Walking Out of the Book to the Screen

thIt doesn’t happen often. When it does, it’s both thrilling and frankly strange. But every time a book is turned into a movie or a tv show, there are a few characters–maybe only one or two–who somehow walk out of the book and come to life on the screen.

It can’t be easy, as an actor, to try to personify a book character. The character has already been filtered once through a write, then through a screenwriter or three, then through a director. And that’s the bare minimum. Interpretation is a necessity.

But sometimes, the actors don’t seem to be interpreting the character. Sometimes they just are the character.

When exactly this happens depends on a lot of factors. If the original author was too good, the actors have an impossible job: they must interpret the character. Jane Austen characters are almost completely unable to walk out of books. The closest I know of is Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Bennett, and even that one is questionable.th.jpg



Sometimes, you get a fantastic author and fantastic characters. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell had almost half the characters escape the book. Not Norrell or Strange themselves, but Childermass, Stephen Black, Lady Pole, Lord Wellington, Mr Segundus and Mr Honeyfoot all walked directly out of the page. Vinculus isn’t quite the same on the show, but I found when I re-read that he had somehow walked into the book, and the actor appeared to be speaking from the page to me.


Often I have found that minor characters are more likely to talk out than major ones. On The Expanse, Holden and Miller are more interpretive but many of the minor characters are uncannily perfect portrayals.

Every once in a while, there is an actor who nails it so perfectly it’s scary. The Jane Eyre of the 1940 version, and the Mr Rochester of the 2011. Mrs Thornton in North and South. Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit movies.

There’s a magic to seeing an actor interpret a character. The choices they make, the inflections they give, the looks in their eyes: they can make you see a character in a way you never had before, can make you understand things you could never have reached on your own. But there is an uncanniness accompanying a perfect meld of character and actor, one that varies from viewer to viewer and is always captivating.



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