Franco-British actor and ‘Bond’ villain Michael Lonsdale dies

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PARIS, FRANCE – Michael Lonsdale, the Franco-British actor with a long film and theatrical career but most widely recognized as the villainous opposite James Bond in ‘Moonraker’, died on Monday at the age of 89, said his agent at AFP. Lonsdale, who was bilingual, landed more than 200 roles over a six-decade career, equally at home in experimental arthouse productions as well as large budgets.

With his silky yet commanding voice and a distinctive goatee, Lonsdale often delivered memorable performances that captured viewers’ attention, even in minor roles.

His agent, Olivier Loiseau, said he died at his home in Paris, the city where he was born on May 24, 1931, to an English military officer and a French mother.

Arguably the highlight of his career came when he played a Trappist monk in “Of Gods and Men” in 2010.

Based on real events, the film tells the story of seven French monks who were murdered after being kidnapped from their monastery in Algeria in 1996 during the country’s civil war.

For the role, Lonsdale won his first and only Caesar award – the French version of the Oscars – for Best Supporting Actor in 2011.

Yet for millions of people he was the sadistic industrialist Hugo Drax in the 1979 Bond film “Moonraker” starring Roger Moore, with a plot to destroy the people of Earth with nerve gas as he set off. escaped into space.

Struggle with shyness

Lonsdale was raised in London and later in Morocco during World War II, when in 1942 American soldiers presented him with films by John Ford, George Cukor and Howard Hawks. He went to the cinema from an early age and decided to become an actor.

He returned to Paris in 1947, where he discovered the theater and took drama lessons, later telling AFP his difficulties in overcoming his shyness.

He made his theater debut in 1955 and hit the big screen a year later. His talent for improvisation, his physical presence and his soft voice made him in great demand from the early 1960s.

He appeared in plays by the greatest playwrights of the time, including Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett and Marguerite Duras.

His breakthrough came when French director and New Wave innovator François Truffaut hired him for “The Bride Wore Black” and “Stolen Kisses”, both in 1968.

From then on, he switched between arthouse cinema and mainstream cinema, appearing among others in “The Day of the Jackal” (1973), “India Song” by Duras (1975), “The Remains of the Day ”(1993) and as the grizzled partner of Robert De Niro’s mercenary in“ Ronin ”(1998).

A practicing Catholic, Lonsdale also assumed several clerical roles – as a priest in Orson Welles’ “The Trial” in 1962, as a cardinal in Joseph Losey’s “Galileo” in 1975, and as abbot in the thriller from the Middle Ages “The Name of the Rose” in 1986.

But it wasn’t above the lighter prices: in Luis Bunuel’s 1974 surrealist comedy “The Phantom of Liberty,” Lonsdale, butt in the air, took part in a sadomasochistic shoot.

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