Casting, Acting, Directing
Sometimes good actors choose bad characters.
Sometimes, characters are poorly conceived and poorly cast.
Sometimes the storylines just aren’t redeemable.
Sometimes, shows are misdirected, but manage to salvage themselves.
Sometimes multiple factors go into making bad art, and you’re not exactly sure what happened.
Today, we will focus on two characters who are implausibly bad.
Character 1: Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock. Played by Andrew Scott.
At the end of the first series, we finally meet Moriarty. Though he wasn’t and never will be what I picture while reading the stories, I am sometimes ok with series retooling a character in service of an overarching theme, and I could see how the re-imagining played into the idea of mental illness / autism spectrum the series focused on.
When the second series premiered, I had much more mixed feelings. The series overall was weaker, and they’d no idea whatsoever how to treat either Irene Adler nor Hound of the Baskervilles – easily one of Doyle’s weaker stories, the more for being a novella.
Then, in only a few truncated appearances, Moriarty plays leapfrog over several sharks. One moment he suggests he is adapt at manipulating others, and a sociopath; the next he seems to be pursuing a schoolboy crush without much understanding of interpersonal relations. When he gets a text, he blows a raspberry (‘accentuated’ with text-message flying letters, another absurd choice) at Big Ben. He cavorts and rolls his eyes exaggeratedly and literally prances about. His sole purpose seems to be to convince the audience he’s a 5-year-old savant trapped in a slim-cut suit. Instead of being afraid of his great mind, the viewer is left staring askance at him, as one might at a refined party when one guest is drunk and could at any moment upset the punch bowl.
Not having seen Andrew Scott in anything else, I don’t know much of his general abilities. I can’t imagine, however, this was his gut response to the character. No, he only reached that apex after several takes of increasing inanity, and after each one the director would ask “can we get a little more over-the-top? A little less Lector, a little more Doofenshmirtz?”
– Character 2: Leona Lansing, CEO of Atlantis World Media, in HBO’s The Newsroom. Played by Jane Fonda.
First, we have a casting choice. Here’s a woman who is quite famous for celebrity appearances during the middle of a war to garner media attention for a cause she passionately believed in, plaintively asking her news runner why he’s running hard-hitting segments. “What happened to human interest stories!? Obesity, breast caner, hurricanes, older women having babies, iPhones!?” I wish I knew what the producers were trying to say with this casting choice, what they meant by having Jane Fonda say those words. I’m afraid the reasoning was, ‘Hey look, Jane Fonda! We got us namez on this show!’
Then, the writers give her character the most awkwardly phrased, bloviated, ridiculous dialogue of the show, in a poorly edited episode which contains plenty of bad diatribes.
Most of the time, backlash I hear is about the actors. ‘What a terrible job he did,’ or ‘who ever thought she could pull that off!’ And in plenty of cases, especially when something is poorly under-acted, that may be the case. Often, however, it’s the writing, though many of Sorkin’s shortcomings in the past have been obscured by good actors. (In fact, many writers’ shortcomings – my own included – are covered that way.) Clumsy directing can overcome good writing, good casting, and to some extent good acting. In these cases, I’d have to say it was all of the above. Not that the actors are bad, but they were entirely mis-cast, given bad lines – or no lines, just ‘spit voluminously’ – and misdirected. A perfect storm of terrible.