Think of him as more than an actor or filmmaker. Craig Robert Young has made a career of playing the high-style, British bad guy on hit series such as NCIS: Los Angeles. Most recently, he has expanded his talents by partnering with Jaguar to develop an innovative marketing and social media campaign titled Follow the Villain.
Comprised of a series of short films, Follow The Villain rides the momentum of Jaguar’s hit SuperBowl 2014 “It’s Good To Be Bad” commercials that featured actors Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley and Mark Strong as stylish British villains who of course choose Jaguar. Follow the Villain features lavish action movie-styled production to chronicle the getaway of a new Brit rogue, played by Young. Again, Jaguar serves as the bad boy’s vehicle of choice in this memorable play on the meaning of luxury and style.
We caught up with Craig to discuss the genesis of this unique campaign, his favorite villains of all-time and his top pick out of the Jaguar lineup.
What does Jaguar’s new “Follow the Villain” campaign mean to you?
Jaguar came up with this brilliant concept called “It’s Good to Be Bad” based around “British villains” for their very successful 2014 Super Bowl commercial. Based on the success of the commercial they wanted to continue with the campaign.
Along with the production company involved we came up with a short film based upon a British villain’s getaway [answering the questions] “which car he would use?” or “what kind of a villain you would want to be?”. We’re so obsessed today with our heroes. If you look at the movie industry today it’s all about the heroes, but if you look back on history and comic book heroes many actually started out as villains. James Bond for example. Hollywood being “Hollywood” glamorized and made him into a “hero”. “Follow the villain” was an idea I came up with. I am really active on social media and noticed “It’s Good to Be Bad” and asked myself “what if we get people to start following these short stories where each one ends with a cliffhanger?”.
I came up with the hashtag “Follow the Villain” and spoke with Ray Warren, who’s Jaguar’s head of social media and he loved the idea. That’s where it was born.
Why hasn’t the bad boy image become cliché? In fact it seems to be as popular as ever despite new look heroes such as Michael Cera and Jonah Hill.
It’s all through the media and glamorization. When i grew up we were told stories about the Kray Twins and Buster [Roberts], people getting away with crimes and they were glamorized. It was like “He got away with it… fantastic!” and it was sort of anti-establishment. Look back on comics, go back to the origins of the “villain” and what made him go on that journey.
In terms of cliché we look back on yesteryear’s villains and they were like you say, cliché and stereotypical, where there was something about them that you could read was “evil” [mimics villainous laugh]. Whereas today the villain Jaguar created is a sophisticated charming rogue, if you will, not someone you would believe was a good guy. That’s what makes these villains a lot smarter
Is it natural for you to play the villain?
It’s funny, but I started my TV career as a “bad boy”. I played Alex Wilkinson on a British TV show called “Dream Team”. He was a character that came out of a young offenders institute and then played for a professional soccer team. In the storyline it was written he couldn’t help but be bad. He even poisoned other players to get ahead. One of the things that’s made me successful at playing a villain is because I don’t see them as cliché. I try to find the backstory or the good in the character and justification of why the character is the way. For me it’s a joy to play these characters with some sort of heart or feeling and find a way to make their relatable as opposed to something just dastardly.
Do Brits make better villains?
Through history it’s probably been portrayed that way. I don’t know why [laughs] but my assumption is villains have to be calculated, they have to be educated, smart and think ahead. For some reason the world thinks the Brits are all of those things.
Given the type of roles you play what is your view of nerds? Do you secretly “nerd out” on anything?
I’m a tech guy. I love new technology. I’m a huge fan of tech conferences. We have an annex here [in Palm Springs] for TED. I’ve been to TEDx. I love the idea of technology that’s futuristic but believable if that makes any sense. I love design and technology. They are my big passions, especially the world of startups. I’m particularly turned on and amazed by new startups and apps that are coming through and make our lives simpler so we can concentrate on other things. There are machines now where we can work out for 20 minutes and it’s the same as working out for five hours. To me that’s giving time back. The craze of Uber and this new app Washeo, where they pick up your dry cleaning for you! I love Uber car service where they have credit card information and you dont have to think about cash. Bitcoin is interesting. It’s fascinating to see where that goes. All Technology turns me on.
I’m assuming you’re lobbying Uber to host more Jaguars?
Yes, exactly! [laughs] Whenever you’re in a car you’re always thinking of that next big thing… what’s going to be the next big step? How far are we away from flying our little Jetsons vehicles? That’s not too far off and I’m sure that automobile manufacturers are already thinking of those things, especially Jaguar.
What’s the key to dressing like a villain and being dark without being “creepy”?
Part of Jaguar’s campaign is the Super Bowl commercial – which features Tom Hiddleston, Ben Kingsley and Mark Strong – talks about the rules of what it takes to be a villain… “they must have taste and be stylish”. You have to have the best of everything. Now especially you have to look sharp, villains see themselves as a brand and they have to represent their brand [to the utmost].
What do you wear when you hop into your Jaguar?
I would go with some of the top British designers. Very bespoke. Thomas Pink, he makes great shirts as well. Savile Row, Ozwald Boateng – probably classic tailored British designers
Who are the sexiest villains of all time? What does it take to live up to that James Bond sort of mystique?
One of the greatest things with this campaign is it is very Bond-like, you’re right-look at the bond movies and they’re moving away from the stereotypical cliché villains such as Jaws in Moonraker to more sophistication like Mad Mikkelson in Casino Royale… in [a direction] more towards a sophisticated kind of sharpness, a villain with more of a controlled confidence about them.
Who are your favorite villainesses of all time?
Famke Janssen was amazing [in Goldeneye]. You look at Sharon Stone in Basic instinct or that new movie, Lucy, with Scarlett Johansson… amazing! Hollywood has all these male centric superhero movies, but not enough female. There are some classics with some bad ass women like Run Lola Run, the Fifth Element with Mila Jovovich, Suckerpunch by Zack Snyder, the director behind that 300. There are some great movies out there with girls being bad ass and being villains in a cool way. Loved that thing in Bond movies where it’s always the girl you least suspect. The girl that seems to be on Bond’s side and at the very last minute she switches it. That’s smart!
Are there any favorite bad guy icons where you just go “wow”? Ones that inspire you or live up to “Follow the Villain”?
My inspiration for villains is Sir Anthony Hopkins. His Hannibal Lecter was to me one of the most incredible, chilling and real performances of an actor to date. He broke the mold. You look at Silence of the Lambs where he had the vision to say I’m going to play him as real and as calm as I possibly can and did it with such finesse and grit even though he was playing this game [with Clarisse]. He took control of that character and made him so believable. That’s what I look for when I play my villains. Something very grounded and very real. It’s not “mwah-ha-ha [evil laugh], rather it’s more moustache twirling. Again, it’s very grounded and very real for me. This guy could be your next door neighbor, the person no one would ever suspect. That’s what makes the most interesting villain is to think wow he might not be a villain at all. Javier Bardem did a great job of this in Skyfall.
Villain for me is a loose term. When someone is villainous you tend to think of the Joker in Batman, but for me if you look at Leonardo Dicaprio in “Catch Me If You Can” and he’s villainous. He’s doing very bad things but does things in such a way that by the end of the movie you want him to get away with it. That’s clever acting.
Why are you so drawn to these roles?
I think it’s one of those things when you find a niche or find some gold you shouldn’t run away from it you should embrace it. All of my villains have been very different but I also have played love interests. I just finished a movie called “Return to the Hiding Place” which is about the Dutch Resistance in World War II, where I played the leader of the resistance named Piet Hartog. It was a breath of fresh air to do something that wasn’t villainous and to play the good guy for a change. My job as an actor is to make you believe. My reel happens to be full of me playing a villain. You shouldn’t shy away from what you’re good at but you should also try to do the opposite…have light with the dark.
How did you relationship with Jaguar develop?
It’s a funny story actually. Back to nerdy tech side –I’m a co-founder of a company called Brits in LA, an online social community of British ex-pats living in Los Angeles with my partner Eileen Lee. We do online social groups answering all kinds of questions about visas, car rentals, housing, health insurance. The community collectively answers questions for people. We do live events. We’ve done aqn event seven years running called the Toscars which is a parody of the Oscars, at the Egyptian Theater, where ten teams parody feature films from the Oscars. [These shorts] are then voted on by panels in categories such as best “whactor” and “whactress”. Jaguar came in as a sponsor this year. That was the start of my relationship with Jaguar on the business side.
When my agent called me and said there’s an opportunity with Jaguar, [he also asked] about my relationship with them and whether or not I might be able to put in a word. Jaguar only knew the business side of me and not the actor side so I was careful. I had to think outside the box in how I approached them. I was friends with Jeff Curry who’s the head of branding and marketing at Jaguar. I sent him a text that said “Word on the street is your looking for a villain… well, look no further” and then sent him a link with my show reel. Then I went in and auditioned got a callback. [I sent Jeff] messages thanking him for helping me land the job and he said, “I’m so sorry but I didn’t,” [laughs]…. I got the job on my own terms and my dastardly plan for nepotism didn’t work
Follow the villain is a quite innovative concept. What do you want the audience to take away from the campaign?
I think it’s about luxury. It’s about luxury and more than anything it’s about wanting the best in anything whether that’s with style, clothing or what type of car we choose to drove. One of the great things about it is that it’s very tongue in cheek, a nod and a wink. It’s not serious. It’s playing. It’s turning advertising on its head really. Normally you want to buy things because you want to be good. I think people realize this is jaguar having a sense of humor in a very British way. It’s a nod and a wink and a pastiche to all of those villains past and present.
What’s on the horizon with Follow the Villain?
There are 5 films, they are just releasing the first 2, then another next week, coming towards the finale. They will have a version of the whole film on July 18th.
After this experience what are your favorite Jags?
I love cars. I have a couple of classic cars myself. When I got behind the wheel of the F-Type it was Formula One. Literally, “Woah!” came out of my mouth when I put my foot to the pedal. I honestly feel powerful in it. There’s something about the way the seat fit, the way the car feels around you that exudes luxury. When you hold that steering wheel it just feels sexy and you can’t help but feel good in it, so out of all the jaguars in my eyes the F-type can’t be beat. It rivals all the best performance cars.