Casting the Villains in Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth
Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, is working on his director's cut as you read this and editing hundreds of hours of footage, which is indeed a daunting task.
The music composer is hard at work writing the score for The Pillars of the Earth. As an amateur musician, I can imagine what an exciting challenge it must be for a composer to write music to complement the scenes, the stories and characters. Music is used in so many ways in a film: as background to dialogue, to emphasize pivotal moments in the story or to introduce a particular character. Music is yet another of the key creative elements of this project.
Now to characters and casting, one of the most important parts of the process of making a story come to life. It's essential for the producers to have a clear vision of how they see these characters. Equally important is the casting director, who leads the process of identifying actors to play the individual roles. The casting director must have complete familiarity with every aspect of the stories that comprise the book and must also be able to see clearly the vision of the producers as mentioned above. It is the cast with whom the audience immediately relates.
The Pillars of the Earth is a big book filled with many characters. Some of the most interesting characters to write are the villains. Villains give the writer the opportunity to explore the dark sides of human behavior. Villains may commit heinous crimes, which I feel more or less comfortable writing about, but which would be inconceivable to ever dream of actually doing. Actors often say they really enjoy playing the "bad guy" because, for them too, it provides the opportunity to dig deep and to find the essence of such a person somewhere in their own psyche.
Ken Follett's favorite characters
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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