On playing the villain

About ten days have passed since I finished a run of acting the part of Henry Ford.   Playing Henry Ford is not like playing Mark Twain.  Samuel Clements, so far as his persona is concerned, was a wonderful man who sometimes said things that sounded crass, but weren’t, not really.  Ford, on the other hand (in this Mark St. Germain play, Camping with Henry and Tom), is a fundamentally base man.  He is very fucked up.  I’ve played unpleasant characters before.  Sometimes you feel like the people you act with take personally your role with them on the stage.  Sometimes you feel like you are the nasty son-of-a-bitch you’re portraying.

When I played a nasty union boss in a Clifford Odets play, my friend and director told me something that he’d learned from a director he respected: “An actor shows his character flaws not by what he reveals on stage, but by what he refuses to allow to show.”  I kept this in mind throughout doing Ford.  But as much as it’s “fun to play a villain, a real prick and an asshole, it’s no bullshit that you do get some contact of some very dark places of oneself.  As they say, it’s necessary to do that to get any reality to your character.  Even so…

I wonder if this is fundamental to any artistic process:  that both dark and light need to be explored.   I think so.  I think of a Beethoven symphony or Van Gogh’s Starry Night or James Joyce’s Ulysses or the poetic songs of Dylan and blues and jazz.  In theatre, except where there’s a terrible struggle going on inside the character, there’s often the dark and light are dichotomized into different characters.