On Male Characters
When I say ‘name an unusual male character’, who do you think of? Whilst it’s true male characters tend to have more variety as standard, it’s still very easy to fall into expected tropes and characteristics. ‘The usual’ as we know is BORING!
Since B2W is always banging on about going against the grain, here’s 5 unusual male characters we can learn from. Ready? Let’s go …
1) Detective Loki, Prisoners (2013)
Why he’s unusual: Morally ambiguous
Written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners is an unusual beast … A vigilante story with a difference! When Keller Dover’s (Hugh Jackman) daughter and her friend goes missing, he takes matters into his own hands as the police pursue multiple leads and the pressure mounts.
Prisoners is an absolute masterclass on moral ambiguity in storytelling. What is so compelling about the movie is how horrifyingly relatable yet despicable antihero Keller’s actions are.
But this case study is not about Keller, but Detective Loki, the police officer tasked with finding the girls. The morally ambiguous theme of the whole story is reflected most in this character.
Loki is a ‘good cop’ in that he does the ‘right thing’ … but Loki feels the ‘right thing’ is fluid and can depend on what the situation needs. This can be an admirable trait … or it can be horrific, as we find out in the clip.
Watch Loki In Action
THIS SCENE reveals character and pushes the story forward in a very dramatic way. Detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) has a suspect in custody whom he believes is witholding information. The time is ticking away and the little girls who are missing could be dying.
As a character we know Loki is mostly honourable but not above doing whatever it takes to get this information. This means we are not surprised when he assaults the suspect, though we do believe his sorrow at fucking it up when the man kills himself.
There’s also a TRIPLE whammy of dramatic irony to this scene …
After all, had Loki not assaulted the suspect …
- The man would never have got the gun
- Loki would not have lost his lead and
- The answer of where the girls are **is literally in the drawing** we discover later.
Check out this breakdown of the film and screenplay from Lights Film School.
TOP TIP: A character’s actions should have a direct bearing on the plot … If you can get some dramatic irony in there too, even better!
2) Ben, Ozark (2017 ongoing)
Why he’s unusual: ‘Crazy’ character who is 100% RIGHT
When financial advisor Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) drags his family from Chicago to the Missouri Ozarks, he must launder money to appease a drug boss. Of course nothing goes smoothly, especially when Marty’s wife Wendy (Laura Linney) discover she LIKES being a kingpin (queenpin?).
Ben is Wendy’s bipolar brother and replaced the deceased Buddy in series 3 of this dark and deadly Netflix show. Unpredictable and sometimes reckless, Ben feels things deeply. Unsurprisingly then, he creates a huge raft of problems for The Byrdes. Taking up with Ruth, the Byrde’s right hand woman, Ben throws a lot of bombs into the family business. This forces the Byrdes’ hand on what they can do with him to protect themselves.
Watch Ben In Action
A powerhouse performance by Tom Pelphrey, Ben is a case study in authenticity and emotional truth. I am used to seeing characters with mental health issues drawn with broad strokes … at best. Nine times out of ten, they are stigmatising stereotypes.
This isn’t the case here. Ben’s rant in the taxi is just pure and real. His bipolar worldview is so recognisable. I related to all of it … Every. Single. Word. WATCH IT HERE.
Ben, the Truth Teller
What’s brilliant about Ben is he is the only one telling the truth. As he says again and again, the Byrdes’ situation is NOT NORMAL. It’s deeply dysfunctional and dangerous, yet they gaslight him constantly. They make out he is lying, confused, overreacting, is unreasonable, crazy.
In other words, exactly what people – well-meaning or not – do to people with mental health issues ALL THE TIME. So authentic and dripping in emotional truth.
TOP TIP: Do your research on mental health issues. Be aware of and avoid the common mistakes writers make when representing mental health in stories.
3) Stan, Good Girls (2018 ongoing)
Why he’s unusual: A nuanced husband character with his own arc
This show is ‘Moms go Breaking Bad’! As three suburban mothers find themselves in desperate financial circumstances, they descend into crime. This includes armed robbery, fraud, taking up with gangsters and even counterfeiting money.
Stan is husband to Ruby, one of the Moms on the downward slope. He starts off a mall security guard, then gets his dream job of police officer in series 1. This means his job is a serious antagonistic force to the women. This is interesting, since they love each other so much … Yet he has the potential to destroy everything and bust all three of them.
As the series progress, Stan’s position changes, not only literally but metaphorically. He loses his job as a police officer and ends up working as a bouncer in a gentleman’s club. This in turn seduces him towards the dark side like Ruby because … WHY NOT? As he rightly says, he’s done everything right, yet he gets sabotaged constantly. But as Ruby screams at him, ‘One of us has to be good!’ She wants to take the burden of being the only criminal in the family.
TOP TIP: Wife and girlfriend secondary characters were traditionally underwritten. Don’t let your husband or boyfriend characters fall into this trap. Male secondary characters to female leads need their own arcs and layers.
4) Viggo, John Wick (2014)
Why he’s unusual: Controlling, yet cowardly boss
Viggo is the ‘Mr Big’ of Mafiasos, but that doesn’t mean he’s safe! Thanks to his irresponsible asshole playboy son Iosef, Viggo and friends end up the targets of ‘Baba Yaga’ … AKA John Wick, the bogeyman assassin in this kickass franchise.
Played brilliantly by the late Michael Nyqvist, what’s so interesting about Viggo is what a snivelling coward he is. Characters of Viggo’s standing in gangster storyworlds are usually enigmatic, astute, even wise.
Not so with Viggo. When he hears Iosef stoke John Wick’s car and killed his dog, panic descends. At first, he hopes he can pull it back and reason with Wick, so calls him on the phone. When it’s clear Wick does not want to negotiate, Viggo has a horrible sense of inevitability … The man himself is coming for them all. Shit!!!
Viggo even sells his own son out to save his own miserable skin … But of course he can’t face up to this. Instead he will blame Marcus for ‘not doing his job properly’ and kill him instead. Men like Viggo never take responsibility, but we usually see them as powerless individuals. To see a Mafia boss like this is really refreshing.
TOP TIP: The enigmatic, astute and wise master criminal has been done to death (literally). What other versions of psychopaths, gangsters and Mafiasos can you think of?
5) Coco, Mayans M.C (2018 ongoing)
Why he’s unusual: Zen-like Sage who is also a murdering psychopath
Played to perfection by the always brilliant Richard Cabral, Coco is my favourite character in this show because he is a bag of contradictions.
As a military vet, Coco is a fantastic sniper and still suffers from his horrific experiences in Afghanistan. He has been pushed out to the fringes of society by racism, lack of opportunities and by his terrible family background, especially his abusive mother.
As we might expect for an outlaw, Coco is a ruthless murderer who has a horrible lack of regard for human life. ‘Oops my bad’ he’ll say as he ‘accidentally’ kills yet another person!
But this where where Coco’s characterisation starts, not ends. He is a stalwart Mayan, devoted to his brothers. Coco is a devoted father to Letiticia, too … He tried to stay away for her own good, before realising he’d left her to a worse fate with his mother. He is a protector of the innocent: he has lead charges against human traffickers and delivered aid and back up to guerilla fighters against the cartel.
But more than any of this, Coco is a TEACHER. The writers of the show have made him an archetypal character – ‘the sage’ (aka wise man). Coco can always be depended upon to see the bigger picture and get right to the heart of the matter, delivering his point with BRUTAL honesty …
‘Think about what this means and why you want it. If the reason isn’t something you can feel **in here** [touches chest]? Then do yourself a favour: move the fuck on.’
Pretty good life advice, I’d say! (Just don’t kill anyone).
TOP TIP: Outlaws might not play by the rules, but they can still drop truth bombs about society and life just like Coco. MORE: Rethinking Masculinity: How To Write A Memorable Male Character
Did you know … B2W’s book, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays is TEN YEARS OLD in 2023!
To commemorate this occasion, I have revisited book and updated it for its anniversary.
I’ve added a whopping extra 100 pages!! This includes new case studies, plus information on television pilots as well as movie screenplays. Here’s the blurb:
Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays has the lowdown on how to get your thriller feature script on to the page, and how to get it in front of producers and investors.
“First published in 2013, this new edition offers an all-new resources section and a host of new case studies that map the considerable changes of the past decade.
With marketplace disruptors such as Netflix and the first phases of The Marvel Cinematic Universe leaving their mark, new opportunities have been created for screenwriters and filmmakers who are keen to get their stories in front of industry professionals.
This time around, Lucy V Hay doesn’t just guide you through the writing of movies, but spec TV pilots too. Putting iconic, mixed-genre projects under the microscope – such as Stranger Things (horror thriller), Brooklyn 99 (comedy thriller) and Lost (sci fi thriller) – she considers what writers can learn from these shows.
She also argues that the lone protagonist in a thriller has had its day and looks at how the genre is moving into a space beyond ‘The Hero’s Journey’. Case studies to support this include The Hunger Games, Captain Marvel, Iron Man and many more.
Finally, the book considers how the screenplay might be sold to investors, exploring high concept ideas, pitching, packaging and the realities of film finance – all updated for the 2020s – and lays out alternative routes to sales and production, including transmedia such as novels and adaptation, and immersive storytelling online.” BUY IT HERE.
There’s a character called Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine who has many shades of grey.
The HBO show Oz has a lot of people who have done horrible things and yet most of them are sympathetic in some way.
The Prime Minister in Legend of Fuyao kills a lot of people and is still likeable.
Zhou Zishu in Word of Honor has done bad things and is atoning for them in the TV show.
Marvel have a lot of characters who do bad or irresponsible things but are sympathetic or likeable, e.g. Iron Man, Magneto.