The Tiny Dynamo and I saw the new Harry Potter movie last week. I wasn't completely happy with the adaptation, and I wasn't completely disappointed, either.
But I was definitely struck by Helena Bonham's turn as Bellatrix. In her own words, she 'had five lines, and they cut three out.' Yet she was still one of the movie's most memorable players.
Her performance was no surprise. Every part she takes, no matter how small, she brings it to life. How does she do it?
No big secret. Actors talk about it. Writers talk about it. The big difference is, she actually does it: Miss Carter looks at ever part as though that character were the star of the show.
For that matter, Jk Rowling writes that same way. Her characters are so vivid, so memorable, because each one is an individual in his or her own right. From Cho Chang and Neville to Snape and Filtch, everyone in her books is the star of their own private lives.
After all, it's not like any of us go through our own lives thinking, "I'm the girlfriend/the sidekick/the gruff bartender with words of wisdom/the whore with a heart of gold/etc." Neither should our characters.
Sometimes, Miss Carter's method puts her in conflict with other members of the production. Sometimes, getting in your characters' heads will put them in conflict with the plot outline, with how you saw their function, with how you saw the story going in the first place. A well-realized 'minor' character can turn a story on its ear, and I think that's a good thing.
My current work is a thriller of the stranger-comes-to-town variety. The hero is clear. The two groups of bad guys (each with their own seperate agendas) seem clear at the moment. The femme fatale, she's right there. Or is she? I have to admit, she keeps surprising me, and may even end up being the protaganist at the rate she's going.
My hero is a drifter, tending bar when 'trouble strikes'. he's got a couple of co-workers. Why? Because dialogue reads better than exposition. Because it gives him an opportunity to have local contacts. Because he's, well, a drifter. Sometimes, the guy needs a ride to wherever he's going.
Except that one of the workers has a crush on him. Fair enough. She's motivated to give him local info and rides, anyway. And it creates an instant conflict with the femme fatale. She was meant to be a minor character, but she's gradually becoming more important to the story.
Thing is, I needed a third bartender. After all, somebody has to keep the place open when the hero and the other tender are out running around. Enter Kevin.
Kevin may not survive to the final draft. There's every chance he'll end up a brief mention along the lines of, 'Ten minutes later, the relief bartender showed up so the hero could leave.' Just another of those lives that brush ours only slightly.
Except Kevin wrote himself a bigger part when the hero needed to use the phone. The more scenes where he shows up (or needs to be considered, even though he's off stage), the more I realize he doesn't like my hero much. Personally, I think at the bottom of it is that Kevin had his eye on their coworker. I may be wrong.
Nothing much may come of it. Or Kevin may get the hero into hot water at some point. Or he may deliver a timely bit of information about the true nature of the coworker (I'm not sure I trust her...). Thing is, at least I know why he's doing what he's doing, even when all he's got is a couple of lines.
Kevin thinks he's the star. He thinks he'll get the girl.
I think Helen Bonham would be proud...
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