Playwriting

Villians are people too

Guess what movie I just watched and almost fully liked? Give up? It’s all right to give up, I can’t hear you anyway.

The Devil Wears Prada. Surprised? I know, me too! I started reading the book at least four times and just wasn’t able to commit, or care or even feign interest. When the movie first came out it was at the top of my Not This Century list. I have a much different list when things are on TV and it was on and I had nothing better to do and so it goes.

Anne Hathaway was fine, aside from being really thin although not half as thin as Emily Blunt. That girl needed a truckload of sandwiches. I read an article where ‘apparently’ the two of them ate fruit and cried for the whole shoot because they were so hungry. And the fun in that is………?

The reason I nearly really liked it was Meryl Streep and her character, the supposed Devil of said title, Miranda Priestly. I also read that this part ‘apparently’ is based on Anna Wintour who ‘apparently’ spread the rumour that if any designer stepped foot in the movie they’d never see their designs in Vogue ever again. Apparently.

So Miranda is the devil and the worst boss ever and makes everyone work late all the time, blah, blah, blah. I get it. She’s the big bad meany. Only she wasn’t, not completely. Not totally. Not through and through. If she was mean capital M mean, then there would have been little to her. She would have been a cardboard cut out. One dimensional. Actors say all the time that it’s more fun to play the bad guy because the good guys are so often boring. One dimensional. Too perfect. But bad guys can be boring too. Someone who is all bad with no depth of character is just as one dimensional as that too perfect good guy.

And that’s what I saw in Meryl Streep’s performance. Was she mean? Oh yes. She was also determined, a perfectionist, demanding that perfection of others, a little vulnerable about her divorce, ruthless, willing to throw her all into the work and crystal clear on her ambition. Ambition is such a great dynamic to play in a character, so much more than ‘mean.’ Ambition has a lot of flavours to it both good and bad.

So, the next time you say, or you hear another actor say – I love playing the villain! – Make sure you’re not lazy in your characterization. You need to put as much thought into the levels of a villain as you would any other character. If you find the good in your villain, it will only make the bad parts that much worse. Depth is what makes a villain truly bad.

Thank God I’m not an actor. A movie actor anyway. I love me a truck full of sandwiches…

About the author

Lindsay Price

2 Comments

  • Good point. As an actor I have written about this topic various times on my acting blog. (offbook.blogspot.com.)

    Really, you need to respect what ever character you are playing. Love them, if possible. You do this because you don’t “play evil”. You play a human who wants something, and determine what they are and are not determined to do in order to get what they want. In the case of a villain as we understand the word, that usually means they are willing to do anything. Or at least do things that you and I would not be willing to do.

    But they want something, just as anyone wants something. The key to playing an “evil” character is to hone in on that desire. Let the audience determine they are bad guys.

  • There’s some wonderful stuff in the extras on the DVD – Meryl Streep apparently took a look at an earlier version of the script and said, you will change this and make her a less one-dimensional character.

    I read the book, and I liked the movie better because it was less whiny, the book seemed very much about justifying how awful the boss was and there was no personal responsibility. I kept thinking, if you can’t take the heat, get a different job. Or learn to say no. But don’t blame your boss 100% for a situation you’re participating in!