Look, going to the movies is stressful. Not particularly because it's exhausting: there's coffee, food and, in the case of Argyleyou're flying to London to talk to celebrities in a swanky hotel suite right across the River Thames from the London Eye.
But try having a real, thoughtful conversation with a movie star in fewer minutes than the fingers on your hand. You don't want to be too frivolous, too silly, too off-topic, or say something that the actors haven't already been asked a million times. After all, when traveling you are part of a group of international journalists gathered for this whirlwind day of interviews. You want to stand out.
In the case of Brian Cranston And Bryce Dallas Howardtwo of Argyle'With the all-star cast, I was lucky – 10 whole minutes! Absolute luxury in Junketland. And what followed was a real conversation that was deeper than any of us expected.
On the surface, Argyle is a semi-campal, entirely metafictional film about Elly Conway, a bestselling spy novelist who suddenly finds herself at the center of a real-life spy plot that bears an uncanny resemblance to the events of her books. The film is cheeky with moments of good humor, but also has as many twists and turns as the roads of London. These same twists and turns left me wondering about good versus evil, and it was these deeper thoughts that prompted Cranston and Howard to investigate the essence of what makes a Hollywood hero – and what makes a wicked.
“The hero is really someone who rises above the acceptability of what they think about themselves,” Cranston, who plays the director of the evil spy organization The Division, tells me . “He’s not someone who already considers himself a heroic person, like a warrior or a gladiator. He is someone who, despite his fears, his cautions and his worries, rises up to respond in a necessary moment. And that's really when someone becomes a hero.
As for being a bad guy?
“There really is some nastiness in all of us, if we're honest,” Cranston says. “If we really opened up and said, 'Well, I felt certain feelings at certain times and I did something wrong. I have sometimes wronged people. The villain is the person who never corrects the wrong, who allows himself to continue being that person.
Context also matters, adds Howard, who plays Elly. Whatever legal, moral, or ethical standards dictate the norm in a given society determine how people interpret actions. A despicable action in one culture may be considered heroic in another. In the film, spy agent Aidan (Sam Rockwell) kills a group of assassins, but it's in order to protect Elly, who is more important than she initially appears. So, is it really that bad?
What if you were manipulated into doing something terrible? Even if you didn't intend to do harm, does that make you a bad guy? “The bad guy is the one who doesn't take responsibility for the end result, for the things that go wrong, for the price of life,” Howard says. “We always have to examine ourselves and our actions, because people don't necessarily control us, and that's a scary thing and that's how wickedness thrives.”
Actors often say that villains are more fun and more complex to play because they can take on taboo motivations in real life and explore the dark sides of a person's character that they wouldn't necessarily implement in their own life. The same goes for us, the spectators. There is a reason why we are attracted to bad people. It's “delicious,” as Howard says, to escape into a villain, which is why so often the the bad guys are the scene stealers.
“The villain is really a mischievous child who is allowed to develop this. [mischievousness]”, says Cranston. “In our version of the adult game, we are encouraged to be as bad as possible, which is the opposite of what our parents were trying to sculpt and shape. “No, no, share your toys. No, don't say that about anyone. Now you can let it go. Everything your parents said [you]you just do the opposite, and there's your villain.
When the line between hero and villain is, in the world of Argyle, As blurry as the line between reality and imagination, it is important to define how to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys, what the rules are, who respects them and who doesn't. Whether we realize it or not, we transfer what we see in the theater into the real world to help us make sense of our own moral compasses. Art informs life just as life informs art, and there are profound lessons to be learned – even if they come from a film that, on the surface, is simply presented as a cinematic good time.
Not bad for a 10 minute conversation.
Argylle is now in theaters.
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