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Actor Michael Lonsdale - who played a Bond villain in Moonraker - dies aged 89

The French-British actor was best known for his villainous turn as Hugo Drax opposite Roger Moore’s 007 in Moonraker.

Michael Lonsdale
Michael Lonsdale
Image: Jacques Brinon/PA Images

MICHAEL LONSDALE, THE British-French actor with a far-ranging film and theatre career but most widely recognised as the villain opposite James Bond in Moonraker, died today aged 89.

Lonsdale, who was bilingual, chalked up more than 200 roles over a six-decade career, equally at ease in experimental arthouse productions as in big-budget crowd-pleasers.

With his silky yet imposing voice and a distinctive goatee, Lonsdale often served up memorable performances that stuck with viewers even when only in minor roles.

His agent, Olivier Loiseau, said he had 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 true 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 Cesar award – France’s 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 Earth’s population with nerve gas while he escaped into space.

Struggle with shyness

Lonsdale was raised in London and later in Morocco during World War II, when in 1942 American soldiers introduced him to 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 theatre and took lessons in dramatic art, later telling AFP of his struggles to overcome his shyness.

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

He performed in plays by top playwrights of the era including Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett and Marguerite Duras.

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

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

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

But he was not above lighter fare: In Luis Bunuel’s 1974 surrealist comedy The Phantom of Liberty, Lonsdale, his buttocks in the air, took part in a sado-masochistic session.

© AFP 2020

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