Happy Boxing Day! It’s almost the end of the year, can you believe it? But, stress not, we have Featured Author Brent Weeks stopping by with a guest post on ugly characters — and Hollywood’s interpretation of “ugly”. Read on!
Ugly Characters in Fantasy by Brent Weeks
Ugly characters are one of the profound strengths of books. When I started writing The Lightbringer series, I deliberately decided to make one of the main characters (Kip) a fat kid. Can you do that? My editors didn’t think I could. “Can you erase the word ‘fat’ a few dozen times?” they asked. Because not only is Kip fat, but he’s aware that he’s fat, and he’s embarrassed about it.
Ultimately, I think I get away with it because in a book, you spend time not looking at a character, but instead inside his head. Kip’s sense of humor, his essential goodness, and his predilection for saying the first thing that comes to mind becomes far more important than his cellulite. I don’t think I could have done it if I’d been writing for Hollywood.
Take The Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin is a huge success, and everyone knew that the show would only be successful if the fanboy element was satisfied — that is, if the show was faithful to the books. I flipped on the first episode with intense interest for any number of reasons, but the foremost in my mind was, “How are they going to cast Arya?”
In the books, Arya is called Arya Horseface. Her essential ugliness makes her a contrast to the beautiful Sansa. If you read the books, there’s no question that Arya is at least a step or two below “plain.” And they cast this girl:
Wow, SHE obviously fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, huh?
No. Not at all. She’s a typical cute kid actress. (This isn’t to say they don’t do a fine job with making her looking boyish. They do. But she certainly doesn’t look like an ugly boy that you’d never give a second glance to, which is what her character is.)
The point is, the directors blinked. They believe that viewers are so shallow that they could never root for the ugly girl. Now, this belief stems not just from Hollywood believing the worst of people, but also from science. People like attractive people.
Smart actors even use this to their advantage: Denzel Washington in Training Day? He couldn’t really be a bad guy, could he? He’s too darn likable!
Interestingly enough, this human truth — that we think good things of good looking people — is a dagger that cuts both ways. Once we get to know people, we tend to rate those who are good (i.e. smart, nice, warm) as more attractive.
Books do this with an immediacy. When I introduce Kip, he’s pulling up his pants, because he’s fat and they keep falling down. But in a novel, I can trust you to get over that first reaction and get to know him as an adolescent growing into a formidable man quickly.
Hollywood can’t do that. They can’t trust you that much, and in the end, it’s to their own detriment. Because let’s be honest: some of the greatest actors in the world probably can’t get jobs, simply because
Yeah, I was saying… You know what? Never mind.
Hahahahaha! How funny you ended the post with that picture… But yeah, it’s true that Hollywood has a warped perception. Sometimes I wonder, how would they cast Kip? Or Mark Lawrence’s Jorg? Or even Jay Lake’s Green?
Thank you so much for visiting us this month. I’ve enjoyed it a lot, and I’m sure my readers have too. Happy 2013!