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TV Villains Who Are Actually Played By Nice Actors

What's a good story without an even better villain? Some of the most iconic TV series are as great as they are because of their epic villains. Whether we're talking about a gangster protagonist, an intellectually superior mastermind, or a perfectly executed comic book villain, the show's stories just wouldn't be the same without their baddies. As necessary as they are, there are some villains that are so devious and crooked that it's hard to find any redeeming qualities in them at all. As far as TV goes, though, there can actually be a whole lot of good behind a face of evil.

Some of the absolute best TV villains of all time have one very good thing in common — that, of course, being that they are played by not only fine and talented actors, but also surprisingly nice actors, apparently. We've looked at all the TV baddies and have found some of the very worst villains just so happen to be played by what appear to be entirely respectable humans. From your family man turned serial killer to an Upside Down-dwelling mind flayer, here are some major villains who, as far as we know, are played by genuinely nice actors.

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson

HBO is known for some pretty graphic content, and the many brutal deaths of "Boardwalk Empire" characters certainly do not make the 1920s-based drama an exception. While he only gets his hands dirty every now and again, the metaphorical blood on the hands of crime boss Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi, is staggering. He orders hits regularly and is someone to be sincerely feared and not to be trifled with.

While playing the bad guy or morally gray character isn't exactly out of the norm for Buscemi — his characters in "Reservoir Dogs" and "Fargo" are perhaps his most famous roles, after all — he definitely is a different breed of human in real life. In fact, Buscemi might be a downright hero.

Back in the '80s, before becoming the quintessential character actor and director we know him as today, Buscemi was a New York City firefighter. Following the 9/11 attacks, he came out of retirement to help out at ground zero. On an episode of the podcast "WTF with Marc Maron," Buscemi told Maron that the experience was emotionally traumatic and left him unable to easily move on with his normal life afterwards.

Steve Buscemi has made some serious real-world contributions to his fellow man. Because of that, we can declare him a great human who's fantastic at pretending to be a terrible human.

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

As far as villains in the MCU go, Tom Hiddleston's Loki is one of the absolute best and also has more longevity than any other MCU baddie. The trickster god has appeared in six films and has his own Disney+ series, which puts him near the top of the list of characters with the most MCU appearances. While we get more of a look into the inner workings of Loki's complex mind on his show, eloquently titled "Loki," he is still undoubtedly a villain ... albeit a beloved one.

It's a wholly different story for the actor underneath that horned helmet, though. Tom Hiddleston is one charming son of a gun. In fact, he may just be the sweetest actor, like, ever. There is a reason that his fans adore both him and his villainous on-screen counterpart, and that's because he loves them right back. There are countless fan interactions and testaments that support the claim that Hiddleston is a paragon of British politeness, and by all accounts seem to genuinely appreciate that so many people enjoy his work.

The fact that he's able to believably exude so much complexity and wickedness as Loki is a testament to his acting ability, because there doesn't seem to be a mean bone in his body. That's why he is sitting pretty on our list of nice actors who can get real mean on screen.

Andrew Scott as Moriarty

There are villains with superpowers, and then there are villains with super smarts. If someone is to stand a chance against a mastermind like Sherlock Holmes, they're going to need some seriously clever thoughts clanging around in their head. As Moriarty in "Sherlock," Andrew Scott is not only entirely comfortable playing the villain to Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes, but he also basks in one-upping the genius detective in his quest to prove himself as his true morally inverted counterpart and intellectual equal. Scott's Moriarty is as deranged as he is genius.

Andrew Scott is certainly able to play the role of a villain with an unnerving degree of conviction. In real life, though, Scott is a quieter kind of genius who is concerned with humanity and the emotions that come along with it. He once told Mr. Porter that he "loves watching people fall in love," which is so heartwarming and something his "Sherlock" character would never say in a million years. He also loves how passionate the "Sherlock" fandom is, and doesn't vilify his fans for their intensity, a trait that can potentially put a lot of pressure on actors who star in fan-favorite series like "Sherlock."

Jamie Campbell Bower as Vecna

Jamie Campbell Bower plays a powerful meanie in "Stranger Things," who is revealed to be pretty much the cause of all the beloved protagonists' problems in Season 4. But the actor himself couldn't be further from his psychotic psychic character. Fandoms can be pretty intense, and even though Bower's character Vecna looks just like an anatomy skeleton with extra vine-like appendages and muscle layers still intact, fans are completely thirsting over the grotesque character. Bower has approached the bizarre phenomenon with a sense of good-natured fun and has even reacted to thirst tweets directed toward his character.

He appears to sincerely care for his fans and has opened up about his past struggles with addiction. In fact, in an interview with i-D back in 2019, Bower explained that being genuine and honest in his life is a big part of his recovery. The face behind the "Stranger Things" villain has put his life on a platter for the world to see, which takes a lot of courage and trust, and the real-life nice guy hasn't been found lacking by any of his fans — rather, he has become a beloved figure.

Jessica Walter as Lucille Bluth

While she certainly doesn't have a kill count to rival some of the other nasties on this list, the Bluth matriarch in "Arrested Development" has all the makings of a classic villain. She has a maniacal laugh, devious plans, and a piercing look that strikes fear in the heart of her own sons. Lucille is the least likable member of the Bluth family and her own kind of villain within the confines of a quirky sitcom.

Be that as it may, Jessica Walter was absolutely brilliant in the role of Lucille, as well as the comparable role of Malory Archer in the animated series "Archer." Even though she pulled off the role of controlling and devious mother so well, it's actually pretty far off from what's been said about how she was in real life. "I'm nothing like Lucille. Nothing," she once told Entertainment Weekly. "My daughter will tell you. I'm really a very nice, boring person."

Her self-proclaimed nicety seems to hold true, as people who worked with the legendary actress have had similar things to say. In an interview with Newsweek, "Archer" showrunner Casey Willis recalls Walter as an amazing person on both personal and professional levels.

David Tennant as Kilgrave

While he's arguably most often associated with his tenure as the heroic Tenth Doctor, David Tennant is very good at being bad, and has demonstrated as much time and time again. Perhaps the best example of how bad he can truly pretend to be — sorry, Barty Crouch Jr. — is his "Jessica Jones" character, Kilgrave. Originally known as the Purple Man in Marvel comics, Kilgrave is a psychological supervillain who, in an accurate portrayal of a domestic and emotional abuser, continues to affect the protagonist long after Season 1.

In real life, David Tennant exudes a beautifully kind-hearted personality, and appears to get along swimmingly with basically everybody. These traits paired with how effortlessly he seems to play a dark, brooding character made him a perfect fit for the chipper but universe-weary Doctor of the first Russell T Davies era of "Doctor Who." In fact, Tennant is pretty much universally thought of as one of the all-time best actors to play The Doctor.

There are countless instances of David Tennant simply being the best type of human when it comes to his fans, including getting involved in their lives on a personal level. A few years ago, a video surfaced (via Daily Record) of Tennant helping a young fan introduce himself to his dream girl. Not too long after, Tennant connected to another young fan at a comic con, bringing the boy on stage with him. The exchange between the two is endearing and extremely adorable.

John Lithgow as Arthur Mitchell

Some villains are purely fictional, but John Lithgow's Arthur Mitchell in "Dexter" is so realistic that it's actually pretty scary. Lithgow pulls off the chilling Jekyll and Hyde of traditional, real life serial killers all too well as The Trinity Killer. It speaks to the actor's range that he can pull off such a calculating and complex character, especially when you consider that he is actually pretty nice in real life.

John Lithgow is pretty much universally loved despite inhabiting some downright evil personas, and he has even spoken out against at least one of his nastiest on-screen characters — Fox News founder and alleged inveterate sexual harasser Roger Ailes in "Bombshell." In addition to portraying a character while also recognizing their alleged real-life villainy and negative impact on the world, he also acts as something of a mentor to younger generations of actors. "I am a kind of mentor figure," he said during a web interview (via The Jakarta Post). "And I take that role very seriously."

He may come off as ice cold in his portrayal of the Trinity Killer in "Dexter," but John Lithgow is much warmer in real life. He uses his standing in Hollywood to make sure that his on-screen message doesn't get skewed, and as a way to help up-and-coming actors. For that, he earns a spot here.

Misha Collins as Leviathan

Perhaps one of the genuinely nicer actors in the game, Misha Collins might be an actual angel and not just play one on "Supernatural." He has been described as basically the closest thing humans have to a perfect individual, and even though that sounds wildly hyperbolic, it certainly counts for something.

In all seriousness, though, Collins has some serious charity work under his belt as the founder of Random Acts, an organization that is all about inspiring kindness around the world. He also founded and hosts GISH, an international scavenger hunt that has set and broken world records, involved his fans on an intense and very interactive level, and impacted the world in positive and very strange ways.

As pure and good Collins allegedly is in real life, he is familiar with playing the bad guy on screen. His portrayal of the Leviathan in "Supernatural" — relatively brief though it may be — was jarring and initially comes at us seconds after his character appears to be a literal angel. He is dramatically unhinged, and one of the most powerful bad guys that the Winchesters go up against in the show's 15 Seasons. Additionally, he's slated to play the "Gotham Knights" rendition of Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, and he plays a serial killer in the film "Karla." These are all great examples of his ability to turn off the niceness and turn on the ruthlessness when necessary.

Michael Emerson as Leland Townsend

Michael Emerson plays a sadistic and demon-like character on the CBS series "Evil," and he's built his career around evil characters. From the leader of the Others from "Lost" to Cayden James in "Arrow," Emerson has played a number of diabolical bad guys. At this point, he's one of the main go-to actors to play an intelligent small-screen supervillain.

While this isn't surprising considering his utterly convincing and chilling performances, Emerson actually came into acting later in life, having a full career as an artist beforehand. In an "AMA" for Reddit, Emerson explained this part of his history in detail and went on to carefully and thoughtfully answer questions from his many fans. While he hasn't been one to attend many busy fan events, he has made sure to set aside time where he can interact with his fans in a more low-key, calm environment.

That's not to say that he is above interacting with fans in person, though. One documented fan interaction tells of a time when he ran into a fan naturally out in the real world, and he was the perfect example of a humble celebrity who takes thoughtful and purposeful time with fans for a genuine interaction. Despite being overtly villainous in his Hollywood career, he seems like just an all-around nice guy.

Sterling K. Brown as Gordon Walker

Before he became the stoic third triplet in the "This Is Us" crew, Sterling K. Brown played a hard-headed vampire hunter in "Supernatural" who can't entertain the thought that monsters could change their nature. His ironic punishment for this is turning into a vampire himself. In addition to being thoroughly human and definitely not a vampire in real life, he actually seems to be a pretty solid dude.

Sterling K. Brown was one of the actors who made waves during the pandemic when he shared his personal phone number on his social media accounts, telling fans to call or text him if they needed a chat. In addition to opening up to making a more personal connection with his fan base, the star has used his platform for good.

Activism is important to Sterling K. Brown, and he doesn't hesitate to speak up when he feels it is right. On an episode of theGrio's "Dear Culture" podcast, Brown said, "I consider it an honor and a responsibility that you have to take up," when talking about using his fame and access to millions of ears. He treats his fame as a duty to his fellow man, and what could be nicer than that?

Bryan Cranston as Walter White

Sometimes described as one of the few perfect TV series in history, "Breaking Bad" just wouldn't be the same without Bryan Cranston. He played Walter White as if he actually lived through Walter's villainous arc, but he couldn't really be farther from the high school science teacher turned meth cook.

Despite his explosive role on "Breaking Bad," by all accounts, Cranston is basically just a regular, nice guy who happens to be one hell of an actor. Even so, he takes his craft seriously and has great relationships with those he has worked with. Cranston told the Telegraph Magazine that he is still "very, very close" with his "Breaking Bad" co-star Aaron Paul after becoming somewhat of a father figure to him, as well as a friend.

Naturally, Cranston's colleagues have nothing but praise for him as well. In a dual interview with Cranston for NJ.com, "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan revealed how beloved Cranston was on the set of the hit series. "The crew loves Bryan, because he really is a leader," Gilligan said. "He's like a dad on the set." Cranston also has a profound loyalty to Gilligan for taking his career to superstardom with the series, telling The Hollywood Reporter that he and Paul will always say "yes" to the "Breaking Bad" creator when he asks them to be a part of a project. All these traits combined makes Cranston a nice guy who's famous for being a mass murderer on TV.

Cillian Murphy as Thomas Shelby

Cillian Murphy has played so many evil and morally gray characters that his face is one that could naturally be associated with evil doing. His role in "Peaky Blinders" as the gangster protagonist from the 1900s is no different, as he is relentless and downright vicious as Thomas Shelby in the series.

Although he has played seemingly countless bad guys, Murphy leads a life that is pretty quiet for what you would expect from an incredibly recognizable star. In an interview with Luxury London, Murphy comes off as the pinnacle of humility. "The work, I adore. And I'll always have that passion for what I do," he said. "But it's the other stuff that comes with it that I could do without." He expressed a love for the art of cinema and the stories his work is based on. In fact, Murphy noted that descendants of the real world's version of his "Peaky Blinders" character actually came out to the premiere of the series.

From what we can tell, the star is all about honor and humility, which makes him worthy of a spot on our list of on-screen sociopathic nightmare people who are played by kindly folks. 

Honorable mention: Paul Rudd as Bobby Newport

Closing out our list with an honorable mention is one of Hollywood's nicest nice guys, Paul Rudd. The seemingly ageless Rudd is universally thought of as a nice guy, with countless anecdotes centered on him being a real stand-up individual — like him becoming a real-life superhero for a struggling boy — scattered over the internet. The downside of his apparent benevolent disposition is it is probably part of the reason why he usually plays easily likeable characters. While his "Parks and Recreation" character Bobby Newport certainly wouldn't stack up next to the deviousness of the other villains on this list, he is possibly the closest Rudd has gotten to playing a real villain. At the very least, Bobby is definitely not a great dude. In fact, it's only his sheer obliviousness that may take Bobby out of villain range and into the doltish menace category.

Rudd makes being nice look so easy. In an interview with E!, Rudd laid it out pretty simply. "I really love it when people are nice," said the onetime "Parks and Recreation" antagonist. "Because honestly, I just think life is so hard. There are so many things that can get you down—that are so frustrating and so maddening. As cornball as it sounds, kindness is a thing that can defuse it a little bit. Kindness and laughs."