Michael Lonsdale, the French actor who played James Bond villain Hugo Drax in 1979’s Moonraker, has died at the age of 89, Variety confirmed this morning. The official Twitter account for Roger Moore wrote that it was “terribly saddened” to learn of Lonsdale’s passing. It described Drax as “a smooth-tongued and cultured adversary.” Moore, who faced off against the space-minded baddie as 007, passed away in May 2017. He was also 89.
Born in Paris to an English father and French mother in May 1931, Lonsdale was raised in Casablanca, Morocco during the Second World War. He returned to France in the late ’40s to study painting, but ended up catching the acting bug. Lonsdale made his onscreen debut as “Sinclair” in 1956’s It Happened in Aden. From there, he enjoyed a career that ran for six decades; it ended in 2016 with director Loris Gréaud’s sci-fi project, Sculpt, which also featured Willem Dafoe.
Prior to his death, Lonsdale accrued over 200 acting credits to his name, appearing in both French and English productions that involved iconic filmmakers like Orson Welles (1962’s The Trial) and Steven Spielberg (2005’s Munich). In 2011, he won the Cesar Award (France’s answer to the Oscars) for Best Supporting Actor.
At the age of 48, Lonsdale took on the role that made him immortal: space shuttle industrialist and James Bond villain, Hugo Drax in Moonraker (directed by Lewis Gilbert). His character’s master plan involved wiping out all life on Earth before restarting the human race aboard a high-tech space station. The film, whose plot was parodied 20 years later in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, was released during America’s revived interest in outer space — Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind had only come out two years earlier. Funnily enough, Moonraker briefly features the famous five UFO notes from Close Encounters (the producers had to seek permission from Spielberg, who wanted to direct a Bond movie for many years).
“It was a great experience to make a very popular film,” Lonsdale once remarked during an interview in 2012. “Everybody was so kind. Roger Moore, Lois Chiles [“Holly Goodhead”], and Richard Kiel [“Jaws”] were all wonderful. There was a beautiful understanding between the actors, and so I was very happy to do that.”
The actor would reprise the role of Drax more than three decades later in Activision’s 007 Legends video game. “I like to do some modern stuff and not be an old actor and not be stuck in the past,” Lonsdale said during the aforementioned interview. “I think you have to do things for the modern audience. But, you know I don’t think I will do many video games, because I like to be myself, really. To act on the stage or in film is different. This, for me, you have to get used to it.”
(certain biographical info via PeoplePill.com)