The characters in my latest short film, Will It Stop Raining In Summer (currently in post-production), are all written “in the style of”, or at least the male characters, Maurice and Roger, are. Roger is having an affair with Maurice’s wife, and the syle of the character is that of “The Lover” – impetuous, selfish, passionate, and a little bit dashing. While Maurice is “The Cuckold”; amiable, eager to please, uncool, slightly bumbling. There is no attempt to pretend that the characters aren’t their roles. Of course, one of the reasons this is done, is because it is fun to play archetypes – the actor certainly plays the actions in the script, but the pronounced layer of characterization in this situation enables the actor to be larger than life, not simply living the role, but commenting on the role, commenting on acting from the past, and commenting of life itself. The actor enters into a playful discourse with the audience who revel in recognising the archetypal traits of the characters and seeing them at work. It’s similar to that experience the audience feels when they see a moment on screen which is true to life, but this time it’s true to other films and stories they have seen.
However, for this approach to have an effect, the context within which the artist works needs to be considered – we in the UK have certain expectations about what content films contain, we have those shared cultural experiences from the past which enables certain characters to be archetypal in the first place, and therefore, creative choices can be made with that expectation in mind (and subverted, as the case may be). Creating characters “in the style of”, also acknowledges the artificial nature of proceedings, it acknowledges that what is unfolding before us is a performance, as oppose to entering into a phoney contract with the audience, pretending that the content of the film is “real”. Once that layer of guff has been removed, then whatever artistic richness lays within the material, can be mined and expressed freely, without shame or embarassment. In some way then, employing archetypal traits in a character is an expression of joy about acting itself, and about cinema itself.