"There are many vampires in the world today — you only have to think of the film business."
Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee (May 27, 1922-) is a veteran British actor who initially made his name playing villains - most famously Count Dracula in Hammer Horror films (although he was a hero in The Devil Rides Out). He became well known for his horror work, and was good friends with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, and the three were known as the "Unholy Trinity of Horror" for a while. During the 1970s, he also played Lord Summerisle in the original version of The Wicker Man and Francisco Scaramanga in the film version of one of his cousin (and war buddy, but more on that later) Ian Fleming's books, The Man with the Golden Gun. He's even been a leader of a gang of gay bikers in the satire on American life Serial. His piercing eyes and melodious bass voice made him instantly recognizable. See Compelling Voice.Although he never stopped acting, famous roles dried up a little during the 1980s and 1990s, until he returned with a vengeance, playing villains again, in two of the most widely-seen movie series of the new century: Count Dooku in Star Wars and Saruman the White in The Lord of the Rings. He was the only member of the Lord of the Rings cast to have met the author in person and was an avid scholar of Tolkien's work (he apparently reads the entirety of it once every year), often advising Jackson and Boyens on some of the finer points of the backstory. He wanted to play the role of Gandalf but he felt he was too old for the role when films got around to being made. He has also had a cameo as a member of the church hierarchy in The Golden Compass, so that particular character would probably have turned out to be important had the sequels not been canned.During World War II, Lee served with the Royal Air Force and intelligence service, and has mentioned in the past that he also served with Special Operations Executive (otherwise known as The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare). The SOE was set up by Churchill to "set Europe ablaze", and it included - among others - Christopher Lee and Ian Fleming, making it the obvious inspiration for the James Bond series. So there's a good reason that Lee was cast in one of the film versions. After the War, he also became a Nazi Hunter, hunting down War Criminals due to being fluent in both French and German.During the filming of The Lord of the Rings, he disagreed with Peter Jackson over certain aspects of his character's death scene, insinuating that he knows firsthand the sound a man makes when he's stabbed in the back (see Reality Is Unrealistic). Take that as you will.While known primarily as an actor, Lee also trained as an operatic bass-baritone singer. Some thingsyou just can't make up. He recently came out with a metal album, called Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross. Some things are just too awesome for words. Oh, and he head-bangs. The veteran actor says he often throws himself around to heavy metal. ‘I do head-banging every day,’ he said. ‘Exercising my neck muscles is good for my back. I can do it with or without music.' By the Sword and the Cross has a follow up called Charlemagne: The Omens of Death, with a preview released on on May 27, 2012 (Sir Christopher's 90th birthday) and the full album was released on May 27, 2013. The release of his Charlemagne musical marks Christopher Lee as the oldest musician in the history of the metal genre.He was born on the same day as Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing was born the day before. Pretty... spooky. He was knighted on October 31, 2009 (that's right folks, Halloween). While this does not make him more excellent per se, it was most assuredly long overdue. Everyone, please say, Sir Christopher Lee.It is interesting to note that, despite his long and illustrious career, Lee has never even been nominated for an Oscar, but that reflects more on the Academy than him. He has, however, won the 2011 BAFTA Fellowship. He is also as of this writing the most prolific film actor ever, having appeared in 274 different works.Other facts:
Count Magnus Lee, the villain of the first Vampire Hunter D novel and movie, was named after him.
He also acts as the wizard Iras Algor, in Rhapsody of Fire's epic The Dark Secret saga.
He is an expert fencer, and has appeared in more swashbuckling films than any other actor - almost invariably as the villain. But then...
The Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the world's "Tallest Leading Actor" at 6'5". He's lost a bit of that height to old age, and is now second to Vince Vaughn. Stephen Fry takes the bronze at 6'4".
An awesome Cunning Linguist, Lee is fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish and German, "moderately proficient" in Swedish, Russian and Greek, and "conversational" in Mandarin Chinese. He's even said to speak the dark tongue of Mordor.
As of September 2012, Christopher Lee is one of the most prolific actors in history, having appeared in more films than any other person in the world, living or dead, except probably John Carradine. (IMDB lists about 275 acting credits.) The man's been an actor for most of his life and is 91 years old. As a result, according to the Oracle of Bacon it is he, and notKevin Bacon, who is the true center of the Hollywood Universe. Despite this fact, the trope-related attribute is still named the Bacon Number and not the Lee Number. Having said that, Lee Number just doesn't sound as funny as Bacon Number, so this is excusable.
He is a direct descendant of Charlemagne. Hence the metal album.note Actually, it's likely that most of Europe is descended from Charlemagne, but unlike most of Europe, Sir Christopher has the documentation to prove it. He is also a distant relative of Robert E. Lee.
When he arrived on the set of Gremlins 2, he apologized to director Joe Dante for appearing in The Howling II, a bad sequel to Dante's original Howling.
Was asked to play Doctor Loomis in the original Halloween (1978), but turned down the offer. Has subsequently stated he deeply regrets this.
It may not be his favourite Movie, but he did everything in his power to promote The Wicker Man, offering to pay the ticket price for critics to get them to review it, and touring the US in an effort to get people to go and see it.
He voiced King Haggard in The Last Unicorn (1982), and was in fact a fan of the book, showing up to his recording sessions with a copy full of marked sections that he felt could not be cut under any circumstances. He also dubbed his own voice for the German version, and has said he would happily reprise the role for a live-action version that's been stuck in Development Hell for some time.
He has also had several speaking and singing parts in At Dawn in Rivendell and Leaving Rivendell: two albums collecting various poems and songs from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. Calling him an Ascended Fanboy doesn't even come close.
He was the narrator on Bob Johnson and Peter Knight'snote formerly of Steeleye Span rock opera version of The King of Elfland's Daughter; he also played the King.
Awesome, Dear Boy: According to his autobiography, the reason he took the role of Mister Midnight in The Return of Captain Invincible was so that he'd get a chance to sing on-screen. It's considered by many people to be the best part of the film.
He has also said he only took his part in Airport '77 because he wanted a chance to work with Jack Lemmon.
Badass: Oh, yeah. Not just on-screen, but in real life. He jumped at the opportunity to serve with the Finns when the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939 (Britain was not yet technically allied to the USSR, so this was OK), and was sorely disappointed when they assigned him to guard duty far from the front line; he then joined the RAF, which sent him to their intelligence corps, which sent him to the Long-Range Desert Group, which sent him to the Special Operations Executive, which "from time to time" attached him to the SAS. And that's just his World War II record. So...definitely badass.
It was mainly due to this fact that his casting in the role of Death in a whole bunch of Discworld movie and audio adaptations came across as an almost ridiculously obvious choice, as he's one of the few people able to speak in ALL CAPITALS without sounding like he's yelling.
Badass Grandpa: He's 91 and still makes films, does his own swordwork, and records heavy metal albums.
Blue Blood: On his mother's side. The Carandinis are an ancient family—having been ennobled for services to Frederick Barbarossa—and the line from which he claims descent from Charlemagne (they were gentry long before they were nobles; also, Charlemagne's daughters had a lot of bastards, who became nobles across Europe).
Chronically Killed Actor: Yup. A side effect of being cast as so many villains. His autobiography talks about his kids watching TV and playing a guessing game called "How will Daddy die this time?"
"I don't want to sound gloomy, but, at some point of your lives, every one of you will notice that you have in your life one person, one friend whom you love and care for very much. That person is so close to you that you are able to share some things only with him. For example, you can call that friend, and from the very first maniacal laugh or some other joke you will know who is at the other end of that line. We used to do that with him so often. And then when that person is gone, there will be nothing like that in your life ever again."
Hollywood Accounting: How he was hoodwinked into doing most of the Hammer Dracula pictures. The studio would say that they've already arranged filming and hired all the crew, and if Lee didn't agree to play Dracula they'd all be out of a job. Oh, and since they'd already made all the arrangements for paying the crew and finding locations, Lee would have to agree to not be paid full salary for the picture. Knowing this explains immensely why he doesn't like to talk about that part of his career anymore.
Money, Dear Boy: It doesn't matter just what your film is about, if you can afford his fee, odds are you'll be able to get him to make an appearance. He's something of a workaholic.
Mysterious Past: His work as a British Commando is something he only ever alludes to, due to it being classified. However, he's been able to advise at least two of his directors on what it really looks and sounds like when a man is shot or stabbed in the back.
Old Shame: He doesn't like to talk about most of his Hammer pictures, particularly the Dracula series. Possibly less Old Shame and more "I did the last of those almost 40 years ago! I have nothing else to say about them!"
He was also so ashamed of The Howling 2: Your Sister Is A Werewolf that he actually apologized to the director of the original.
Omniglot: As mentioned above, he is fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German; has proficiency in Swedish, Russian, Finnish, and Greek; and is at least conversational in languages as varied as Afrikaans, Zulu, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Swahili!
When he was hired to voice King Haggard in The Last Unicorn, he also brought a dog-eared copy of the book with pages marked out of scenes he wanted to make sure stayed in the film.
Plays Great Ethnics: Early in his career he had trouble finding roles as Englishmen because casting directors thought his Italian heritage made him look too "foreign". As a result, he's played Germans, Italians, French, Arabs, Chinese...it's probably easier to mention ethnicities he hasn't played.
Precision F-Strike/Sophisticated as Hell: He normally comes across as reserved and erudite, so the occasions for profanity are rare and unique. In the Lord of the Rings outtakes, a wardrobe malfunction finally frustrated him to the point where he shouted, "I can not get up these God-Damned stairs, Peter!"
Saw "Star Wars" Twenty-Seven Times: He has stated that he has read the Lord of the Rings trilogy all the way through once a year, every year going back decades. It was for this reason that he was one of the main consultants for the Peter Jackson films. He is also the only one involved in the films to actually meet J. R. R. Tolkien in person.
The Storyteller: He's apparently become this in his later years. He's had a long, interesting life, working on so many films with so many different actors and filmmakers, that he's got a lot of tales to tell. Peter Jackson has mentioned how production on The Hobbit simply ground to a halt one day while everyone sat around Christopher's chair and listened to him talk about his adventures in film.
Those Two Actors: He worked with Peter Cushing in an astonishing twenty-two movies together. Their first two films were Hamlet (1948) and Moulin Rouge (1952), two major Class-A productions where they both had minor roles where their characters never met. Then they co-starred in The Curse of Frankenstein (Cushing was Frankenstein, Lee was the Monster) and a beautiful partnership, and friendship, was made.
He also had a very healthy working relationship with director Terence Young, who gave Lee his first acting role (in the 1948 film Corridor of Mirrors) and directed him in several other small-to-medium sized roles before Lee received his big break in The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula.