Things I Learned From… Snow White And The Huntsman

From what I’ve heard, Snow White And The Huntsman had an interesting path to the screen. Evan Daugherty’s original spec script was written almost ten years ago, and  sold considerably before the current rush of fairy-tale rewrites and reboots. Daugherty has said in interviews that he was heavily influenced by The Lord Of The Rings trilogy – and I think we can agree that shows in the finished film! –  and deliberately chose the Snow White story because it was the simplest and most real-world of the classic fairy tales.

It’s easy to see the appeal of the original spec: a classic story with worldwide name recognition, a classic villain, and a strong female lead coupled with a strong male lead for a ‘name’ actor, minimizing the box-office risk associated with  young female leads.

But the interview quote that interested me most was Daugherty’s admission that casting had affected the role of the nameless Huntsman more than he ever anticipated.

The role of the Huntsman was originally written for a considerably older actor. Given his influences, I wouldn’t be surprised if Daugherty had Viggo Mortensen or Sean Bean at the back of his mind while writing.

Nothing wrong with that: a lot of writers, myself included, mentally ‘cast’ roles in the early stages of breaking a story. Adding the face and the voice of a favourite actor helps to solidify a still nebulous character – and if, as the character takes shape, they end up suiting a different actor better, no harm has been done.

But the eventual casting choice was rising star Chris Hemsworth. And let’s be clear here: the problem here isn’t his acting abilities. It’s about the fact that he’s considerably younger than Daugherty’s original choice for the character.

So what, you say?

Well, here’s what.

Characters aren’t just individuals. They also fulfill predetermined roles in a narrative. I bet you can name a few of those roles right now: hero, villain, sidekick, henchman, love interest, mentor.

A lot of the time, we don’t notice the role a character plays, just the character as an individual – which is exactly as it should be. If we notice their role while watching the movie, it’s often because that role’s been clumsily written, or the character is so thin that they’re effectively just their role, not a memorable individual.

You don’t need all of those roles. Maybe you don’t need any of them. But I’ll tell you what you definitely don’t need. You don’t need two different characters trying to play the same role.

Cast an older actor as the Huntsman, and your movie has a mentor and a love interest (William).  Cast a younger actor, and you have two love interests. And unless your movie is specifically about a love triangle, and you invest the screen time in making us care about both suitors, that’s just not going to work.

Audiences get confused, even if they can’t put their finger on why. They feel uncertain about who the characters are and what they’re meant to feel about them. They pick one and hope the heroine ends up with him – which means half your audience is going to be disappointed.

Unless, of course, she doesn’t make a definite commitment to either, in which case…  the whole audience is disappointed!

One character per role, people. You know it makes sense.

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