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Along Came a Spider and the Delicious Villainy of Michael Wincott

Michael Wincott is one of our great villainous character actors, and Along Came a Spider is proof.

By Matthew Jackson
Soneji (Michael Wincott) chokeholds a blonde woman in Along Came a Spider (2001).

There are lots of reason to love Jordan Peele's NOPE, but one element that especially tickled film fans was seeing the great Michael Wincott show up in the film. For a certain kind of movie lover who watches films from a certain era, namely the 1990s and the early 2000s, Wincott is a major player in some of the best movies of our youth, one of those guys who's instantly recognizable with his gravelly voice and penetrating eyes. Seeing him in a Peele film, and in an especially memorable role, was a real treat.

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And of course, film fans talking about how much they love Michael Wincott's work will, of course, hopefully lead burgeoning fans down a rabbit hole of his career, which includes major genre releases, indie work, and some very surprising choices along the way. There are many facets to Wincott's abilities as an actor, but if you know him well, it's probably because you got to see him play a villain. From comic book movies to detective stories to historical dramas, Wincott has consistently proven himself as one of the best villainous actors of his generation, and thanks to Along Came a Spider hitting Peacock, you've got a front-row seat to what he can do.

Michael Wincott: Movie Villain Icon

Soneji (Michael Wincott) wears all grey while speaking across from someone in Along Came a Spider (2001).

Beginning in the early 1990s, Wincott started to set himself apart as an actor through a series of high-profile roles as villains in major films. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves effectively kicked off this run in 1991, as Wincott appeared alongside Alan Rickman as Guy of Gisbourne. The next year, he showed up in Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise as Moxica, the villainous foil to Christopher Columbus and his efforts to establish an effective colony in the New World. Both films, of course, have their critics, and 1492 in particular has not aged well, but in both, Wincott immediately stands out. The gravelly voice, distinctive jaw, sharp gaze, and of course the raven-black hair are all things that draw our eyes and ears to his work, but there's more to Wincott than a good look and a good sound, and he proved it just a couple of years later.

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If you know Wincott's villainous work from just one movie, there's a good chance it's from The Crow, Alex Proyas' 1994 adaptation of James O'Barr's graphic novel. There's a lot of fascinating stuff in The Crow, from Proyas' cityscapes to the all-star soundtrack to, of course, the legendary, tragic final performance of Brandon Lee. It's easy to get drawn in by any of those elements and more, and forget about some of the supporting cast entirely, but Wincott steps in and steals the show all the same. As Top Dollar, the ruthless crime boss who faces down Eric Draven (Lee) amid his quest for revenge, he is both visually distinctive and immediately, thrillingly all-in on the film's heightened reality. No matter the role, Wincott has an ability to throw himself into it, and with Top Dollar he gave it everything he had, pushing his physicality, his voice, and his ability to conjure up absolute nastiness to their limits. It's an iconic performance, and proof that Wincott is one of the best actors of his era at playing Bad Guys. But of course, he wasn't done yet.

Michael Wincott in Along Came a Spider

Wincott followed up The Crow with roles in films like Strange DaysAlien Resurrection and more. Then, in 2001, he joined the cast of Along Came a Spider, the second major big-screen adaptation of James Patterson's Alex Cross detective novels. The film stars Morgan Freeman as Cross, and while his gravitas fills every frame, the movie also needed a villain that could remain compelling even as we grow to hate him. In this case, that honor fell to Wincott as kidnapper and killer Gary Soneji, a computer expert who abducts the daughter of a United States Senator and holds her for ransom. 

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We know Wincott for roles like Top Dollar in The Crow, roles where he gets to be loud and bombastic and elaborately dressed, but Along Came a Spider is something different. As Soneji, he's methodical, quiet, and ruthlessly efficient in the way he goes about his crimes. Even when he finally crosses paths with Freeman, there's no over-the-top declaration of villainy, just a man who wants his name and his story to be known. Here, Wincott is without his long black locks, free from the more flamboyant costumes of his earlier villain roles. He has to be quiet, restrained, coiled like a spider ready to spring on its prey, and he pulls it off very well. Today, the film stands as a testament to Wincott's extraordinary range as an actor, and a reminder of just how good he's been his entire career.

Along Came a Spider is now streaming on Peacock.

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