From Innocent to Evil — These Are Our Favorite Character Extremes
Oftentimes, when a character really moves us, it becomes clear that there’s something special happening between the actor and the role they’re playing. Where the actor ends and the character begins becomes a blur. Then you see that actor taking on an entirely different role, and you realize they’re just damn good at what they do.
This is what we witnessed when we watched Betsy Brandt take on the character of Caitlin in the season finale of Soulmates. Caitlin could not be any different than the beloved character Brandt played on Breaking Bad, Walter White's sister-in-law, Marie Schrader. So, we thought we'd round up some of our favorite examples of character extremes in recent years.
Charlize Theron (Monster vs. Longshot)
It’s fair to say that the character Charlize Theron played in the 2003 film Monster is extreme when compared to just about anything. She played Aileen Wuornos, a prostitute who began murdering her clients between 1989 and 1990. It was a dark role, based on a true story. Theron did it so seamlessly, that as a viewer you find yourself constantly pushed and pulled between empathy and disgust for Wuornos, throughout the entirety of the film.
Theron has taken on a wide range of roles, leaving her with a truly eclectic roster of films. One of her most recent roles, playing U.S. Secretary of State, Charlotte Field in Long Shot, might be the most stark contrast to what we saw from her in Monster. For one, she’s gunning for an endorsement to be the next president. A far cry from working the streets as a prostitute. It’s also a comedy (she stars alongside Seth Rogen), that's packed with outlandish events for entertainment's sake.
Jack Nicholson (Something’s Gotta Give vs. The Departed)
Two great movies, two very different characters. In Something’s Gotta Give, we meet an aging playboy named Harry, who's dating a young woman named Marin (played by Amanda Peet). While staying at the home of Marin’s mother, Harry has a heart attack and can’t leave due to doctor’s orders. Marin is young and has stuff to do, so she leaves Harry there with her mother, Erica (played by Diane Keaton). Erica is a well-established playwright and a divorcee, and she's not a fan of Harry. Of course, since it’s a romantic comedy, Harry and Erica find themselves falling for each other. I know, weird, since he was dating her daughter... but we do find out that they were never intimate, which helps to make it less weird. In the end, Harry turns out to be a sweet guy.
Switching gears completely, the 2006 film The Departed introduces viewers to Frank Costello, the brick wall of an Irish mob boss played by Nicholson. We watch on pins and needles as Massachusetts State Police get closer to taking Costello down. They’ve placed a mole inside of Costello’s operation, William “Billy” Costigan Jr. (played by Leonardo Dicaprio), and through Costigan’s perspective we witness Costello slowly become unhinged. In one tense scene, Costello says “I smell a rat,” and proceeds to slowly and calmly interrogate Costigan. No one plays a psychopath quite like Nicholson.
Watch the “I smell a rat” scene from The Departed:
Steve Carell (Foxcatcher vs. 40-Year-Old Virgin)
If this post highlights anything, it’s that real-life people and the things they’re capable of doing, can make for better material than pure fiction. In Foxcatcher, Steve Carell plays John E. du Pont, a multimillionaire heir and wrestling enthusiast. The story is loosely based on a true story, in which du Pont recruits Mark Schulz to join his wrestling team out in PA to train for the World Championship. Mark is a tortured soul and du Pont preys on him, introducing him to cocaine and forcing him to feel competitive with his brother Dave, who is also a wrestler. After a series of losses, Mark leaves du Pont’s wrestling team, but his brother stays. Eventually, du Pont goes to Dave’s home and shoots him three times, leaving him to bleed out in his wife’s arms. It’s as abrupt and unprompted as it sounds, which makes it all the more frightening.
Then there’s Carell’s role as Andy Stitzer, the 40-year-old virgin who loves action figures and works at a tech store reminiscent of what we know as Best Buy. His man-slash-boyish charm remains intact throughout the entire film, as he's pressured by his coworkers to find a woman to take his virginity. As his attempts at losing his virginity continue to end in failure, he meets a woman he really likes and they begin dating. The woman’s daughter is the first to notice something is off about Andy, but she can’t quite put her finger on it. He pushes off physical contact for as long as he can, before she even starts to wonder what's wrong with him. The story ends as you’d expect, and as we all had hoped, with Andy losing his virginity to a woman he really loves.
Betsy Brandt (Breaking Bad vs. Soulmates)
In the world of Breaking Bad, there's no one more neurotic than Marie Schrader. She’s the sister to Skyler White, Walter White’s wife. She’s also the wife to Hank Schrader, the DEA agent looking to take down Heisenberg (aka Walter White). Marie is often the first to offer up her opinion or insert herself, even on matters that aren’t really her business—like Walt’s lung cancer diagnosis, or Walt and Skyler’s marital problems. And while she likes to pretend she’s the one with all the answers, she has her own issues, mainly kleptomania. She even almost gets her sister Skyler arrested, when she goes to return a tiara that Marie "bought" for her daughter. Marie stole the tiara, and the store assumes Skyler was the one who took it. In the end, Marie comes off like an intolerable, self-consumed control freak, but ultimately she does care deeply for her family.
Meanwhile, in the season finale of Soulmates, Brandt plays Caitlin who could not be more giving to those around her. In fact, she’s probably a bit too giving. People walk all over her. Then she meets her soulmate, Nathan, who turns her life around. He’s a handsome doctor who teaches Caitlin to stand up for herself... and she does. When her current partner, and roommate, refuses to leave her apartment, she demands it until he finally does. When she’s attacked on the street one night, she defends herself… and she likes it. Then Nathan reveals a dark secret of his to Caitlin, and we discover that she has one of her own. Trust us when we say it's a lot worse than stealing from stores.
From evil to innocent, it’s clear that extremes can be a good thing when it comes to entertainment. The actors that bring these characters to life immerse themselves in these extremes, with rollicking results—and we're here for it!
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