As an addition to my previous post about characters and language, watching actors at work inspires me and provokes me to think about how important detail is when creating a character.
Over the weekend I finally saw the movie There Will Be Blood. Daniel Day Lewis played the main character, Daniel Plainview, an “oilman” who wants to make enough money so he can live someplace away from people. Day Lewis uses everything at his disposal to create Plainview — his body, gestures, manner of speaking, his silences also, the way he walks and runs. Plainview is a man who walks with his shoulders hunched in self-protection, closed, his legs bowed and with a slight limp from a broken leg at the beginning of the movie. There is also a slinking quality to his walk and movements. His expression however is one of confidence, knowing, being in control. I love seeing the incongruities, and master actors most often bring them out in subtle ways, as Day Lewis does.
The really impressive aspect of Day Lewis’ Plainview however is the voice and manner of speaking. Not even close to Day Lewis’ actual voice — there’s only one moment in the entire movie when he sounds like himself and that’s when he shouts at one point. Otherwise, the voice conveys in its raspy rhythms a smooth operator and a hint of unpleasantness, danger, threat.
I don’t know if any of this detail was on the page in the script or evolved from Day Lewis and/or discussions with the director/writer. But for me as a writer, it is a reminder of the use of detail to create a fully-dimensional character on the page, someone the reader can easily imagine. Real people are a conglomeration of detail in movement, appearance, speech and behavior and fictional characters need to be also. Which doesn’t mean it’s easy….