Michael Lonsdale dies at 89

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax in Moonraker

French actor Michael Lonsdale, who played the lead villain in 1979’s Moonraker, has died at 89, according to news accounts, including the BBC and France 24.

Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax wasn’t the scarred, bombastic villain of Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel.

Rather, the Lonsdale version was cool, calm and prone to making droll remarks such as, “See that some harm comes to him,” as he orders a henchman to kill Bond.

The film Drax also liked to take digs at the English. In one scene, he refers to “afternoon tea” as the major English contribution to Western culture.

Moonraker was an English-French co-production. As a result, French actors were placed in a number of roles. The movie ended up being a big hit in the summer of 1979 as Roger Moore’s James Bond went into space for a final showdown with Drax.

Lonsdale’s career began in the mid-1950s and extended into the 21st century.

His English-language highlights included The Day of the Jackal (1973), where he played a detective on the trail of an assassin trying to kill French President Charles de Gaulle; The Name of the Rose (1986); Ronin (1998); and Munich (2005).

In 2010, The Wall Street Journal published a profile of the actor (be warned it’s behind a paywall). It was headlined, “A Gentle Screen Giant Subtly Shines.”

Here’s an excerpt concerning the actor’s versatility.

Mr. Lonsdale has played the gamut of religious roles —priests, abbots, cardinals, inquisitors—as well as countless aristocrats ranging from English lords to Louis XVI. Also a man of the theater, his circle of friends has included literary heavyweights like Marguerite Duras, Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, whose works he performed on stage in Paris in the 1960s. Perfectly bilingual, he moves easily between the bizarre shoe salesman in François Truffaut’s “Stolen Kisses” and the campy bearded villain in the James Bond classic, “Moonraker.”

2 Responses

  1. I loved him The Day of The Jackal which featured Never Say Never Again’s M, Edward Fox, as the eponymous character.

  2. I always found it ironic that Fleming described Drax as a “Lonsdale figure” in the novel.

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