That’s What I’m Talking About – Chris Claremont on Character Development

I know I said the next time you heard from me, I’d have something special. And I’m working on it. I’ve got a big piece on Phonogram 2: The Singles Club that I’m working on, but these things take work. In the meantime, I saw the following and had to share it.
I don’t care when you started reading comics or who your favorite creators are. You need to be reading Christopher Irving and Seth Kusher’s Graphic NYC. There, you’ll find some of the best, most in-depth comics interviews anywhere. This is Comics Journal level stuff. Guests range from Bendis and Paul Pope to Dick Giordano and Chris Claremont, from whom I pull the following quote. It’s a bit long, but it’s all important.
“Len’s vision of Nightcrawler was a bitter, tormented and anguished soul. Dave’s and my response was partly ‘been there, done that, and seen it too many times.’ But when we sat down and kicked it back and forth, trying to hammer it out is that if you’re walking down the street and get hit by lightning, and it makes you look like that, there’s a rationale. But if you’re born like that, you need to have a tremendously offensive chip on your shoulder your entire life—which is valid—or you go the other direction, which is to have him go ‘I’m cool. You guys have no idea: I can walk up walls, hang upside down, I can fight standing on one leg with my two hands, a foot, and a tail holding a sword. And I’m invisible in the dark.
“We thought ‘Why not take the most outrageous looking character on the team, and make him the most rational, human, decent and most empathetic soul?’ Naturally, he and Wolverine would bond because opposites attract. And they work. It was the same with Logan, who we put as much into answering ‘Who is he?’ and ‘Why is he?’ Len originally saw the claws as part of the costume. As Dave and I were doing the character, we thought that made him like Iron Man, and the problem with Iron Man is that anyone can wear the suit, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Tony or Rhodey. What makes him special? What makes him unique?
“ ‘So the claws are part of you?’
“ ‘Yup.’
“ ‘You never told anyone.’
“ ‘You never asked,’ Chris snaps his fingers. “Then you have, suddenly, this interesting physical difference (i.e. he has claws that pop out of his hands), but the implication that it must hurt every fucking time. That sets up the line in the first movie where Rogue asks him ‘Does it hurt?’ and he says ‘Every time.’ That’s one defining moment, but the other is in ‘You never asked.’  That catalyzed a key moment in Logan’s personality. That’s how you put them together: you take all these little bits and slide them in, and build your edifice one layer at a time. You have a general sense of where you want to go and how you want to get there, but the details of how the pieces fit to evolve this three-dimensional character is very much a matter of organic growth rather than construction, so you just follow the leads.”
There are two points I want to pull from this:
1) No character is ever complete. Like real people, they are constantly evolving. Parents may have a strong hand in their child’s life, but he/she is the combined effort of every person they ever meet in his/her life.
2) Look how much thought goes into these character’s personalities. What would make Nightcrawler unique, besides his appearance? Who would he bond with on this team? How does Wolverine’s claws being a mutation rather than equipment alter his personality? Irving points out how this comes from Claremont’s background in theater. A theater major in college myself, he’s right. These are the questions you need to ask. When you’re handed a script, those are the words, those are the actions. It’s your job as an actor to ask “Why does my character have these responses?” A writer then asks the question “What would their response be to …”
Chris Claremont – Still uncanny after all these years.
I love it.

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