Soul-Crushing Roles

September 17, 2012

Mandy Patinkin, Criminal Minds

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” – Kurt Vonnegut

During a recent interview with New York Magazine, Mandy Patinkin came clean about his abrupt exit in 2007 from the CBS crime drama Criminal Minds after only two seasons. “The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place,” Patinkin said. “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. After that, I didn’t think I would get to work in television again.”

Heath Ledger reportedly lived by himself in a motel room for a month to prepare for his role in Batman as the maniacal criminal mastermind, the Joker. In the dingy hovel Ledger gave birth to the deeply disturbed and psychologically unhinged monster by studying dark Batman comic books and endlessly watching Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Heath purportedly used the ultra-violent Alex as his inspiration for the Joker. He later talked about the strain of the role saying, “Last week I probably slept an average of two hours a night. I couldn’t stop thinking. My body was exhausted, and my mind was still going.” Ledger’s deceased body was discovered in his New York City apartment on January 22, 2008, after The Dark Knight had finished filming and was in post-production. It was later discovered that he had died from an accidental overdose of prescriptions drugs, including sleeping pills.

These two guys, along with scores of other dedicated actors, agreed to take on roles that were very demanding and unusually intense–not to mention shockingly gruesome. If you, dear actor, are excelling in your job, there may come a time when you’re asked to play a serial killer, a rapist, a pedophile, or any number of indecent reprobates. And you may abhor the characters you’re asked to breathe life and personality into. Your personal beliefs, and possibly your moral or political beliefs, may be in stark contrast with these characters. So whether you decide to take the role, be sure to go into it with open eyes and know these decisions are not to be taken lightly. And keep in mind that art is not a safe place. Never has been; never will be. Cave wall paintings depicted brutal scenes from archaic life. Ancient Greek theatre dealt with murder, incest, and genocide. The great Shakespeare himself never shied away from the darkness.

Have you ever committed to a role that started to wreak havoc on your personal life?