There’s something about the British that is simply irresistible to an American audience. Maybe it’s the posh accents, or the tastefully adorned period pieces, or some latent emotional attachment from the colonial days. They also seem to play most of our superheroes with dodgy American accents these days. Whatever the case, it’s never been more en vogue to be a British icon in the entertainment world.
But not all Brits are created equal. For every self-effacing charmer, there’s an acidic crab. A lot of the most notoriously difficult stars are well documented through their loud tabloid behavior, but that’s really not where the line to the jerk store ends. There are plenty of beloved British icons who have let their public, agreeable masks slip in moments of weakness, revealing the darker corners of their personalities they go to great lengths to conceal.
That said, there are still plenty of legitimately lovely Brits among the losers, and they’re worth pointing out as well. As long as >Harry Potter and >Doctor Who and >Sherlock dominate the culture, it’s best to be even handed about the virtues and vices embodied by British stars.
8 BRITISH Stars Who Are Secretly Jerks (And 7 Who Are Sweethearts).
15 JERK: Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman is one of the most beloved and talented actors of his generation. One of cinema’s greatest chameleons, Oldman is able to portray everything from the unhinged Drexl Spivey in True Romance to earnest cop Jim Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s >Batman movies, and everything in between.
But unbridled talent is no excuse for bad behavior, which Oldman displayed in a major way in a bizarre 2014 interview with Playboy. Ostensibly on hand to promote >Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Oldman took the interview as an opportunity to air every grievance he could think of, belittling his fans as unsophisticated rubes, dismissing some of his most acclaimed films as cash grabs, and defending Mel Gibson’s infamous anti-semitic tirade. As he railed against the plague of “political correctness,” Oldman ironically exhibited all of that movement’s merits.
14 SWEETHEART: Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren is something akin to unofficial royalty in the U.K. Fitting too, considering her most widely beloved performance is her Oscar-winning turn as Queen Elizabeth II in the 2007 film The Queen. Mirren is far from a one-trick pony though, as she’s enjoyed a fruitful, five-decade career that has thrived on stage, film, and television, including the groundbreaking crime drama Prime Suspect, generally considered a high water mark in British television history.
Mirren has always attempted to use her celebrity as a force for good, as she’s been a long vocal proponent of feminism, and has spoken extensively and candidly about her own struggles with substance abuse and the rampant misogyny at the heart of the entertainment industry. Mirren is the sort of outspoken star Hollywood could always use more of.
13 JERK: James Corden
The agreeably giggly host of The Late Late Show, James Corden is definitely one of the top three most beloved U.S. late night hosts named James. Part of Corden’s appeal is his affable, self-deprecating British charm that he deploys between fawning interviews and field pieces where he sings topless in a car with the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But Corden has occasionally been astronomically tone deaf. He was perhaps the worst offender among the many involved with the Sean Spicer Emmy Awards fiasco, as he was photographed planting a kiss on the notoriously polarizing former White House mouthpiece. Even more gallingly, Corden made some horrifically off-color jokes about Harvey Weinstein in the wake of the flood of sexual assault allegations against the movie producer.
Corden might be aiming for the cuddly everyman persona, but he’s often displayed a much meaner streak than he likes to admit to.
12 SWEETHEART: Patrick Stewart
If anyone would have legitimate reason to be kind of a jerk, it would be Patrick Stewart. He holds the unique distinction of having played two nerd icons of equal prestige; he came to prominence as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in >Star Trek: The Next Generation before taking on the role of Charles Xavier in the >X-Men film franchise.
And yet the classy Stewart has never exhibited the sort of disdain for his fans that his fellow Starfleet captain William Shatner has. Perhaps due to finding success relatively late in life, Stewart is always happy to sign an autograph or hear a story about how Star Trek changed someone’s life.
He’s also an ardent defender of feminist ideals, and has campaigned against domestic violence. It should come as no surprise that Stewart is a real life example of the sort of high-minded ideals he espoused onscreen as Captain Picard.
11 JERK: Charlotte Rampling
There was a very noticeable diversity problem when the 2016 Academy Award nominations were announced. Every single acting nominee that year was a white person, in a year where plenty of non-white performances were not only favored for nominations, but in some cases were expected to actually win. The film industry at large spent the lead up to the Oscars grappling with the systemic issues that have so often minimized the impact of non-white performers and creators.
For Charlotte Rampling, the issue was much simpler; in her eyes, the non-white actors simply were not as good as the white actors that year, and any suggestion to the contrary was “racist against whites.” The comments were almost immediately and unanimously criticized, and Rampling never really offered a genuine apology.
10 SWEETHEART: Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch has made a career of playing deeply eccentric jerks. While he’s menaced Captain Kirk as Khan Noonien Singh in >Star Trek Into Darkness and joined the Marvel universe as the abrasive >Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch is likely still most well known for his work as Sherlock Holmes in the modern day BBC revival of the classic detective. His motor-mouthed, arrogant iteration of Holmes was instantly iconic, mustering a sort of cold, lizard charm that was impossible to deny.
Cumberbatch himself could not be much warmer. He’s an outspoken proponent of LGBTQ rights, and self-identifies as a feminist. The cause closest to his heart appears to be underprivileged children, as he’s part of several organizations to better the lives of young people, be they charities aimed at eradicating childhood diseases or organizations attempting to fund children’s arts programs.
9 JERK: Martin Freeman
It’s quite possible there’s no star as beloved who has said as many amazingly inappropriate things as Martin Freeman. Freeman is cherished by many for such iconic performances as John Watson in Sherlock, Tim in the original U.K. version of The Office, and Bilbo Baggins in >The Hobbit trilogy. Freeman almost always plays earnest, unassuming underdogs, which is pretty surprising considering that seems to be about as far from Freeman’s real personality as could be.
Freeman has a well-established track record of objectifying women, making racially-charged comments, and tiptoeing around some troubling anti-muslim sentiments. Perhaps most infamously, he made an incredibly offensive rape joke while promoting The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Freeman had enough self-awareness in the moment to realize it wouldn’t go ever well, but instead of apologizing, he just shrugged it off and said anyone who was offended just didn’t have a sense of humor.
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8 JERK: Jeremy Irons
Jeremy Irons has accomplished almost everything an actor can. Over a four decade career, Irons has won an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony. He’s just as comfortable performing in Macbeth on the West End stage as he is playing Batman’s most trusted ally, Alfred Pennyowrth, in >Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and >Justice League.
Irons is also an activist, generally reliable as a champion for progressive causes. However, in a 2013 interview, Irons made a baffling argument against gay marriage, saying it could cause legal headaches such as sons marrying their fathers as a way around estate taxes. Comparing gay marriage to incest is a boneheaded, tone deaf move, no matter the point one might be trying to prove. Irons attempted to walk back the comments, but “gay marriage is like incest” is a tough bell to unring.
7 SWEETHEART: Colin Firth
“Colin Firth is a really nice guy” is such a consensus opinion at this point that it’s become something of a good-humored punchline. The actor made his name in the 1995 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, and went on to great success in such films as The English Patient, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Shakespeare In Love, and Love, Actually. His role in the Coen Brother’s A Single Man earned him an Academy Award nomination, and he took home the Oscar for his performance as King George VI in Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech.
Firth might be the closest thing the U.K. has to their very own version of Tom Hanks - an enormously talented, endlessly charming actor who can’t help but come across as the sweetest guy in the room.
6 SWEETHEART: David Tennant
The very foundations of British society might crumble if it was ever discovered that David Tennant is a jerk. After plenty of well-regarded work onstage with the Royal Shakespeare Company and a handful of lower profile onscreen performances, Tennant became a household name when he was announced as the tenth iteration of the Doctor, the time traveling alien protagonist of Doctor Who.
Tennant instantly made the role his own, injecting the show with a sense of swashbuckling romance and hipster coolness that had never before been present. He’s gone on to star as the evil Kilgrave on >Jessica Jones, and is currently voicing Scrooge McDuck on the revival of DuckTales.
Tennant has attempted to give back whenever he can, taking part in several worthwhile charities. And unlike some of his fellow former Doctors (looking your way, Christopher Eccleston), Tennant is always happy to talk about his time on Doctor Who, and is deeply appreciative to the show’s passionate fans.
5 JERK: Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan is known to a generation as James Bond. The Irish actor portrayed 007 in four movies, the first of which, Goldeneye, is generally held up as one of the best entries in the series. Brosnan has worked steadily since handing the mantle over to current Bond Daniel Craig, but never on the same level of notoriety.
Maybe his relative career setbacks have made the actor a bit grumpy. In a segment on The Late Late Show, James Corden was asked who is the rudest celebrity he’s ever encountered, and Corden answered Brosnan. The two apparently had a run in at a U2 concert in Los Angeles, where Brosnan shoved Corden out of the way without even acknowledging the late night star.
Seeing as how Corden has a spotty track record himself, you could be forgiven for not taking this one too seriously.
4 SWEETHEART: Anthony Hopkins
Anthony Hopkins has had a long, storied career, but for many people he will always be Hannibal Lecter. A role he first took on in Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins’ take on the cannibalistic serial killer was unnerving from his very first scene, where he creeped out Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling by explaining how he dealt with an annoying census taker: "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."
Hopkins’ turn as one of film’s greatest monsters earned him an Academy Award, but Hopkins couldn’t be much further away from his most famous role. Hopkins is a devoted environmentalist, and has attempted to give back to the communities that nurtured him when he was coming of age. He’s also known to be uncommonly kind to fans, who might be inclined to approach Hannibal Lecter with a sense of caution.
3 JERK: Morrissey
While he certainly has a following in America, Morrissey is a full-blown icon in his native U.K. The singer – who came to prominence as a member of The Smiths in the '80s - is beloved for his witty, sensitive crooning, as well as his well-documented devotion to animal rights. A vegan, Morrissey will often forbid venues to serve meat on nights when he’s performing.
But Morrissey has long embraced a brand of nationalism that comes dangerously close to racism, and in recent years has taken a troubling anti-immigration stance that is hard to read any way other than Islamophobia. If that wasn’t bad enough, Morrissey recently expressed his feelings that Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are being treated too harshly for their alleged serial sexual assault, with some classic victim-blaming logic making Morrissey seem more odious than ever.
2 SWEETHEART: Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis has routinely been referred to as the greatest actor alive. A noted method actor, Day-Lewis is notoriously picky about which roles he takes, and his output diminished considerably in the 21st century, when he would seemingly only emerge to take on roles for auteurs like Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, or Steven Spielberg. His bracing, fiery performances in films like There Will Be Blood and Gangs of New York give the distinct impression that Day-Lewis could very well be a lunatic.
It couldn’t be further from the truth. Day-Lewis is almost comically soft-spoken and unassuming in interviews, and has almost completely eschewed the traditional celebrity lifestyle, living in seclusion and sharing very little about his personal life. His, quiet, polite demeanor makes his larger than life performances all the more astounding.
1 JERK: Hugh Grant
As he was rising to prominence in the early '90s, Hugh Grant looked like he was on his way to superstardom. He was an incredibly charming everyman who was making his name in romantic comedies, but he seemed destined for greater things. That career trajectory was thrown way off course when Grant was arrested in Los Angeles while entangled with a prostitute. Grant’s career would eventually recover, but he never quite made it to the A-list level he seemed destined for.
If you think that sort of humbling experience might breed a certain level of good behavior, you’d apparently be wrong. When asked who the worst guest was during his sixteen-year tenure as host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart quickly responded it was Grant, who was both rude to the show’s production staff and was unnecessarily difficult during the actual interview, earning him a ban from the show. “And we’ve had dictators on,” Stewart added, driving the point home.
Did any of these British stars take you by surprise? Share your own positive and negative celeb experiences in the comments!
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