A Litmus Test for Characterization: Tom Hiddleston’s Fan Letter to Joss Whedon

Has anyone seen the fan letter to Joss Whedon from Tom Hiddleston about the script of The Avengers?

To summarize, Hiddleston gushes a bit and thanks Whedon for writing him a character who has so many layers (“Tom Hiddleston’s fan letter to Joss Whedon is the most adorable thing ever”). Anyone who has spent time with actors will find this story very believable because getting a “juicy” role (also called “meaty” – a character with layers and depth) is something that actors practically drool over. Many actors even value meaty roles above the lead.

Wait. Why does depth matter to actors?

Well, acting is an art, and like any art, most people go into it because they need to create. Their art is delving into the depths of their characters for motivation that no one else has explored before so that they can reveal their interpretations to the world.

Yes, an actor or actress can develop a less-than-juicy character and give you something that the audience can enjoy or even love. But that does not satisfy the need to create nearly as much as the challenge of exploring a character who is more realistic (with layers of flaws, strengths, idiosyncrasies, and complex emotions). The more there is to the character, the more depth he or she has, the more an actor or actress has to work with.

Giving a professional actor a 2D character is a bit like asking a world explorer to find a continent on a child’s globe.

That’s why thinking about characters the way an actor would can help a writer. It’s like a litmus test for fully-developed characters: if you think an actor would be thrilled to get the part of that character (perhaps even going so far as to gush or write a fan letter to you), then you’ve written a character that has power. You might even call it juicy.

And that’s the goal, right?

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