Stephen Boyd Prefers Villain Role in ‘Ben-Hur’
According to legend, the actor who performs Hamlet on the stage or the tenor who sings Pagliacci in opera often as not is a happy-go-lucky, care-free fellow around the house. On the other hand, the show business comedian most like will be serious minded and unsmiling when his day’s work is ended.
By the same token, the villain who chases a virtuous heroine through thirteen reels of a movie might well be the personable boy-next-door type away from the job. Stephen Boyd, the rugged Irish actor who portrays Messala in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Academy Award-winning “Ben- Hur,” is a case in point. In the spectacular film, based on Gen. Lew Wallace’s famous novel, Messala is just about as ornery a cuss as a writer could dream up. “Ben-Hur” is now playing at the Cameo Theatre.
He doesn’t bat an eye when he sentences his best friend to the galleys. Nor does he flinch as he condemns the friend’s mother and sister, both of whom helped nurse him through childhood. He is unmoved when, years later, he learns they’re in a leper colony. And in the climactic chariot race of “Ben-Hur,” Messala uses the foulest and most unsportsmanlike means at his command in an effort to emerge the victor. In short, he is not exactly the type a girl would want to take home to meet mother.
Yet Stephen Boyd, who enjoyed to the hilt playing the villain, was so popular with members of the film’s Italian-British-American crew in Rome that, when his assignment was completed they presented him with a gold clock emblematic of their affection.
Boyd is the kind of a man who was born to make friends and he has been doing it most of his life. Away from the job, that is. As an actor he has made villainy his specialty.
It was his portrayal of a conniving spy in “The Man Who Never Was” that brought him to the attention of Hollywood and of Brigitte Bardot almost simultaneously. The French actress wanted him for her leading man in “The Night Heaven Fell” and a Hollywood studio wanted to place him under long term contract.
Boyd first acted the part of a heel opposite Miss Bardot in her film, then went to Hollywood, where he now makes his home. He was signed by MGM for “Ben-Hur” after Director William Wyler has seen him acting mean in “The Bravados.”
“After all,” he says,”in most plays and movies it’s the villain who is the most interesting. Even in Shakespeare, except for Hamlet, the really meaty roles are those of the bad fellows.”
Boyd is a blue-eyed, curly-haired chunk of masculinity, who makes no attempt to hide the fact that he just plain likes people. On the set of “Ben-Hur” he rarely occupied the fancy portable dressing room set aside for his use. Instead, he spent his time between scenes sitting around and chatting with electricians, carpenters and his fellow actors. He will discuss any subject and enjoys a good argument. he can , like most Irishmen, sprinkle his talk with wit as well as sagacity.
Boyd began early in his life to talk his way in and out of situations. In fact, he talked his way into a job at the age of eight. Born in Belfast, the youngest of nine children, he began contributing to the family’s support when he appeared on a BBC radio broadcast.
The Evening Standard, October 14, 1960, Pennsylvania