The halfway mark, and up to ‘M’. Please continue to add your own favourites in the comments.
Mads Mikkelsen (Double-M!) is a Danish actor with distinctive looks, and obvious talent. Known for his work in European television, his big break was in the ‘Pusher’ trilogy, a dark trio of crime films that began in 1996. He was then introduced to international audiences, with a part in the 2004 version of ‘King Arthur’, starring Clive Owen. Worldwide fame came with a Bond film, when he played the villain in ‘Casino Royale’ (2006). Mads later took the lead role in the TV serialisation of the Hannibal Lechter story, ‘Hannibal’, but I would like you to ignore that, and instead concentrate on his excellent roles in lesser-known films. ‘Open Hearts’ (2002), the gripping ‘Valhalla Rising’ (2009), the wonderful WW2 drama ‘Flame and Citron’ (2008), and the epic ‘A Royal Affair’ (2012). I would urge you to seek out those foreign-language films, and see him at his very best.
Toshiro Mifune was a Japanese actor, best known for the sixteen films he made in collaboration with the wonderful director, Akira Kurosawa. Despite that, he made more than one hundred other films, and is a legend in Japanese acting, and cinema. I will concentrate here on those Kurosawa films, as I know them all so well. Mifune was a literal powerhouse on screen. His style so distinctive, it is hard to remember any of the other fine actors he was opposite. He started in films in 1947, and his portrayal of historical characters and samurai warriors is well known to anyone who loves cinema. He starred in landmark films, many of them considered to be among the best ever committed to celluloid. Here are just some of his legendary performances. ‘Rashomon’ (1950), ‘Seven Samurai’ (1954), ‘Throne of Blood’ (1957), and ‘The Hidden Fortress’ (1958). He later starred in the mini-series, ‘Shogun’, and worked in television until 1984. He died in 1997, remembered by me as one of the greatest cinema actors of all time.
Ann-Margret was born in Sweden, in 1941. But she is best known as an American actress, who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the film industry, since 1961. Few actresses have ever attracted me in the same way as Ann. She got better with age, a rarity, and I have always found her to be overwhelmingly attractive. She is often associated with the early films she made with Elvis Presley, highlighting her talents as a singer and dancer. But for me, she came into prominence later, when her wonderful looks and obvious talent made her irresistible, in middle age. From ‘The Cincinnati Kid’ (1965), I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Then came ‘Carnal Knowledge’ (1971), where she was every young man’s dream, through to ‘Tommy’ (1975) when she played Roger Daltry’s mother in that rock opera, at the perfect age of 31. In 1978, she was looking at her delectable best, opposite Anthony Hopkins, in ‘Magic’, and in 1993, she played the ‘ideal widow’ in ‘Grumpy Old Men’, with Walter Matthau. Still amazing, at the age of 52. Since then, she has continued to work to this day, and I have continued to find her to be just adorable.
My next choice is the overlooked English actress, Vivian Merchant. From the 1940s, she was an acclaimed actress on stage and screen, and was also married to the famous playwright and screenwriter, Harold Pinter, appearing in many of his plays and productions. In 1964, she was nominated for numerous awards for her role in the film ‘Alfie’, and won the BAFTA, for Best Actress. She appeared in many important films at the time, including ‘Accident’ (1967), ‘The Offence’ (1972), and Hitchcock’s ‘Frenzy’ (1972). A long television career ran to 1982, sadly the same year that she died, aged just 53. She deserves to be better remembered, in my opinion.
For my final choice, I cannot avoid choosing the wonderful Dame of British acting, Helen Mirren. Since her work with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1967, she has had an illustrious career, that continues to this day. Stage, screen, and television have all welcomed her talents, and at the age of 72, she has never been more popular. Her film and TV credits are enormous, so I will select just a few. Her collaboration with Peter Greenaway gave us the unusual role in ‘The Cook, The Thief. His Wife, and Her Lover’ (1989). Before that, she had amazed audiences in ‘Caligula’ (1979), ‘The Long Good Friday’ (1980), and ‘Excalibur’ (1981). This was followed by numerous later films, including ‘The Madness of King George’ (1994), ‘Calendar Girls’ (1993), and ‘Gosford Park’ (2001). Meanwhile, she was thrilling UK TV viewers with her role as detective Jane Tennyson, in the long-running series ‘Prime Suspect’, as well as making films every year. She was in four films in 2018, and two to be released in 2019. She has never been busier.