Part of being a talented actor means having “range” when it comes to choosing movie roles. Sure, there are some actors who are best known for their comedic or dramatic work, but those who are considered the best in the business know that showing complexity and depth on screen is what keeps fans coming back for more. Of course, there are some roles that are extremely difficult to play, and require lots of preparation and mental fortitude.
One of the toughest characters to portray on screen is a killer. This is particularly difficult when an actor has to transform into a killer who is a real-life person. It can be scary and daunting to actually learn the mind of someone who committed such heinous crimes. Even if an actor is embodying a fictitious killer, it can be a challenge to relate to a character who is actually capable of taking someone’s life. It’s hard to believe that killers can actually have family, friends and romantic relationships, and that’s the complexity that actors have to bring to life for the viewing public.
Some actors have tried their hand at playing killers once or twice, and some are known for being particularly sinister in most of the roles they choose. Here are 12 actors who are pretty convincing as killers.
12 Kane Hodder
Kane Hodder is an actor and stuntman who portrayed serial killer Dennis Rader, in the movie B.T.K. (2008). Hodder was pretty convincing as Rader, and even had the real-life killer’s psychotic facial expressions down pat. Rader murdered 10 people in Wichita, Kansas, between the years of 1974 and 1991, and was ordered to serve multiple life sentences for these terrible crimes. The public is still intrigued (and very creeped out) by serial killers, and producers continue to make movies about these murderers in an attempt to understand how their minds work. Hodder didn’t exactly answer these questions with his performance, but he was pretty convincing as Dennis Rader.
11 Brian Dennehy
Dennehy is known for her portrayal of John Wayne Gacy in the movie To Catch a Killer. Gacy committed his murders in the Chicago area, and took the lives of about 33 teenage boys and young men. The murders occurred between 1972 and 1978. Gacy was known as The Clown Killer, and was known for sexually assaulting his victims before murdering them. John Wayne Gacy also committed all the murders inside of his home in Norwood Park Township, which makes the whole story even eerier. Most of his victims were buried on his property, and he threw the bodies of the last four men in the Des Plaines River.
10 Tania Raymonde
If you love watching Lifetime movies, you know that stalkers, serial killers and abusive characters are often the leads in these films. When the Jodi Arias story hit the news, the media was in a frenzy. Even before Arias was officially found guilty of murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander, there was already a movie in the works. Actress Tania Raymonde did an outstanding job portraying Jodi. There was even talk about the former couple’s sex life in the courtroom, which was eerily entertaining for some people. Arias also made a conscious decision to be less “hot” in the courtroom, by changing her hair color and wearing glasses. She thought this would help the judge to claim her innocence, but of course, she was unsuccessful.
9 Michael Reilly Burke
Burke played the haunting role of serial killer Ted Bundy in 2002 for the movie Bundy. Ted Bundy was put on death row, and was put to death in 1989 for murdering young women and girls in the 1970s. Authorities say that Bundy could have had up to 30 victims, which is chilling to even think about. Ted Bundy has gone down in history as a cold-hearted killer, and has long been studied and analyzed for his actions. Unfortunately, there are also other serial killers who have tried to emulate Bundy’s actions, and even looked up to the dangerous criminal.
8 Val Kilmer
Actor Val Kilmer did a “great” job as John Holmes, even though he was portraying some pretty heinous things. Holmes was an adult star who was known for being well endowed. He had already achieved notable fame before he was involved in the 1981 Wonderland murders. Holmes was a known drug addict and was accused of killing the victims known as “The Four On The Floor.” Later, Holmes was acquitted of the murder charges. In 2003, the film Wonderland debuted, and Kilmer showed the world (once again) what a talented actor he is by capturing the troubling and frightening actions of John Holmes.
7 Laura Prepon
Actress Laura Prepon is best known for being one of the main characters on That 70's Show. She now stars on the Netflix hit, Orange Is The New Black. Prepon took a huge leap from her comedic sitcom role and portrayed Karla Homolka in a movie about the woman’s murderous acts. Homolka is a serial killer from Canada, and the film about her life was released in 2006. Karla Homolka and her husband Paul Bernardo kidnapped three girls, abused them, then murdered them. Homolka was able to strike a deal with prosecutors for her release, and served only 12 years in exchange for a guilty plea. She was released in 2005.
6 Jeremy Renner
Jeremy Renner is an Academy Award-winning actor who is known for losing himself in his roles. He played killer Jeffrey Dahmer in the 2002 movie Dahmer. Between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer r*ped, murdered and dismembered 17 men. His story was all over news outlets and people were extremely uneasy after learning about his crimes. In 1994, Dahmer was beaten to death while in prison. Some feel that this was justified, given the terrible things that he’d done to others. Still, there are some people who feel conflicted about what happened to Jeffrey Dahmer, since killing a murderer doesn’t exactly teach the lesson that killing is wrong.
5 Farrah Fawcett
The late Farrah Fawcett was a talented actress and a kind soul in real life. However, she played not one, but two female murderers. Fawcett portrayed Diane Downs in the movie Small Sacrifices, which got her a Golden Globe nomination. Downs shot her three children, as well as herself, in 1989, in order to make the crime look like a suicide. Farrah also portrayed Francine Hughes, who was a battered wife. In the movie The Burning Bed, the story of Hughes was depicted. Francine was accused of killing her ex-husband Mickey, who had abused her for 14 years. Francine doused her ex’s bed in gasoline and set it on fire in 1977. The story was later turned into a novel by Faith McNulty.
4 Antonio Sabato, Jr.
Antonio Sabato, Jr. is known for playing the heartthrob on TV and in movies. However, he decided to go a different route in 2009 when he took on the role of Henry Lee Lucas in the movie Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas was convicted of killing 11 people, and passed away in prison at the age of 64. However, it is reported that Henry Lee Lucas confessed to killing more than 600 people. 2009 was also the year that Sabato appeared in his own reality show, called My Antonio, in which women competed to become his girlfriend. He is also known for his work on General Hospital.
3 Mary Tyler Moore
Mary Tyler Moore is known for playing upbeat and positive characters. That’s why many of her fans were surprised when the legendary actress teamed up with Gabriel Olds to play the mother and son duo, Sante and Kenny Kimes. Moore and Sante starred in the 2001 movie detailing the disgusting story of a mother and her child who confessed to murdering two people. Sante also confessed to robbery, breaking anti-slavery laws and forgery, among other things. When Kimes and her son were convicted for the murder of Irene Silverman, they were also convicted of 117 other charges. That should give you an idea of just how creepy this family was. Sante Kimes died of natural causes at the age of 79, at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women.
2 Hayden Panettiere
The pint-sized actress and mother of one is known for being pretty convincing in her dramatic roles. She plays a pretty troubled character on the ABC show Nashville, and has recently opened up about her battle with postpartum depression. Hayden convincingly played Amanda Knox in the Lifetime movie The Amanda Knox Story. Knox is an American who was studying abroad and suspected of killing her British roommate Meredith Kercher, in 2007. It was alleged that Knox and her Italian boyfriend killed Kercher, but Amanda Knox was later acquitted of the crime. Six years later, Knox had to face another trial to overturn the acquittal.
1 Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron is a beautiful actress and model who completely transformed herself to portray Aileen Wuornos. Wuornos was a prostitute from Florida who murdered seven men between the years of 1989 and 1990. Theron was able to capture the complexity of Wuornos, who claimed that all of the murders she committed were in self-defense. Wuornos also had a very troubled childhood, including a father she never met because he was convicted of sex crimes agains children and was incarcerated when Aileen was born (he later hanged himself in prison). Aileen was convicted of six of the seven murders, and in 2002, she was put to death by lethal injection.