Photo: Egon Endrenyi
There are three characters in particular I like. Waleran Bigod is the archdeacon of Shiring, who later becomes bishop. He believes that he is God's will, so he can use whatever means necessary to gain power within the church. This is a character who is a master manipulator, a man who will not be put off his relentless pursuit to achieve greatness within the church, a man of the church who even resorts to murder. Writing such a duplicitous character was fun, even though I had to be very careful to ensure this evil man was believable. The marvelous Ian McShane plays the dark soul that is Waleran with unnerving effectiveness. An actor of consummate skill, McShane weaves the many facets and characteristics of Waleran into his screen persona.
Lady Regan Hamleigh of Shiring is our next villain. Regan lends new meaning to the word "ambitious." What her husband, Percy, lacks in intelligence and savvy, she more than makes up for. Possessed with the desire to move her family up the social ladder, Regan will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. She forms an ominous partnership with Waleran as each pursues a ruthless agenda. Motivated as well by her unmotherly attraction to her son William, Regan is incapable of thinking without ulterior motives. She is played with chilling power by the splendid British actress Sarah Parish. Parish readily convinces us that Regan is a formidable force of nature, and the layers of her performance are stunning. And then there's William Hamleigh. One of the first things Oprah Winfrey said to me when she rang to let me know she had read the book and was going to name it as one of her book club selections was how much she loathed this character. She's not the only one. When I travel, I often meet readers who say "...that William Hamleigh". Oprah talked about the characters in the book as if they were real people she'd met on a trip or something. That was a big thrill for me, of course.
William is Percy and Regan's strikingly handsome yet brutish son. He is his mother's pawn in her master plan to gain power and wealth for her family. William is the embodiment of pure evil. His obsession with the earl of Shiring's daughter, Aliena, becomes the driving force in his life.
The young British actor David Oakes plays William. He is one of the nicest young actors I've met, always smiling, so easy-going, yet finds within himself the ability to totally convince us that this is a man with absolutely no redeeming characteristics, a person beyond all civilized hope but one who might actually succeed in achieving his goals.
It's one thing to write these characters. But it's an extraordinary experience to see them become real in the hands of such wonderfully skilled actors.
Exclusive video: See what Oprah had to say about the evil William Hamleigh
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