Joss Ackland, distinguished British star of stage and screen, dies at 95

In this file photo, British actor Joss Ackland arrives at the British Premiere of his latest film 'Flawless' in London's Covent Garden on November 26, 2008. PHOTO/AFP

What you need to know:

  • Ackland's most famous big-screen "baddie" was as a corrupt South African diplomat in "Lethal Weapon 2."

The British actor Joss Ackland, who excelled in playing film villains in a varied career spanning eight decades, died on Sunday, his family said. He was 95.

In a statement, they said the actor, known for his "distinctive voice and commanding presence", passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by relatives.

"He will be remembered as one of Britain's most talented and beloved actors," it added.

Ackland's most famous big-screen "baddie" was as a corrupt South African diplomat in "Lethal Weapon 2", whose diplomatic immunity ultimately failed to protect him from Mel Gibson and Danny Glover's tenacious LA cops.

He played a vengeful mafia don in "The Sicilian" and was a buttoned-up aristocratic Englishman accused of murder in Kenya in "White Mischief".

Ackland even made a cameo as a murderous hitchhiker in a surreal video for the Pet Shop Boys' synth-pop version of "You Were Always On My Mind".

But far from feeling typecast, the imposing actor, who stood at 6ft 1in (1.85 metres), with a rich voice bordering between grandfatherly reassurance and outright menace, revelled in the roles.

"I think you can still be subtle but it's so much easier to portray evil than it is good," he told BBC radio in 2001.

Ackland attributed his prolific output in television, film, stage plays and even musicals to his early struggles as a jobbing actor.

Those difficulties in the first 10 years of his career from the mid-1940s prompted him and his actress wife Rosemary to move to a tea plantation in Malawi, then South Africa.

He returned to the UK in 1957 with a new-found determination to succeed, joining London's Old Vic theatre alongside actors including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Tom Courtenay.

Ackland, who was born in the west London suburb of North Kensington on February 29, 1928, had no truck with method acting, in which actors immerse themselves in a character.

"I like to do research before because it saves acting," he added, believing credibility above all was the key to winning over audiences.

Before filming "The Sicilian", he lived with an ageing mafioso for six weeks in a village near Palermo, to give him an insight into the life of crime families.

When the cameras started rolling, "all I had to do was say the lines", he said.