It was with great sadness this week that we heard of the loss of one of film’s greatest actors: Christopher Lee. He had a long life full of interesting, exciting, terrifying, and spectacular work. His contributions to cinema will stand the test of time, and we are very fortunate that we can relive them with his many memorable performances.
Two of the Young Folks writers single out two of Lee’s performance and characters as his greatest. Read why we think Saruman and Dracula are Christopher Lee’s best characters.
Saruman from The Lord of the Rings
By Jon Espino
Christopher Lee made a prodigious career of playing some of the most iconic villains in cinematic history. One villain stands out above all the rest, and not just because he stands inside a tall, grey tower. Saruman is the epitome of strength and power, but obviously not willpower since he fell under the influence of Sauron. Like with every character Lee played, he brings Saruman to life, making us think the two were one and the same. His character is a rare transformation where we believe he is one of the heroes, (and maybe at some point he was), but when it is revealed that he has gone to the dark side (like he did as Count Dooku in Star Wars), we were devastated. We couldn’t figure out if he had been corrupted since the beginning or if it happened a little bit later.
Lee had always been a huge Tolkien fan, and he remained one of the few people in the films that met Tolkien before his death. He was such a Lord of the Rings aficionado that Peter Jackson said he went to Lee for help and questions with the source material. Lee’s character, acting, and knowledge were such a powerhouse that even when his health started to deteriorate and it was unclear whether he would be able to travel to reprise his important roles in the Hobbit films, it was decided that everyone would instead travel to him. Call me crazy, but only a truly special person inspires that sort of dedication, and Christopher Lee earned every bit of it and more.
Dracula from Horror of Dracula
By Matthew Goudreau
Given how many actors have played the titular character, it speaks to the talent of Christopher Lee that he is, in my opinion, the definitive Dracula. While it wasn’t his first appearance in a Hammer horror film, his first portrayal of Dracula in 1958’s Horror of Dracula is perhaps his most iconic. For over twenty-five years prior, the shadow of Bela Lugosi loomed over the shoulders of any other actor who played the role. It speaks to the immense talent of Lee that he was able to create not just own spin on the role, but an iconic one. Much like Hammer in general during the 1950s, Lee was able to put his own transformative stamp on the character made famous by Universal Studios.
While Lee’s Dracula is definitely a seductive monster, what makes Lee stand out is his towering presence. At 6’5’’, Lee possessed a physicality that Lugosi lacked. Lugosi’s Hungarian accent was swapped out with one in line with a well-refined British gentleman. Lee’s Dracula is well-spoken and dressed in the attire of an English businessman. His demeanor and conversation with Jonathan Harker drives home his seductive quality. It’s almost as if he’s handled these sorts of transactions countless times. In addition to verbal seduction, Lee’s true distinction as Dracula came from the lustful sexuality he brought to the role. Prior to 1958, no sexual interpretation of the character existed, and it has since become somewhat of a staple in other versions. In short, Lee made vampires both sexy and scary at the same time.