The first character ever created was a hero. The first story ever told was the story of a hero’s journey. The main reason audiences have been watching and reading stories ever since is because “the hero’s story” is the story we all imagine we are living. It is the story we dream.
Film heroes and heroines are varied. There are classic film heroes and heroes on a mission to save others, action heroes and heroines on a mission to save the day, superheroes and heroines on a mission to save the world, romantic heroes and heroines on a mission to save love, anti-heroes and heroines on a mission to save themselves. Even independent dramas about characters struggling to relate are peopled with every day, emotionally flawed, and nuanced heroes and heroines trying to save someone or something. What they all have in common is a mission to save. It is the overriding characteristic of the film hero and heroine and it dictates how every moment, in every scene, is played.
Film heroes and heroines are also, almost always, thinking about a bigger story than the one on the page. They carry the weight of the entire story on their shoulders, and in their hearts, minds and imaginations, in every moment they are on screen. This, by the way, is how the hero or heroine’s story works its magic on an audience, because that’s the way the audience experiences the story as well. It’s why, and how, the audience identifies with the hero and heroine, roots for the hero and heroine, and dreams of handling life the way the hero and heroine would if they were ever to find themselves in the hero or heroine’s situation.
A film hero or heroine can face many villains in his or her story. The most dangerous villain he or she faces, however, lies within. It can take the form of a past mistake that haunts the hero or heroine and that he or she is always endeavoring to rectify. It can take the form of a character flaw that has always had the power to undermine the hero or heroine, and which the hero or heroine must overcome to succeed. It can take the form of an emotional void, for instance created by a missing parent or lost love, that threatens to confuse the heart of the hero or heroine, causing a miscalculation that could destroy everything.
One more thing about film heroes and heroes for actors, directors, and writers. Although half the fun of creating heroes and heroines is all those great lines of dialogue they get to say, on film a hero or heroine’s best lines of dialogue are often delivered not with the hero or heroine’s wordsm but with the hero or heroine’s eyes.
By John Swanbeck