Bond villain and The Day Of The Jackal star Michael Lonsdale: “It was a great experience to make a very popular film” he said of his experience on Moonraker Photo: Agence Aartis
A veteran with one of the most familiar faces and distinctive lugubrious tones, Michael Lonsdale, who soared to international recognition as the villain Hugo Drax in the James Bond film Moonraker and the detective Claude Lebel in The Day Of The Jackal, has died in Paris at the age of 89.
His Anglo-Saxon demeanour came from his English father while his Gallic and Celtic influence came via his Irish-French mother. He spent his childhood in London, moved briefly with his parents to Jersey and then Morocco finally returning to live in Paris in 1947.
Michael Lonsdale … cultivating orchids in Bouli Lanners’ The First, The Last Photo: UniFrance
There he started studying painting before being drawn in to the world of acting, first appearing on stage at the age of 24. His career spanned more than 200 roles over six decades and he worked fluently in both French and English. He won a French Oscar, the César for his role in Xavier Beauvois’s Of Gods And Men in 2011 while his outing in The Day Of The Jackal earned him a supporting actor nomination at the BAFTAs among a myriad of awards.
The early part of his career was spent in illustrious company with Orson Welles in The Trial in 1962, with René Clément in Is Paris Burning? in 1964 and with François Truffaut in The Bride Wore Black and Stolen Kisses. Other greats with whom he collaborated included Alain Robbe-Grillet (Successive Slidings Of Pleasure); Alain Resnais (Stavisky) and Luis Bunuel (The Phanton Of Liberty).
The Seventies proved a fertile period for Lonsdale with roles in Marguerite Duras’s India Song; Joseph Losey’s The Romantic Englishwoman and Galileo and Costa Gavras’s Special Section. And there was also offbeat experimental works such as Jacques Rivette's Out 1 (1971) and Jean Eustache's Une Sale Histoire (1977).
Pair of veterans … Michael Lonsdale (left) and Max Von Sydow worked together on Bouli Lanners’ The First, The Last Photo: UniFrance
Because of his facility in English he was much in demand by American and English directors including John Frankenheimer for The Holcroft Covenant and Ronin; and Ismail Merchant and James Ivory on The Remains Of The Day and Jefferson in Paris and with Sean Connery in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Name Of The Rose.
One of his most memorable recent appearances was in Belgian actor and director Bouli Lanners’ The First, The Last in 2016 in which he cultivated orchids opposite another icon Max Von Sydow as a priest.
He admitted in one interview that he made many films that were not very popular or didn’t make much money so he was always up for taking a chance not only in cinema but also on television, radio and the theatre. About his experience on Moonraker he said "It was a great experience to make a very popular film. Everybody was so kind. Roger Moore, Lois Chiles and Richard Kiel were all wonderful. There was a beautiful understanding between the actors, and so I was very happy to do that.”