A Fully Faceted Protagonist As Mused By Actor Tom Hardy

As some of you may know from previous posts, I follow gossip pretty closely and to be honest I don’t know why. I think it might be due to some lasting remnants from my teenage interests in journalism and the fact that I’m pretty snoopy (some say curious, I say snoopy) hence my love of crime fiction and my need to just know.

I was reading a Tom Hardy article the other day on Vulture and I happened across his opinions on why he seems to gravitate to the bad guy rather than the good guy.

MZS: I often hear actors say they have more fun playing the sidekick, the villain, the foil, or the eccentric who has one or two juicy scenes, because the good-hearted action hero or the romantic lead is never as interesting.

TH: By default, by default. Things happen to them; they don’t make things happen. There’s a laziness in storytelling whereby you present the character as a blank canvas and then you throw a lot of stimulus at the character and you just follow this blank canvas through various rooms where we meet the actually interesting people. But if you have your protagonist fully faceted in ambiguity and hypocrisy and the paradox of true heinous wrongness, combined with innate nobility, well, that’s more interesting to watch.Great Expectations, Oliver Twist.It’s all there. The Shakespeare tragedies. Or Marlowe with Faustus.

I know what he says is in relation to movies but the same aspect can be applied to any form of story-telling, even ones in print. 

And it is quite true now that I think about it. I’ve always been drawn to the villain or the anti-hero in any story because they presented the opportunities to challenge the status quo (whether for good or for bad) and make us consider a situation from mulitple aspects. They’re also driven by their own goals and histories and biases, usually radically different from the motivations of the protagonist because as Hardy said, they don’t have things happen to them. These characters usually join the story and the protagonist’s journey from their volition. 

They may be on the same path to justice and friendship and the triumph of good over evil, but maybe these characters are also there for the thrill of the fight, the allure of money, or something more complex I’ll leave it to the writers. It’s never just black and white for a protagonist with complexity and that’s part of the enduring appeal. 

The standard good guy may need to earn their stripes through the trials of the story but a fully faceted protagonist has already had their mettle tested, we just need to see if their principles can be upheld in the face of further conflict.

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