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Dial-A-Foreigner: Stars Of Flexible Nationality

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Hollywood's attitude to non-English speakers is pretty even-handed - in the sense that Tinseltown seems to think that any one of a small number of actors can play any nationality on Earth. Whether they're playing arms traffickers, drug dealers, arms dealers with nasty coke habits, or the merely evil (Hollywood doesn't generally cast non-English speakers as the good guys), one of these fellas is bound to be in consideration. For your convenience, we've looked at the actors who make a career from playing away, a virtual casting couch of go-to guys to fill those hard-to-fill foreign roles…

Hire when you need:
A badass French arms dealer with the scruples of a Balkan war criminal and the contacts book of Mark Ronson. Can also bring the heavily-accented Russian, if required.

Nationalities played:
FrenchSpanishRussianCanadian
As a Frenchman – albeit of Greek and Turkish parents – unsurprisingly Karyo’s played his fair share of Gallic characters. Most notable is Bad Boys’ bad boy, the Burnett-and-Lowry-bothering drug lord Fouchet. He can also do uber-brainboxed French boffin (The Core) and vendetta-crazed but still fashion-conscious French soldier (The Patriot). He’s also been cast as a Spaniard (1492: Conquest Of Paradise) because, like, France is close to Spain and stuff, and he was a Canadian copper working alongside Angelina Jolie in Taking Lives because Canada’s practically French, non?


Most ludicrously foreign moment*:
As GoldenEye’s tub-thumping Russian defence minister Dmitri Mishkin he lays down the law to 007 in impenetrably Moscovite fashion: “Russia may have changed, but the penalty for terrorism is still DEATH!” Yeah!

Least-likely Hollywood casting:
Opposite Amy Adams in whimsical New England-set rom-com. Unless he turns out to be not the man of her dreams after all, but a French arms dealer.

Hire when you need:
A foreign sidekick who’s jovial enough to get close to our hero but also unscrupulous enough to completely betray him at the crucial moment. If you need him to make off with the swag and be impaled by spears in the process, even better.

Nationalities played:
French.png)Peru.png)Iranian
By his own admission “everyone's favourite foreigner”, London-born Molina’s portfolio of characters features enough nationalities to form its own Security Council. Only one, though, would be allowed to turn up to it without being arrested – step forward Chocolat’s righteous mayor Comte de Reynaud. The rest, not so much. There’s cuddly Peruvian thief Satipo (Raiders), ostrich-wrangling Persian Sheik Amar (Prince Of Persia), God-bothering Spanish Bishop Manuel Aringarosa (The Da Vinci Code) and the suspiciously abroad-sounding Horvath in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. As the man himself says, “I give good foreign.”

Most ludicrously foreign moment:
Too many to mention but it’s hard to see past Sheik Amar’s seething frustration as his dreams of an ostrich Grand National go up in smoke: “It doesn't matter how good your skills as a promoter are; you can't organise an ostrich race WITH ONLY ONE OSTRICH!”

Least likely Hollywood casting:
Anyone English. Except for An Education. OK, anyone Irish then.

Hire when you need:
A shady Latin American, preferably with a private army.

Nationalities played:
MexicanCubanFrench.png)
De Almeida was born in Lisbon but there’s not much call for Portuguese characters in Hollywood, so he’s had to make do with the next best thing: South American drug lords. In Desperado, he’s the Mexican Bucho, a man whose army of hitmen is too small to repel heavily-armed busker Antonio Banderas. As 24’s Mexican kingpin Ramon Salazar, he’s equally badass and has a deadly neurovirus at his disposal. He’s also played the double-dealing Cuban intel officer of a drug lord (Clear And Present Danger), so he’s got a good grasp of every facet of the business. Somewhat against type, however, he played a French NATO admiral in Behind Enemy Lines.

Most ludicrously foreign moment:
Shooting his own brother as 24’s ruthless coke baron. In the back! Evidentally the whole blood-thicker-than-water thing doesn’t apply if you’re from south of the border. Or working with Jack Bauer.

Least likely Hollywood casting:
A cuddly father figure, unless the kids in question are in The Village Of The Damned.

Hire when you need:
An Arab terrorist with Merchant Ivory intonation.

Nationalities played:
IndianUnited Arab Emirates
The Pakistan-born Brit actor is the name that comes up when casting meetings turn to those ill-fated Orientalist roles and the room goes really quiet. Malik cosied up to James Bond as a Mujahideen guerilla in The Living Daylights, before turning to the dark side as humourless Arab terrorist, the Sand Spider, in the wonderfully barmy True Lies. He didn’t have much more luck in The Wolfman, playing the faithful Sikh manservant to a foaming mad man, or as Sex And The City 2’s uber-rich oil sheik who unwittingly calls down a New York-based shoe-nami on Abu Dhabi. Sadly for Malik, if you find yourself in a movie with this man, pick whichever side he’s not on.

Most ludicrously foreign moment:
True Lies’ Salim Abu Aziz’s attempts to put the ‘fun’ into fundamentalist when he takes Arnie on in a Harrier jumpjet fight. He fails but scores highly for being missiled through a building into a helicopter of fellow ne’er-do-wells.

Least likely Hollywood casting:
Captain America.

Hire when you need:
A campy exotic type from a strange and far off land that no-one’s ever heard of. Egypt, for instance.

Nationalities played:
GuatamalanEgyptianPolishHungarianIndian.png)French.png)Spanish.png)
Hollywood’s first gay Guatemalan, Azaria riproared through The Birdcage in a furious camp-off with Nathan Lane. He’s also gone ancient Egyptian as lispy pharaoh Kah Mun Rah in Night At The Museum 2, been the voice of Apu in The Simpsons, stripped down as a French scuba instructor in Along Came Polly (“Are you for scoooooba?”), essayed a underendowed Spaniard Hector in America’s Sweethearts, played a Polish Jewish resistance fighter in made-for-TV-movie Uprising and an animated Hungarian rat in Bartok The Magnificent. Try getting that lot through customs.

Most ludicrously foreign moment:
Among many contenders, his Basil-meets-Manuel pratfalling in The Birdcage is a clear winner: “Good evenin’. I am Spartacoose, the Goldmans’ bootlaw!”

Least likely Hollywood casting:
The Expendables.

Hire when you need:
A Euro villain capable of extreme violence and really straggly mullets.

Nationalities played:
GermanFrench.png)Russian.png)Swedish
Just about all of them. He’s the Coen brothers' European of choice, playing The Big Lebowski’s German anarcho-porn terrorist Karl Hungus and chain-smoking Scandinavian nutjob Gaear Grimsrud in Fargo. He’s also ended up as a German-flavoured dino snack in The Lost World, a wife-beating Frenchman in Chocolat, three Italians – including Prison Break’s mighty crime don John Abruzzi – a pair of Russians (Armageddon and Bad Company), and Satan, who’s probably European. He’s also played a Swede, his own nationality, as Minority Report’s rogue optician Dr. Solomon Eddie.

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Most ludicrously foreign moment*:
Interrupting the Dude’s bathtime with ferrets in The Big Lebowski.

Least likely Hollywood casting:
A voicepart in a DreamWorks animation (too growly), a square-jawed cop hero (too evil) or anyone that’s allowed anywhere near children.

Hire when you need:
A serious-minded European professor.

Nationalities played:
Russian.png)Swiss.png)Germany.png)Swedish.png)Irish
Mostly European, but he’s run the gamut of nationalities there. He’s been (deep breath) a Russian sub commander in The Hunt For Red October, a Swiss Guard honcho in Angels & Demons, a barnicled Irish mariner in Pirates Of The Caribbean, a French academic in Good Will Hunting, the titular Spanish painter in Goya’s Ghosts, a Saxon invader in King Arthur, and fiery German director Verner Vollstedt in Entourage. The Swede will be playing on home turf next as Martin Vanger in David Fincher’s Swedish-set Dragon Tattoo remake. In Hollywood, where Europeans are pretty much interchangeable, Skarsgård is a man to have on speed dial.

  • Most ludicrously foreign moment*:
    Gormlessly blundering into his own torpedo as Captain Tupolev in The Hunt For Red October. “We’re going to kill a friend – we’re going to kill Ramius!” Yes, only not so much.

Least likely Hollywood casting:
The comedy sidekick.

Hire when you need:
A ker-razee comedy Arab, Middle-Eastern merchant or impossibly rich Abu Dhabi businessman.

Nationalities played:
.png)Saudi Arabian
You want a generic Middle Eastern background character? You got a generic Middle Eastern background character. Born in Britain to Iranian parents, Djalili describes himself as invariably cast as ‘the Arab scumbag', having played a Moroccan slave trader in Gladiator, a Lebanese CIA informant in Spy Games, and the 'Second Azerbaijani oil pipe attendant' (his words, not Bond’s) in The World Is Not Enough. He’s also been an Indian sexual sage as one Guru Satchabigknoba in The Love Guru, as well as the madder-than-a-bag-of-wet-cats Yusuf Amir, a golden uzi-obsessed Arabian businessman in video game Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony.

Most ludicrously foreign moment:
Peddling slaves to Oliver Reed in Gladiator with silk-tongued savvy (“Some are good for fighting, others for dying. You need both, I think…”).

Least likely Hollywood casting:
Daniel Craig’s successor as James Bond.

Hire when you need:
A voluptuous, gorgeous, European femme fatale, bound to steal your hero’s heart then promptly stomp on it soon after.

Nationalities played:
French.png).png)Hungarian.png)
Italian by birth, she also speaks fluent English and French, as well as passable Spanish. Oh, and a touch of Aramaic, learnt for her role as Mary Magdalene in The Passion Of The Christ. She’s played Egyptian queen Cleopatra, the stunning French girlfriend Lisa to Vincent Cassell’s Max in L’Appartement, The Merovingian’s dangerously exotic wife Persephone in Matrix: Reloaded and Revolutions, and one of Vlad’s many wives in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – so presumably Transylvanian. As the Mirror Queen in The Brothers Grimm, she’s presumably German(ish) as well, and she’s the apprentice of an English wizard in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. If you need buxom and European, look no further.

Most ludicrously foreign moment:
From Matrix Reloaded, just after enduring the absurdly French witterings of her husband Merovingian, Monica takes our favourite leather-clad crew into the bathroom for a quick bitch about her hubbé: "I am zo sick and tired of hiss bullshut. On and on... the pompous prick."


Least likely Hollywood casting*:
Southern rube from deepest Texas.

Hire when you need:
A follicly-challenged mercenary and Billy Zane isn’t available.

  • Nationalities played*:
    Turkish.png)Hungarian.png)
    If you need someone to schlep around with a snarl and a semi-automatic, the South African born actor is your man. If you need generous helpings of nastiness too, even better. Vosloo’s been a sadistic South African hired gun in Blood Diamond, sadistic Turkish terrorist Habib Marwan in 24 and sadistic magical Egyptian slaphead Imhotep in The Mummy films. That’s before you even get onto Hard Target’s Pik van Cleef, a man who shoots homeless people for a living, or the foreign mercenary he plays in G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra, who stabs supermodels in the back. We’re sure he’s a lovely chap, but don’t hold your breath for any onscreen evidence.
  • Most ludicrously foreign moment*:
    Choosing to plunge from a very high building in 24, rather than surrender to Jack Bauer.

Least likely Hollywood casting:
A neurotic Upper East sider in a Woody Allen film.