Villainy

Image from Outlaw Hat Co.
Today I had myself a callback for a truly despicable character.  That is to say, despicable in terms of his behavior in the story (and, sadly, in history).  Yes, folks, I can now count on TWO hands the number of times I have been considered for the role of a murderous fiend.  It's just not an archetype many seem quick to apply to me, which is a shame, because I think I'm pretty durn good at it.  And I know I enjoy it, when I can do it right.  But I understand, Rest Of The Casting World -- I am not huge, nor oddly shaped or scarred, I have a relatively bright natural speaking voice and when you meet me, I definitely give off a more Horatio vibe than, say, a Richard III.  This may change as I age.  My nose may grow ever crookederer, my face more deeply lined, and coming soon to a theatre near you: Gryndl!


I won't write too much about the project itself, as: ew, tacky, and also: don't have the job (yet?).  It's a short film about a famous atheist activist, and I came to it through working on Laid Plans last month (in an utterly round-about fashion).  The audition was an on-camera read with the lead actress, and today they asked me to be off-book for the one big scene that will ultimately by interspersed into the rest of the narrative.  I got to work with the actress again, and take some adjustment from the director as well, and all-in-all I walked out feeling good.  I can't be sure I summoned the menace that they were looking for, but it was fun and the people very easy to work with.  Sometimes that's the best you can ask for.

As a result of my preparation, I have for the past twenty-four hours been contemplating villainy.  Not villainous acts (though I did eat a lot of chocolate yesterday...) but the motivations and mindset of a villain.  The conventional wisdom states that an actor must never play a character as someone who knows he or she is "bad," because everyone is the hero of their own story, and judgments are dangerous trade for an actor.  I understand this advice, but wonder if it always applies.  David Waters, for example, seemed to understand whilst kidnapping, murdering and dismembering O'Hair that what he was doing wasn't strictly moral.  It was a means to an end, but also one with seeming emotional complications.  I don't know.  Maybe he didn't even think about it too much.  The point is, this acting advice doesn't help anyone find the villainous (or, in the judgment-free zone: alternate morality) mind-space.

I also heard an interesting interview with a criminal profiler recently on Fresh Air that had me thinking about the emotional dynamic of some murders.  One of the behaviors he mentions is that murderers who kill for emotional reasons actually tend to feel elated after the deed, as though they had accomplished something intensely satisfying.  Now, I have to imagine that such emotions then become increasingly complex, generally speaking, but  it's fascinating to me that someone would feel that kind of emotion even as their hands are still red.  Maybe one does feel utterly justified in the moment of killing.  He goes on to say that one way to ensnare criminals in interrogation is by making them relive the sense of anger that drove them to kill.  Suppose that's the only way to inspire remorse, too -- to make the killer experience that emotion anew.

So there I am at the kitchen table at 6:00 this morning, contemplating my lines and what sort of truth they're trying to pull out of me.  Anton (the Cat) lolls drunkenly on the floor beside me, stuffed for the time being with a fresh wad or two of pulverized meat, and I'm frustratedly whispering my way through threats and incriminations for fear of waking the wife.  It's hard not to just edit myself to death with doubts -- no way you can pull off this kind of dialogue, look at you you're a puppy dog, just give up on memorizing and try to find a threatening sub-vocal noise to use -- but I really want to make myself into a murderer.  What's the hook?  Maybe I can bring a hook...?

As the callback time approaches, I find myself remembering great film villains.  Walken's crazy rhythm, utilized in its insane best in the Bond film A View to a Kill.  Heck: several Bond villain actors.  Ledger's Joker.  Javier Bardem  in No Country for Old Men.  Nicholson in The Shining.  The closest I could think of to my guy today was DeNiro in Cape Fear.  (Sadly, I had not a few months to pack on the muscle and get really comfortable with having my fingers sucked.)  Can I channel one or more of these?  Is there a key to this little puzzle?  Will the people I'm auditioning for at least let me prowl around a little, get in my body?

The answer to all these questions was of course: No.  No, once in the room, once faced with delivering the lines to another human being, it became all-too clear that the only way to do it was to do it.  To be Jeff as he might be if he would do something so terrible as the man he's playing did.  And, when you look at it that way, it takes a lot of the pressure off and allows us to just, you know: act.  Let them figure out if I'm believable.  I'll be too busy believing to care.

(But dang: DeNiro in Cape Fear was incredimazing.)
 
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