Light & Dark… Black & White… Good & Bad… who would you rather be?

20 Jun

Last year I wanted to learn more about creating “crazy” characters and utilized social media to reach out to actors, writers, and creators in order to learn the different perspectives. As a mental health professional, I have found that I lose a bit when I watch something as I tend to sit and observe the characters- looking to diagnose, to see their flaws, to learn who they are, etc. Usually I can turn it off and focus on the story but sometimes it is harder than others. Especially after a long day with clients.

Of late, a lot of my clientele have expressed very simplistic self views- black v. white, good v. bad, light v. dark- and this has had me curious about the characters I watch. We talk a lot about Arrow here because it is a show with a great deal of complexity, not to mention the fun story and amazing action scenes. But the character of Oliver Queen is a great case to observe- he is very complex, essentially embodying multiple personalities- Oliver, the lost son; Arrow, the hero/vigilante; Oliver Queen, the playboy billionaire; Ollie, the boy he was; and the man he is becoming… someone who combines the rest. He had moments early in the first season where he was mostly of two minds- the light and dark. The light, wherein he was the son, the billionaire, the friend, and the dark wherein he was “the Hood”- a vigilante who saw only the bad the people did and responded in kind. But he’s grown, because he had to- if he’d stayed as he was, the character wouldn’t be compelling; would not draw in an audience and keep their attention. The view of good and bad is still there, but Oliver can see the shades of grey now.


Stephen Amell talks about this in an interview with SFX from 2012, as Oliver’s flaws-

“The central character of all the great shows on television, and I don’t list these names to draw comparisons, but as an example – Tony Soprano, Walter White, Don Draper – these are all incredibly flawed people that do regrettable things, terrible things, unforgivable things. But as long as they’re pursuing an overall goal, and as long as they engage the audience, that’s why those shows resonate. I’ve always wanted to play somebody who was unflinching, who set up for something and followed through with it. That’s why we have to kill people on the show, because he’s trying to clean up the city. To think that there wouldn’t be collateral damage, that would be farcical.”

Amell was talking more about the fact that Oliver was a killer in the first season (something he endeavored to change in the second), however, if you break it down- the choice to kill in order to achieve his goal is allowing the dark side to overpower the light. Personally, I would love to sit down with Amell and discuss this (and many other topics- he’s seems pretty interesting).

Going back to the original topic- my clients cannot see shades of grey in their lives; they are at this point in their lives because they are bad or because they did wrong things. It’s hard to help someone see that they made mistakes if they can only see black and white.

A month or so ago, Yuri Lowenthal posted the following tweet-

Yuri- light&dark


I don’t remember what the rest of the posts around it were, so this is out of context- but I think on its own it is quite a compelling thought. Because of it, I was inspired to learn more about the light and dark of characters.

As humans, we generally strive to be good- to let ourselves be happy, to be infused with the light. We are human though and thus have periods where the dark outshines the light; days when it’s hard to get out of bed, when smiling at a silly joke is too hard, when nothing is going to get us through the anger before we explode… Generally, we live somewhere in the middle- the grey zone; where we fluctuate between good and bad, depending on the situation that affects us. This is the nature of humanity. So what is it like to take on a different “person”? What I mean is… when an actor (or writer/creator) creates a character… is it easier to play someone who is similar to yourself? Is it more fun to play a character who is dark? Does an actor carry traits of that character (specifically the darker pieces) with them after the role? Well I touched base with several personalities via social media to learn what their thoughts on this topic were.

Yuri Lowenthal– Dark is more fun for me, because it’s an acceptable excuse to go there. I learn more about myself. I keep everything.

Dean Devlin– Dark is easy. Uplifting is hard.

Timothy Murphy– dark,dark,dark!!!

Tara Platt– well for me it is easy to access light but more “fun” to access dark … But I leave them with the character- “acting my dear boy”

Joe Wilson– All characters are flawed, some more than others. The more flaws, the more interesting the character. The idea of a “good guy” vs. a “bad guy” in writing doesn’t take more or less effort, it’s more about complexity of character.

Heather Bellson– most fun and memorable (for me) are dark characters with sense of humor. But they are also (for me) hardest to create. chaotic good, true neutral and chaotic evil if you want to go full nerd. for me it’s hard to nail the balance. Easy to tip one way or the other too hard… but once they are fleshed out they are incredibly fun

Richard Manning– Wouldn’t say either’s easier. Chars w/strong, clear goals & motivations are easiest (& most fun) to write. And few chars are either totally light or totally dark. Complex chars are more interesting/fun than simple ones. I don’t carry chars with me after. They can walk on their OWN, I say. (Do I get a box of wine now?)

Bob Goodman– Conflict (“dark”) makes things interesting; humor (“light”) makes it palatable. But most important is that characters be real.

Amelia Tyler– Hmm… to be honest, I don’t find either more or less tricky – the hard part is creating the authenticity that brings any… character off the page and makes them believable, rather than scripted. I suppose I naturally gravitate towards darker… aspects of a character because they’re more interesting to me, so I find creating happy, well-adjusted roles more of a… stretch. That’s just how my mind works, I guess. Every character has darkness and light in them, though, and it’s important… to portray that or you’ll end up with a boring, one-note cliché. The ‘darker shade of grey’ roles are definitely more fun… though because I get to experiment with a side of myself that I’d never let out to play in real life.
I don’t think I ‘carry them with me’ so much as playing the roles has made me think more deeply about aspects of myself… that I maybe hadn’t explored much before. They’d always been in me – it’s just that after playing the roles I’m more aware… of them, if that makes sense? But in some situations, yes, I fully dip back into a character, usually if I feel unsafe or… am dealing with a complete wanker who I’d normally just laugh off or run away from. I’ll ‘go a bit Sarah/Rachel/Harmony’… for a moment to get myself through. Given the kind of characters I tend to play, though, it’s probably for the best I don’t… bring them out too often. 😉

James Leary– Depends on the project. Comedy comes easily for me…darkness definitely lingers. Dark/Evil characters don’t think they r evil.
 mood sometimes. also it’s odd to tap into that place that society usually doesn’t allow us to explore. I LOVE dark characters
we all have “darkness” inside us – getting to let it out in a “safe” environment is very liberating.

Ed Quinn– Feel the power of the dark side.

Jane Badler– I find as I get older I prefer to play characters who are fun to play . This means they are powerful , in control and not victimized . As actors we tend to live the life’s of our characters which takes a lot of courage . Dark characters meaning tragic of filled with darkness are hard and more emotionally draining but very rewarding .

Something I found very interesting from this is that for the most part… everyone enjoys being dark or bringing the darkside of a character out to play. I wonder how much of this is because the person themselves is generally a friendly/happy/light person and it is fun to stretch their legs, in a safe way, and do the opposite? Honestly, when I did perform (years ago) it was so much more fun to be the villain than the ingénue. (Though playing the “victim” as Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird was pretty fun too… but that’s such a powerfully emotional scene when she testifies…)

I want to end this piece with a comment from Sarah- a friend who helps me sort out jumbled thoughts, like the ones I had with this piece…

“On a tangent, it seems like many things in this era we’re living in are so polarized – Fox News or Bill Maher? Growing up, we were taught to think about things weigh the arguments before us in order to make an informed decision. But we already know that anything that someone on the right of the political spectrum says is complete garbage. We absolutely and unequivocably do not need to weigh it at all. But they feel the same way. And so we’re at this standstill. So it’s nice to escape to a story line where there actually are choices to be made and consequences to be considered and the character might choose one way or the other, who knows? We don’t know which way the character is going to go, because we don’t known if he is prioritiizing saving the planet or saving the person he loves at the expense of innocent lives, or whatever.”

What do you think?

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