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Friday, May 8, 2009

Inhabiting a Role

I've been thinking about the actors in the new Star Trek movie, and about William Shatner "inhabiting" his role as Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series (See my May 8th capsule review). The actors in the new movie successfully capture the spirit of the established characters they are portraying, instantly convincing the audience, despite the physical differences, that they are indeed Chekhov, or Uhura, or Scotty, or Spock; yet, they each carry their own nuances. They are not clones, or automatons; they are people. They inhabit their roles.

I'm reminded of one of the major assignments in the Fiction writing class I took a little over a year ago. We were each assigned to write a chapter in a collective novel. The class discussed and tossed around a few ideas, and one poor sap volunteered to write the first chapter. He created a wonderful main character, an assortment of possible secondary characters, and enough of a setting, a back story, and a premise, for the next writer to continue the thread, the tone, and the characterization the first writer had established.

Then, came the next writer, and the next writer, and then came me. For those first four chapters, and the one that followed, though the technical skills of the writers varied, we each built on what came before, and I was amazed at how exhilarating it was to write in the voice and point of view of characters I never would have dreamed of, in a scenario I never would have considered, and it was fun!

At some point the story took a turn, and then it took a couple more turns, but for those of us who stuck to the original premise, I know, at least for me, I learned something about writing, and collaboration, and the unique feeling that I could inhabit a universe not of my own making (which is a different feeling from creating your own characters, who, in some way shape or form, represent some aspect of yourself- of course, I'm sure I brought some of myself to these characters, too).

Maybe it was like that for the actors in Star Trek: The New Movie. They were not the first actors to inhabit those roles, but inhabit them, they do, playing on the mannerisms and the vocal quirks of the original actors, but not stifled by them.


  1. Very interesting observations. You are a great film critic.

    I am trying to imagine the experience of writing that collaborative novel. I never did anything like that. The only similar thing was an epistolary serial story where a friend and I would create a fictional reality (starring the two of us) where we would go through different adventures. We would exchange letters for months at a time, until the subject became dry. It was fun and I remember doing it more than once, with different people.

  2. What an interesting analogy. I agree the cast did an excellent job of inhabiting the roles and I enjoyed the movie immensely. However I hadn't tied the thought to fiction. Your post makes me think of The Hours--the novel, not the movie--where Michael Cunningham inhabited characters as well as style. I normally don't like reading rewrites of novels, or remakes of movies, because they feel insincere and unable to stand on their own, but Cunningham definitely got it right.

  3. Hi Lori,

    Doing the epistolary serial stories sounds amazing. I hope you and your friends kept all the segments. The closest thing I can think of is when I was a grade school child and we used to "act out" some of our favorite TV shows, creating new situations for established characters, as we played. But, I presume you were an adult, writing the serial stories.

    Hi Brigindo,

    I saw the movie, The Hours, recently, but I've actually never read the book. I've meant to read it, and your analysis tells me I should find the time. Thanks!

  4. Now you've made me want to go watch Star Trek! Can you believe I've never watched it? I don't know why. I loved X-Files. I don't know if I should compare the two shows, though.

    The writing assignment you had sounds great. It would definitely be a challenge and a good exercise in tone, pov, etc. I have only done one collaborative piece (a poem), and I was surprised that it went so well. I tend to be a loner when it comes to my work, but it was actually a big help to me to work with others.

    Thanks, Annie! Great post.