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Bobby Cannavale Is So Good At Acting Bad

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

There are some stars who are just naturally good at being bad, and Bobby Cannavale is quickly developing one of the most impressive on-screen villain résumés around. The New Jersey native has been entertaining us with his mustache-twirling characters in film, television, and on the stage for decades, and in Thunder Force, Cannavale gets to have a whole lot of fun with his conniving alter ego, the King. His newest contemptible character is someone who wants political and physical power as the leader of the so-called Miscreants, a group of supervillains who were already predisposed to become sociopaths before gaining new, destructive talents. However, even as dangerous as he is, he's also a bit of numbskull.

This comedic villain is the latest in a long line of Cannavale's collection of screen scoundrels. While the actor has certainly shown his mettle with playing nice guys, too — look no further than his outstanding performances in The Station Agent and Will & Grace for confirmation of that — he does sure seem to enjoy putting on an unfriendly face. To celebrate his newest movie malevolence, here's a look at some of Bobby Cannavale's most iconic villainous roles in TV and film so far.

Boardwalk Empire - Rosetti

Anyone who caught Cannavale's breakthrough role as Rosetti in Boardwalk Empire's third season may be hard-pressed to see the actor as anything but a ruthless psychopath, because his performance as the vicious gangster is truly unforgettable. From his very first appearance in the HBO drama, Rosetti makes his thin skin and penchant for violence known by clubbing a good Samaritan to death and stealing his dog over a very small insult. The character soon goes on a tirade filled with elegantly crafted insults and threats for everyone in the room during a kitchen scene that became an instant standout in Cannavale's highlights reel. Even at the very end of the season, when Rosetti finally gets his comeuppance, the character's short temper and wild unpredictability is on full, unnerving display.

In real life, Cannavale is a much more jovial and nonthreatening person than Rosetti, but the actor admitted to InStyle Magazine that his trick to crafting even his most devious characters like this is to bring a little something of himself to the role. The actor said of Rosetti, "There's a part of me in there, a part I keep to myself. Somebody told me a long time ago that your character should always have a secret, and it's true. What makes someone compelling is what he or she hides." The actor also told NPR that when he approached this role, he focused on the character's sense of desperation rather than playing him as a rote bad guy. For Cannavale, Rosetti is someone who needs to be "respected and feared" and to have constant excitement and control in his life. As a result of the character's curious combination of brute viciousness and extreme sensitivity, Cannavale considers him to be one of the "funniest parts" of his career.

Mr. Robot - Irving

Another of Cannavale's most colorful small screen villains is his Mr. Robot character Irving, who is a true enigma in the USA Network sensation's third season. Irving arrives as a soft-spoken and intelligent man who will absolutely ax a person to death without thinking twice about it –  except, perhaps, to come up with a clever witticism about the situation as it's happening. Irving is a fixer for the show's shadowy Dark Army forces, and, although he is certainly capable of acts of extreme violence, he also uses his technological talents and clever wordsmithing to get his way.

Irving is more subtly sinister than some screen villains, which makes even his most innocuous encounters layered with dread. Take, for example, his tension-filled conversation with a fast food cashier who refuses to let him claim a free milkshake reward. The young woman clearly has no idea who she's dealing with and seems stunned when he presses the issue over the so-called rules about when a customer can cash in his punch card. When he then pauses their chat to answer a call and says, "Screaming isn't going to help the situation, is it?" while looking her directly in the eyes with a grin, her face immediately morphs into one of frozen terror. Irving's sheer banality while discussing whether someone is dead on his call is enough to stun this lady into silence, and even more disturbing is the moment when he hangs up and offers what seems like a thinly-veiled warning to her by saying, "When we lose our principles, we invite chaos." As this scene and so many others indicate, Cannavale's portrayal of this rather chipper baddie is oh-so-fun and also quite effective.

Spy - Sergio de Luca

Speaking of Cannavale's ruthless characters with some playful nuances, before Thunder Force, the actor faced off with another Melissa McCarthy character in Paul Feig's 2015 action-comedy Spy. His character, Sergio de Luca, is the right hand man of an international terrorist. But instead of being a straightforward villain role, Cannavale's portrayal of de Luca is intentionally hammy.

Cannavale specifically enjoyed giving the character his "dainty" sensibilities and obvious concerns with vanity. De Luca's air of particularity and preciousness about things certainly subverts the expectation that the character is going to be some wanton badass. And even though de Luca is capable of some truly evil acts — from subterfuge to good old-fashioned murder — he still pipes in with kooky anecdotes amid all the criminality. Even his run is hilariously goofy, and yet Cannavale still manages to make him the type of guy you wouldn't want to cross paths with, whether you've got a nuclear bomb to steal or not.

The Irishman - Skinny Razor

Throughout his career, Cannavale has had several opportunities to work with legendary director and producer Martin Scorsese, including on Boardwalk Empire and his short-lived series Vinyl. So when he got the chance to star in Scorsese's magnum opus, The Irishman, he jumped at the opportunity. Chances are good that Cannavale would've taken on any role Scorsese asked him to. But luckily for him, the part he got was quite meaty — in a literal and figurative sense. In the film, Cannavale portrayed Felix "Skinny Razor" DiTullio, a former butcher turned gangster who seizes an opportunity to get some prime beef at a premium discount from his new acquaintance Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro).

Skinny Razor is later influential in getting Frank into the good graces of the mafia, providing a crucial connection to the Buffalino crime family that will change the course of Frank's life forevermore, for better and for worse. Cannavale portrays Skinny Razor as a reasonable and gentlemanly mobster, and the actor told BlackFilm that he and Scorsese set out to present this character as a sort of "front door" to the criminal underworld.

In the scene when Frank first introduces himself and offers Skinny Razor access to discounted steaks, for example, Scorsese impressed upon Cannavale how important it was for the actor to convey that this meeting was a make-or-break situation for Frank's access. "If you can get past him, and he trusts you, then you're in," Cannavale said of his depiction. "When he's eating the steak, and he meets Bob's character for the first time [Scorsese] really wanted to get a sense that like this guy was the entryway into this world." As a result of this direction and delivery, even though Skinny Razor does relatively little saber-rattling in the film — at least compared to some of the other characters — his intimidation factor is still top-tier thanks to his pure power positioning in his scenes.

Ant-Man - Paxton

Cannavale's Ant-Man character Paxton is not your classical action film antagonist — especially not where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is concerned. You won't find him looting planets for Infinity Gems or leveling a major city just for kicks. At the same time, though, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) thinks he's the single biggest threat to his own status as the father figure of his family, even though Maggie (Judy Greer) and Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) correctly think of Paxton as a perfectly doting and deserving new addition to their lives.

It's no easy feat to thread that needle between portraying a film hero's personal nemesis and maintaining that innate likability as an individual, but Cannavale does a marvelous job of making Paxton a perfectly nice guy who audiences might just kinda hate on principle at first anyway. One scene that perfectly reveals that balance in Cannavale's performance is Ant-Man's birthday party scene, in which Scott shows up unannounced to Cassie's party, and Paxton has to grit his teeth and keep it cool in front of the kiddo while also reminding Scott that he's been slacking as a father and wasn't actually invited to this shindig.

Perhaps the strength of Cannavale's performance in this role is owed to the fact that he and Paul Rudd have a longstanding personal relationship with one another that enhances their chemistry. In fact, it was Rudd who initially encouraged Cannavale to take on the role. Their off-screen friendliness certainly translates a bit more effortlessly in the second installment, Ant-Man and the Wasp, in which Scott and Paxton have developed a much cozier relationship than before.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle - Professor Van Pelt

For the 2017 sequel-slash-revival of the Jumanji film franchise, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Cannavale stars as a new version of Professor Van Pelt, a corrupt archaeologist and non-playable character who used to be partnered with the explorer Dr. Xander "Smolder" Bravestone (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). In this new vision of the character, Van Pelt is obsessed with an ancient jewel called the "Jaguar's Eye," and when he steals it from a sacred shrine, it casts a curse on the land of Jumanji.

As with many of Cannavale's finest bad guy performances, he gives the role a bit of a campy flair that helps keep the lighthearted mood of the video game-style movie intact, even as he's using the creepiest creatures to attack the film's heroes on his behalf. Van Pelt may be a tough cookie who wields the power of the entire jungle, but Cannavale ensures that he also wears his biggest weakness on his sleeve so that he can believably be outsmarted by a group of teenaged gamers before all is said and done.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop - Commander Kent

Cannavale also got the chance to show off his skills at being a schoolyard bully type in the 2009 comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop. In the film, the actor stars as James Kent, a SWAT commander who responds to the scene of a hostage situation at the local mall and is both perturbed and tickled to learn that the same Paul Blart (Kevin James) he used to pick on as a kid is now the security squad's "guy on the inside." Rather than taking the opportunity to talk Paul through what could be a convenient reconnaissance mission, he snatches the radio to bitterly remind Paul of just how much grief he used to give him in high school.

"Remember? I set you on fire at the pancake festival?" he says to set the tone for his immediate dismissal of Paul's vantage point. James then tells Paul to get lost because he can't entrust the mission to a "mall monitor who used to eat lunch with his imaginary friend." And just like your prototypical big-talking bully, James appears instantly stunned when his target chooses to ignore his taunts. The scene illustrates that even when Cannavale is putting on a pretty classic bad guy persona for a pic, he still manages to find the humor and humanity in the role.

Annie - Guy

Cannavale's considerable Broadway skills came in quite handy for the 2014 reboot of the classic musical movie Annie. In the film, the actor portrays Guy Danlily, the slimy political advisor to billionaire mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx). Guy hatches a plan with Miss Colleen Hannigan (Cameron Diaz) to boost his boss' poll numbers by reuniting the orphan Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis) with her parents — whether it's her real parents or not.

Cannavale told ScreenSlam that he styled the character to be a "Karl Rove figure [who] prides himself on having a perfect record of getting people elected by any means necessary," which means he is more than willing to manipulate and use even the most vulnerable people to get his way. Unlike some of his other villainous counterparts, Cannavale knew that since this was a film for kids, he had to be a bit more standardly irredeemable, but he still had a lot of fun with that job. The actor told Moviefone, "Kids love the bad guy in the movie[s], so it was fun to play that."

Thunder Force

In Thunder Force, Cannavale gets to bring together the best of both worlds of action and comedy villains. He crafts a character who's both deadly serious with his plans for total domination and who's also hysterically self-defeating. As the King, Cannavale presents a man who has big dreams and the vocal cadence to convince voters that his path is the one to follow ahead of the big mayoral election. But behind the scenes of his stirring speeches, we see a man who is afflicted with self-doubt and, frankly, utter incompetence.

The King doesn't know his own staff well enough to remember which of his minions he should probably spare from his squeeze-death hissy fits; and besides that, his top lieutenants are all actual sociopaths who are easily distracted by their own ambitions, whether that means murdering people with lasers or getting buttered up by their boss' main nemesis at dinner. Cannavale had a tall order to present the King as someone who is legitimately scary but also a bit absurd, and the actor absolutely nailed that deliciously devious dichotomy.