A question I always like to ask people in the know is, “What kind of character should you write to give yourself the best chance to attract an A-List actor?” The reason? There’s no quicker way to get your script sold or produced than to attach a star.
One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer is not seeing my story through an actor’s eyes. I just try to write the best story possible. That’s a problem because your script usually doesn’t get sold or made unless it has an A-List attachment. So you have to ask yourself when writing a script: Is this a role an actor would want to play? I’m not sure we can make any universal conclusions here, but I did pick up on some trends that might help us answer this question.
One of my biggest weaknesses as a writer is
not seeing my story through an actor’s eyes.
First of all, the role has to be challenging in some capacity. True, many of these actors are slapping down product in the middle of the summer where mediocrity reigns supreme, but that doesn’t mean they want neutered down roles. These thespians have gotten to the top of the heap by playing dozens if not hundreds of characters. They’re looking for something new and different. Brad Pitt plays a character not only at many different ages in his life, but plays those ages on a reverse timeframe. That’s challenging stuff. Denzel Washington plays a character who rarely speaks, who emotes only with his eyes and his actions. That’s a challenge. DiCaprio operates in a dreamworld where he’s imprisoned his wife. Every time he then goes into that dreamworld, he’s faced with a sea of conflicting emotions.
These thespians have gotten to the top of the heap
by playing dozens if not hundreds of characters.
They’re looking for something new and different.
Next up, I think your character needs to be heroic. A lot of these characters are saving other people. I hate to state the obvious but actors are very egotistical. They want to play God and save others. There’s nothing more heroic than that. Just remember, heroism doesn’t always mean stopping an asteroid from hitting earth. It can mean delivering the last bible across a post-apocalyptic U.S. It can mean committing suicide to have your organs save seven other people. Whether you’re saving a nation or saving others, look for ways to make your characters heroic.
I hate to state the obvious but actors are very egotistical.
They want to play God and save others.
The last thing I noticed was that characters should have something going on inside of them as well as outside. Running around shooting people is fun but it’s not stretching any acting muscles. You gotta give’em some toys to play with upstairs.
Characters should have something going on
inside of them as well as outside.
Benjamin Button has an ongoing physical transformation as well as having to deal with the realities of being different from everyone else. Denzel Washington gets to shred people into sushi yet must learn to open himself up to others. Tom Cruise gets to fly around on cars but still must learn to be selfless before he can find happiness.
Note how in two of these cases (Cruise and Washington’s) the internal stuff is tied to the character arc and in Benjamin’s case, it’s more of a general internal battle that never arcs. That’s fine. Whether you’re arcing your character or not, at the very least, give them some kind of issue they’re struggling with internally.
Whether you’re arcing your character or not,
at the very least, give them some kind of issue
they’re struggling with internally.
Now by no means is this a conclusive study. The sampling is too small. I encourage you to look at some of your own favorite actors, the ones you envision playing heroes in your scripts, and break down their last ten roles like I did here. See if you can find any patterns in their choices. That could be the key to making them say yes to you.
The most important thing I take away from this is, before you write a single word in your next screenplay, ask yourself if an A-List actor would be interested in playing the hero. I believe this is such an important element to a saleable screenplay that from now on, I’m adding a new feature to my reviews.
Before you write a single word in your next screenplay,
ask yourself if an A-List actor would be interested.
If the script I’m reviewing has an A-List attachment, I’m going to discuss why that A-Lister probably took the role. Now what are you waiting for? Get back to writing.