Christopher Lee Didn’t Earn a Penny For The Greatest Role of His Career
Not Saruman or Dracula, one of Lee’s characters was much more terrifying.
Most of Christopher Lee's almost three hundred incarnations in the movies have been filled with villainy.
Most viewers know him as Saruman from The Lord of the Rings and Count Dooku from Star Wars, but there is a lesser-known role in the actor's filmography, also a villainous one, that the actor himself considered the greatest of his career. And what’s even more interesting, Lee didn't get paid a penny for it.
Why is The Wicker Man a cult horror?
If you are a die-hard horror fan, then you are definitely familiar with the movie The Wicker Man. No, not the one with Nicolas Cage. The original film was directed by Robin Hardy and released in 1973.
The Wicker Man is considered one of the founders of folk horror – stories in which national traditions become the source of sinister acts. In 2019, most viewers admired the originality of the idea of Ari Aster's folk horror film Midsommar, but few knew that the director of Hereditary and Beau is Afraid was far from a pioneer.
Why did Christopher Lee join the movie for free?
Shortly before filming of the Wicker Man began, Lee met with screenwriter Anthony Shaffer. Shaffer's idea was to create a smart horror movie that emphasized atmosphere over blood and gore.
The plot revolves around a pious police sergeant who arrives on a Scottish island to investigate the case of a missing girl. However, things did not go according to plan: it turned out that the locals had fallen into paganism and had never heard of the victim.
Lee was interested in the idea of starring in this movie – he had already become a horror star and was looking for more versatile roles that would help him get rid of the monster and villain roles.
But there was a problem: The Wicker Man's budget was so low that the company couldn't afford to work with Christopher Lee at his usual fee. However, as we know, Christopher was a true gentleman and just a noble man. He fell in love with the role so much that he offered to do it for free.
As it turned out, it was not in vain: the film was highly praised by critics, with Cinefantastique magazine even calling it "the Citizen Kane of horror films."