The Nature of a Hero: Behind the Scenes

Those most interesting conversations always seem to happen over coffee when you least expect them.

A friend of mine and I were talking about acting, and the way in which actors can become absorbed in roles to the point of the character beginning to take over. During my undergrad, my training in acting was strongly oriented toward the method-acting school of thought. I’ve experienced the very thin line while acting in which the character truly begins to come to life, and I know that sort of frightening moment when you’re balancing between keeping control yourself instead of permitting the character to take control. Those are the moments in which the performance in the most alive, but also the moments that I honestly believe are the reason that many actors I’ve known and worked with…at least ones that follow this school of acting…sort of aren’t well. Ideally, that’s why actors take breaks…sometimes long breaks…between roles. I haven’t acted in two years after my last serious role, and I remember having to take a long amount of time off after several consecutive roles during college.

Our conversation turned toward the canon of Batman films, and the tragic circumstances of Heath Ledger’s untimely demise following the filming of The Dark Knight. We talked about the discussion that circulated about how the darkly insane character that he performed so astoundingly in that film may have held too much sway over him.

Specifically in the context of super-hero films, this discussion leads to an interesting thought. The most important thing in a story is the through-line, or the overall plot arc. We talked about how difficult it would be to act a role like the Joker, but how it would be so important to do it well, because of the importance of the redemptive message contained within the film as a whole. In that way, the actor portraying the villain is embodying the nature of a hero by being self-sacrificial in order that the greater good may be told…a real-life example of how a hero places his own good below those he or she is serving.

I think that’s one of those opportunities that all of us have to be a hero, and why the inspiration of super-hero mythology is so important to us as a culture.

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