If you were going to pick two people from Top Secret! who would be breakout stars, it would admittedly have included Val Kilmer. But I’m not sure you would have picked Jim Carter over Christopher Villiers. Okay, so maybe Carter isn’t a huge star, and maybe it took until Downton Abbey for people to realize notice him. But what’s the last thing you remember seeing Christopher Viliers in? Oh, he’s still acting—he has both a movie and a TV credit upcoming on IMDb—but the last movie he’s done that I have seen is Sliding Doors.
Villiers is from that fine British institution, Actors From Ridiculously Prestigious Families. In his case, if you search him Wikipedia, it also gives you the option of “Christopher Villiers, 1st Earl of Anglesey.” He’s got one of those families where at least half his male-line ancestors have their own Wikipedia pages, and he’s descended from Oliver Cromwell. Oh, he himself is from a minor line of the family; his specific ancestor is the younger brother of an earl who was a bishop well over 150 years ago. Still, though, when there are two women on your family tree who were known mistresses of two different kings, that’s the kind of family line that only British acting seems to produce.
So sure, that’s not nepotism that’s going to do him a lick of good in modern times. No one cares if your many-greats grandfather was the Duke of Buckingham in 1623. Honestly, you’d be better off having an uncle who’s a key grip today. Still, it’s a weird phenomenon that I’ve always found fascinating in British acting. I also strongly suspect that many of the roles he’s done in his career have been strongly influenced by the kind of people you’d like meet if you have that sort of ancestry. He’s done an awful lot of those British Nobility Shows.
And he is just so delightful as Nigel in Top Secret! The scene where he’s subtly, or not-so-subtly, flexing to get Hillary Flamond, as played by Lucy Gutteridge, to leave Nick Rivers and go with him instead is just hilarious. He steals the scene from Val Kilmer while delivering deliberately forgettable dialogue, and that’s quite a feat. Yeah, it’s Not Great that the villain is coded as enjoying being penetrated, but what’s really great about his performance is that he never plays the role as anything other than British Snobby-Dignfied, no matter what’s going on.
I’m a little surprised at what he hasn’t done. He’s not on Downton Abbey. Still, among other things, he’s one of the many actors making a steady career of the Quaint English Murder Village circuit; he’s even in the Malkovich Poirot, and he’s also done some Marple, a Father Brown, and so forth. He’s also one of the actors who’s done both the original and the current versions of Doctor Who. He’s puttering around being upper class British, which is what you’d expect of someone whose whole family has a Wikipedia page.