him shooting red laser beams from his eyes. He played Cadillac in Baz Luhrmann's aborted Netflix show The Get Down, and in terms of feature films, he chipped in with supporting roles in the Baywatch reboot, smash hit musical The Greatest Showman, and Jordan Peele's Us.

Gemma Chan - Minn-Erva (Captain Marvel)

She didn't start Captain Marvel as a villain, but by the end, Gemma Chan's Minn-Erva was on the wrong side of Marvel history. The movie was marketed in a way that made the Skrulls look like the bad guys that they've traditionally been in the comics, though (spoiler alert) we now know that the surviving members of this race were simply on the run from the tyrannical Kree. In the MCU, the shape-shifting Skrulls are intergalactic refugees because of the likes of Minn-Erva, but why does this blue-skinned Kree look so darn familiar? 

Chan gained international attention playing sentient synth Mia in British sci-fi show Humans, the first role she really fell in love with. "Humans has been such a huge part of my life, and I've got such love for the show and for the character and for everyone involved with it," the London-born actress told Digital Spy in 2018, not long after the shocking death of her character. She appeared in a handful of Hollywood movies during her run on Humans (most notably Jack Ryan: Shadow RecruitFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Transformers: The Last Knight), but it wasn't until she left the show that she started landing meatier roles.

In 2018, Chan played Bess of Hardwick in Oscar-nominated period drama Mary Queen of Scots and super accomplished socialite Astrid in Crazy Rich Asians, two films that she believes represent the shifting attitude in Hollywood. "I couldn't imagine them being made about five years ago," she told Deadline.

Domhnall Gleeson - General Hux (Star Wars)

A great many people expected the sniveling General Hux to meet his end in 2017's The Last Jedi, even Domhnall Gleeson. "I kind of imagined myself getting blown up in a ship pretty early on," the Irish actor told MTV's Happy Sad Confused podcast (via ScreenRant). The ambitious First Order officer will be extremely lucky to survive the events of The Rise of Skywalker, given the underhanded nature of his character. Gleeson excels in making Hux unlikable, but he's actually playing against type.

The Star Wars actor is the son of Brendan Gleeson, best known for his turn as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films. This is where Domhnall first came to the attention of international audiences, playing Bill Weasley in the two-part franchise finale. Since then, he's made some incredibly smart choices. The actor has worked on a string of critically acclaimed films, from indie projects like the thought-provoking Frank and Oscar winner Ex Machina to big Hollywood productions like The Revenant and American MadeShow anyone under 12 a photo of Gleeson, however, and they'll likely say two words: Peter Rabbit.

Gleeson played grouchy gardener Mr. McGregor in the 2018 adaptation of Beatrix Potter's classic children's stories. It was far from high art, but that doesn't make it any less valuable to the actor. "A movie does not have to be serious to mean something, or to matter to people," he told The Independent. "Home Alone means as much to me as some really serious dramas. It's very similar to The Godfather, if I'm honest."

Cameron Monaghan - Joker (Gotham)

Cameron Monaghan's transition into Gotham's Joker was a real slow burn. The Fox show dropped plenty of hints over the years, but it wasn't until the fifth and final season that we got to see Monaghan in full Joker mode. His final costume was criticized by some, but the Santa Monica actor did a more than serviceable job in the iconic DC role. Speaking to Hollywood Life ahead of Gotham's big finale, Monaghan said that playing the Joker taught him a lot. 

"It has deepened my understanding of my craft, of what I want to do and what I could do as an actor," he said. Monaghan went on to reveal that he was "forced into these places where it was a bit of a challenge" and that this ultimately helped him to "explore and grow." His education began long before he was cast in Gotham, however. His first recurring role was on classic Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle (he played Chad between 2004 and 2005) and he's done plenty of work in television since.

Away from Gotham, Monaghan is best known for playing Ian Gallagher in Shameless, appearing in over a hundred episodes of the Showtime favorite. His arc came to an end in 2019 when Ian went to jail. "This role has been a joy to inhabit, a wild and special ride, and I'd like to thank Shameless as well as you, the viewers, for being there with him," the actor said (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Steven Ogg - Simon (The Walking Dead)

Fans of AMC's The Walking Dead will no doubt recognize the bushy upper lip of Steven Ogg, the actor who portrayed Negan's ruthless right-hand man Simon. He was the secondary antagonist for two and a half seasons and almost became the chief villain, but his coup against Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan didn't go to plan and he ended up just another walker. Even half-rotting and chained to the fence outside of the Sanctuary, Ogg looks annoyingly familiar, and here's why.

The Canadian played a fashion photographer in his first ever movie, 1999's Giving it Up. He was cast as an artist in Law & Order the following year, and he's largely plied his trade on the small screen since (the Henry Rollins vehicle He Never Died, in which Ogg was again the antagonist, being one notable exception). He appeared in the CBS cop drama Unforgettable and made a memorable cameo on Comedy Central's Broad Citythough more recently he played a host in HBO's Westworld.

Ogg's most widely seen role (outside of TWD) isn't in film or television, however. The actor played the unhinged Trevor Philips in Grand Theft Auto V, the most successful game ever by some distance — it's sold over 90 million copies and generated an insane $6 billion in revenue. Ogg's pitch-perfect motion-capture performance has made him a legend among the fans. "I have been so thrilled that the GTA fans have responded so positively to the performance," he told BuzzFeed News. "They have enjoyed his impulsive, psychopathic nature but have reveled in his humor."

Shane West - Bane (Gotham)

Shane West made his first appearance as Eduardo Dorrance (the man who would go on to become Bane) around the midpoint of Gotham season 5. His transformation into the villain was complete by the end of the season, with the actor donning the voice-muffling mask made famous by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises. West told TheWrap that there was "a little bit of Hardy" in his performance, but he also "really relied on the animated series, Batman: The Animated Series." It's not just his voice and costume that's familiar, however.

Before he suited up as Bane, viewers got a good look at West's face, and many were left wondering where they'd seen it before. The Louisiana native cut his teeth in television during the mid-to-late '90s, but transitioned into film in the decade that followed. He starred alongside James Franco in teen comedy Whatever It Takes (2000) and played Tom Sawyer in the Sean Connery-led box office bomb The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003). He made regular returns to TV in the years that followed with recurring roles in ER, Nikita, and Salem

Commitments to Salem actually stopped West from appearing in Gotham earlier — as a different Batman villain. Speaking to ComicBook.com, West revealed that he almost played Mr. Freeze on the show. He was "excited" about the part, but said that "coming back with something like Bane felt like it was like wow, I think waiting was the right choice."

Jaime Murray - Nyssa Al Ghul (Gotham)

Gotham creators pulled off a shock when they revealed that the Riddler was being controlled by Bane, but that wasn't the only villain twist season 5 had in store. In the season's tenth episode, "I Am Bane," we learn that Bane was created by Theresa Walker, who is actually Ra's al Ghul's daughter, Nyssa al Ghul. The character is portrayed by Jaime Murray, who at the time was best-known for playing meth addict-turned-abstract artist Lila in Dexter. Lila was the titular serial killer's lover and the hit show's primary antagonist during season 2. It may have escaped your notice, but Murray has pretty much been a constant on American TV since.

She went on to appear in two teen dramas on the CW (Valentine and The Beautiful Life), and followed that up by playing redheaded Roman Gaia in Starz prequel series Spartacus: Gods of the Arena. The show expanded Murray's already large lesbian fanbase, something she greatly appreciates. "I got Spartacus and I was with Lucy Lawless (Lucretia), who was one of the biggest lesbian icons out there," Murray told Metro. "That show was way beyond its time and the first to really go into that territory. I realize that women really like seeing that."

Post-Spartacus, Murray has held down recurring roles in Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle Ringer and Vampire Dairies spinoff The Originals (both CW shows), and more recently provided the voice of scheming vampire noble Carmilla in Netflix's hit anime adaptation Castlevania.

Penn Badgley - Joe Goldberg (You)

Another actor you'll recognize if you're partial to the CW is Penn Badgley, who nowadays is best known for playing Joe Goldberg, main character in the critically acclaimed psychological thriller You. Goldberg isn't your typical lead — he's a tech-savvy stalker who develops a dangerous obsession with a woman named Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail). Despite this, the character has become worryingly popular with fans of the show, to the point where Badgley has actually had to step in and remind people what Goldberg is really about.

"Said this already but Penn Badgley is breaking my heart once again as Joe," one fan tweeted (via TeenVogue). "What is it about him?" Badgley's blunt response summed up his feelings about the Joe Goldberg love fest. "A: He is a murderer," the actor replied. He tweeted "No thx" at another fan after they asked him to kidnap them, and quipped that the romanticizing of his character would be "all the motivation I need for season 2." That's Badgley's future, however, not his past. Where have you seen that smolder before? Two words: Gossip Girl.

Badgley spent the bulk of his early 20s playing Serena's (Blake Lively) on-again, off-again beau, Dan Humphrey. He came of age as an actor on the CW show, and he was able to make a few films during Gossip Girl's run. Badgley can be seen in the Emma Stone-led romcom Easy A, criminally underrated financial thriller Margin Call, and appropriately underrated comedy John Tucker Must Die.

Sergio Peris-Mencheta - Hugo Martínez (Rambo V: Last Blood)

Madrid-born actor Sergio Peris-Mencheta didn't have any interest in the performing arts until he got involved in his school's drama program. The curious student caught the acting bug and decided to switch career paths (he initially planned to study law), a move that paid off in 1998 when he won a part in the Spanish soap opera Al Salir De Clase. He appeared in hundreds of episodes of the show before leaving (his character was conveniently killed in a car accident) to concentrate on making movies.

Peris-Mencheta quickly established himself in the Spanish film industry, but he didn't make his first assault on Hollywood until 2010, when Love Ranch came out. The athletic actor played a former boxer in the story of Joe and Sally Conforte, the married couple who ran the first legal brothel in the United States. He had to gain 40 pounds to play Armando Bruza, the film's version of Argentine heavyweight Oscar Bonavena. "I was supposed to be out of shape," Peris-Mencheta said. "Because Bonavena was out of shape. It was the end of his career… he was 33 years old, but he looked 45."

More recently, Peris-Mencheta has plied his trade on FX's Snowfall and he also showed up in Life Itself, Dan Fogelman's disappointing follow-up to This Is Us. He'll be hoping that Rambo V: Last Blood is better received by the critics — he's playing cartel leader Hugo Martínez, the action film's big bad.

Bradley Whitford - Joseph Lawrence (The Handmaid's Tale)

When Bradley Whitford made his debut as Joseph Lawrence in The Handmaid's Tale season 2, he seemed like one of the good guys. The Gilead commander shocked viewers when instead of punishing Emily for attacking Aunt Lydia he freed her, apparently proving his loyalty to the Resistance. Lawrence turned out to be a far more complex character than we first realized, however. He only helped Emily escape because he valued her intelligence, and Lawrence's warped view came to the fore in season 3, turning him into an enigmatic villain.

"This guy is absolutely fascinating, precisely because he is so filled with contradictions," Whitford told Mashable. "On a lesser show it would be much clearer. It would be a guy who had an epiphany and is on the good side now, and this guy is much more complicated than that… The active state of this character is the tussle. It's his humanity peeking out." This isn't the first deceptive character Whitford has played.

The Wisconsin-born actor was a major antagonist in Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning 2017 horror film Get Out, playing Order of Coagula leader Dean Armitage. Whitford has been in a number of other high-profile films over the years (most notably Cabin in the WoodsSaving Mr. Banks and, more recently, Godzilla: King of the Monsters), but the Handmaid's Tale star is probably best-known for his time on another TV show — he played Josh Lyman on The West Wing from 1999 until 2006.

Christopher Meloni - Commander Winslow (The Handmaid's Tale)

Introduced in season 3 of The Handmaid's TaleHigh Commander George Winslow is "at the center of the power structure of Gilead," as the man who portrays him puts it. Christopher Meloni debuted in the episode "Household," hosting Commander Fred Waterford and his wife Serena at his Washington home. "Fred comes with an idea… to make the story of Gilead and what we're doing not so onerous to outside nations," the actor explained.

Meloni was grateful when he got asked to join the cast of The Handmaid's Tale, not only because it's "an important show," but also because it was a chance to work with Ann Dowd again — the pair were on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit together. "It was beyond cool," Meloni said of the reunion. "12 years on SVU and I think I had seven or eight favorites, and she absolutely topped the list."

Many people recognized Meloni from SVU ("Is this Law & Order: Gilead or something?" Cosmopolitan quipped), but where else have you seen him? He's done several feature films (the most prominent being 12 Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Man of Steel) but his most memorable work has been on the small screen. He played inmate Chris Keller on HBO's Oz; vampire Roman Zimojic on True Blood; and, more recently, he starred in Happy!, the TV adaptation of Grant Morrison's crazy comic. "It's a licence to be insane," Meloni said.