How to be a Villain
“So what’s the movie about?”
“Oh, its a sort of romantic comedy about a guy who breaks up with his girlfriend, and meets a new girl, and then his ex comes back and she’s a horrible bitch. That’s my role. That is always my role.”
“What? No… you? I don’t see it.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, ok - yeah.”
I am a villian. I first realized it watching a scene in Save The Last Dance years ago. The bitchy ex-girlfriend threatened sweet, dead-faced Julia Stiles on the dancefloor - snarling at her to stay away from her man. I dropped my ice cream spoon and sat up on my couch and thought “Oh! That is my role!”
That is always going to be my role. I am never going to be Julia Stiles. I will always be the bitch pulling on her hair, and later withering in defeat. And I love it - those roles are much more fun, funnier, sexier, and more interesting than the nice girls. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. As a kid I never wanted to be Sleeping Beauty, but I named at least half of my dolls “Malificent”.
But here is what people don’t realize about playing those roles - it is hard motherfucking work. If you spend a day with everyone pretending to hate you, it ends up feeling rotten any way you slice it. Really working up a good, believable hate so you can scream “I’m going to destroy you, you stupid bitch!!” in somebody’s face does not put one in a good mental state. In fact, it’s exhausting. For the first few years of my career, I had no idea what was going on - I just knew that I felt mean and shitty every time I left a set or a rehearsal and that no one wanted to hang out with me at wrap parties. I cried a lot over those projects, until I realized how much of it had to do with the roles I was playing and with the effort needed to distance Eliza the actor from the character.
This month when I spent a week playing that bitch ex-girlfriend, I was nervous that it was going to end up draining me emotionally. So I made sure to shake off the bitch and remind myself to be nice again after scenes. I might have even secretly asked for hugs a few times - and not taken them like a cat. It ended up being a fun week and I was proud of myself for not leaving everyone with the impression that I planned to burn down their homes (while still doing a convincing job of acting like my character definitely would.)
So it turns out, the secret to playing a villain is actually being really really nice.
And heavy eye makeup.