Unspoken Backstories For Huge Characters
There are two kinds of actors. There are those who stick to the script for character cues, and those who concoct elaborate unspoken backstories in their own heads -- such that the audience ends up having no goddamn clue they just watched Don Corelone from The Godfather secretly pretend to be a dolphin for 96 minutes. This an article about that second camp.
Marlon Brando Pretends He's A Dolphin For 96 Minutes
The 1996 version of The Island Of Dr. Moreau was about as batshit crazy a movie as you can make. It's sci-fi horror about the impossibility of a Utopian society, how humans are the true savages, and Val Kilmer having sex with cat people.
"So I figured I might as well get paid for doing it, and signed up."
Anyway, the casting and filming were a logistical train wreck speeding toward a pit of nonsense. After some literal witchcraft was employed by the film's director, Marlon Brando agreed to take the titular role, but with some conditions. For an overwhelming majority of the production, Brando would meet with the director, lead writer, and a two-foot-tall extra he'd met on set to discuss changes he'd like to make to the film.
Some of Brando's changes made it in, such as Moreau's bizarre costume and white face paint, and a more prominent role for the two-foot-tall extra. Others did not, such as the huge script revision in which, rather than be murdered by his human-animal hybrids, Moreau would have dramatically revealed that he was secretly half man, half dolphin the whole time. That is in no way a joke.
They also wanted to reveal his hat as a half KFC bucket, half Monopoly thimble hybrid.
Brando had a pretty elaborate setup, too. Moreau was to wear a big, floppy old lady hat, which the audience would mistake for another piece of eccentricity, but which would actually be hiding his telltale blowhole. Moreau would eventually whip the hat off, revealing his true dolphin nature, and the movie would've imploded in a much more entertaining fashion than it eventually did.
So if there are any actors out there who want to test how much influence they have in their films, know that "My character is secretly a dolphin" is the brass ring.
Dustin Hoffman And Bob Hoskins Decided That Captain Hook And Smee Were Lovers In Hook
While Dustin Hoffman and Bob Hoskins were rehearsing on the set of Hook -- the only live-action Peter Pan movie to date that anyone has given a shit about -- they had an epiphany about the relationship between their characters, Smee and Captain Hook -- two middle-aged guys who live on a boat together and wear frilly clothing. It occurred to them both at the same instant that Smee and Hook were gay lovers, and that they should behave like an old married couple.
They began to play the characters that way, much to the chagrin of director Steven Spielberg, who could only muster a feeble "This is a kids' movie!" in protest. He eventually decided that it was best to let Hoffman do what he wanted, and what Hoffman wanted was a hilarious foot massage from his domestic partner / first mate.
He did not reciprocate.
As Hoffman explained in an interview with Playboy, he and Hoskins continued to play the two villains "like a couple of old queens," which absolutely comes through in their scenes. To this day, they're some of the most memorable parts of the entire film. Imagine if they'd played the villains as straightforwardly evil pirates, instead of as a bickering old couple who want those damn kids to stop harassing them.
The Flamethrower Guitar Player In Mad Max: Fury Road Has A Rich Biography
Everyone who saw Mad Max: Fury Road remembers this character:
Goodness gracious, great balls of fire!
That's Coma the Doof Warrior, which sounds more like a bootleg Magic: The Gathering card than a furious flaming-guitar player leading a battle charge. Director George Miller came up with backstories for every character audiences would see on screen, and Doof was no exception. But obviously, Miller didn't develop as much of a story for him, considering he's primarily a sight gag who's barely onscreen. Enter actor iOTA, who was beyond thrilled to get the role.
Miller told iOTA that Doof Warrior's general story was that Immortan Joe found him in a cave and took him under his wing. That wasn't quite enough for iOTA, so he took things a step further. According to iOTA, Joe found Doof in a cave, holding the head of his dead mother. Refusing to let his mother go, Doof peeled her face off and turned it into a mask, like in that movie about John Travolta doing his best Nicolas Cage impersonation.
The mask was to be worn to honor Doof's mother as he rode into battle, deciding on an "old farcical onesie ... with the butt flap hanging out the back" to finish the costume. Our mothers would be proud, too.
Lance Henriksen Pretended To Be A Civil War Vampire In Near Dark And Drove Around Trying To Terrify Strangers
The idea of a "vegetarian vampire" has grown more popular in recent years with the rise of Twilight and True Blood. But back in the 1980s we had Near Dark, a thriller about a group of shit-kicking vampires who wouldn't seem out of place eating people behind a country western bar. The leader of that pack, Jesse Hooker, was played by Lance Henriksen, who found being a psychopathic vampire so cool that he decided to try to be one in real life.
Henriksen decided that Hooker was a vampire from the Civil War, who had lost a battle as part of the Confederate Navy. After a shipwreck, Hooker would go out and suck blood from the wounded soldiers who were all strewn about. The idea was that the character was less interested in being a traditional vampire, and more interested in being a "nocturnal nomad that is thinning the herd."
Henriksen off the set.
Henriksen's method acting went so far that he would drive around pretending to be his character, picking up hitchhikers and deliberately trying to scare the shit out of them.
"He's so nervous because of my staring at him ... like he was a meal ... 'I wonder if I should take his face, his ear, what do I do? Do I rip his throat out?' You know all those thoughts were going through my head, but in an artistic way."
When he and costar Bill Paxton went on a drive to visit their characters' graves in Tombstone, Arizona -- as Henriksen had decided that they were both Wild West vampires -- he led a real police officer on a real car chase and debated pulling a prop gun on him.
We're starting to feel less and less bad for his Aliens woes.
"On the way there, I had a gun that I practiced with under my seat. It wasn't real, but it looked real. We were in full make-up because we had left early as soon as the sun came up. A cop gave us a ticket for speeding. I was in a convertible. Bill, knowing where I was coming from, said 'Lance, don't, don't, don't!' He knew I would talk to the cop in character. The cop actually backed up because I had a look in my eyes like he was my next meal. He threw the ticket at me!"
Clearly, the lesson to be learned here is "Don't get into a car with Lance Henriksen."
Robert Patrick Pretended To Be Native American (And A Bunch Of Animals) For Terminator 2
Terminator 2 tells the timeless story of a reprogrammed Arnold Schwarzenegger going back in time to protect the most irritating teenager in history from a ball of liquid metal portrayed by Robert Patrick. Patrick realized that if he was going to face off against Arnold "Numero Uno" Schwarzenegger, his menace would have to be palpable. He therefore transformed into Robert "Motherfucking" Patrick, a nickname that was given to him by FX guru Stan Winston (presumably because Robert Patrick is a special effect).
Patrick off the set.
In order to portray a scary futuristic robot assassin, Patrick decided to channel a bunch of different predators, and also a Native American, because why the hell not. According to Patrick, the T-1000's movements and mannerisms are based on the way a Native American might track an animal while hunting. He elaborated on his process even further: "In my mind, I kept images of the way an eagle looks, and I kind of gave myself a little head tilt downward, which gave me that forward movement and always made me look like I was moving or in pursuit. I used shark imagery, too. And cats."
To be fair, if your cat could do this to you, it totally would.
So yeah, Robert Patrick created the T-1000 by pretending to be a Native American and thinking about sharks, cats, and the way eagles look. That sounds less like the recipe for a blockbuster film and more like a lunatic's dream journal, but the nonsense in Patrick's mind resulted in one of the most iconic films ever, so maybe we're the crazy ones.
Nathan Lane Created A Painfully Dramatic Backstory For A Supporting Role On The Good Wife
CBS' The Good Wife has a fantastic track record of bringing in guest stars who are only on for a few episodes and don't have a ton of substance. Nathan Lane's role as Clarke Hayden is no different. He's more of a plot device than a character, but apparently, nobody told Lane that.
"His name is Clarke. Give him some fucking Superman glasses." -- The beginning and end of the writers' ideas
Clarke Hayden, despite having the name of an Abercrombie swimwear model, is an accountant/lawyer, which is the type of thing that only happens to people who weren't hugged enough as children. Lane decided that since Hayden would be appearing in a full nine episodes, he should invent a rich backstory to make his character compelling.
Lane took the "not hugged enough" thing and cranked it up to 11. He started with "emotionally distant," which sounds about right for an accountant/lawyer. Lane then decided that Hayden was the type of shady lawyer who never really passed the bar, and eventually rose through the corporate world thanks to his proficiency with numbers. But karma would eventually catch up to him -- his wife couldn't handle his shadiness and left him, and his son died of a drug overdose. There's only one character on the show Hayden seems to like, and that's because that character reminds him of his son.
"Wanna have a catch?"
"Stop ad-libbing that!"
No part of any of that is ever mentioned on the show, by the way. Nathan Lane created an entire Lifetime original movie detailing the events of Clarke Hayden's life, and kept it nestled safely in his own mind.
Adam West Created A Terrifyingly Realistic Origin Story Idea For The Joker
The Batman TV show starring Adam West was more of a cartoon than Batman: The Animated Series. Every extra ounce of grittiness that Christian Bale put into his role nearly 50 years later was inversely proportional to the amount of silliness that Adam West put into his own. Which is why it's shocking to learn that West came up with his own terrifying backstory for the Joker.
Again, for this show.
The Joker origin that's most widely regarded as canon comes from a 1988 comic called The Killing Joke. In that story, we learn that he'd been a stand-up comedian who was hitting some hard times while his wife was about to give birth. Pre-insanity Joker agreed to be part of a burglary based on his connections to a factory, then found out that his wife had just up and died, had his cover blown, and got knocked into the vat of acid by Batman himself. It was quite the shitty day.
But when sitting on a panel (featuring, no shit, a clinical psychologist named Robin) that was fielding questions about the Joker's development as a psychopath, West revealed that he thought The Killing Joke's explanation was bullshit.
A psychopath isn't born out of one freak accident, like falling into a vat of acid. It's built up over a long period of intentional and systemic abuse. So when this idea came up in discussion, BatWest said, "I did a little backstory in my head for Joker. I reasoned the insanity, whatever you want to call his psychopathic quality -- I reasoned that he was kidnapped by a perverted clown when he was a youngster."
It would explain why the TV one grew a perv-stach.
To which Jerry Robinson, co-creator of the Joker, replied, "That would do it."
So go back and watch Cesar Romero's spirited turn as a Joker with a painted-over mustache, and know that in every scene, Adam West is pretending that man was abducted by a child-molesting clown.
Isaac is not a dolphin, he swears. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @NotFunnyIsaac
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