Going for the Bad Guy

Going for the Bad Guy

(Kevin Spacey (with Annabel Scholey) in Richard III, currently playing at the Lyric Theatre in Sydney)

I’ve just returned from Sydney, where I saw Kevin Spacey playing Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Lyric Theatre. I can now say that I’m even more in love with this guy than I was before I saw the show. This is not to say that Spacey’s character, Richard III, is so incredibly handsome and sexy that I couldn’t help but swoon. No, far from it. In fact, he clomps around the stage with a humped back and a gammy leg, in imitation of the vile king he portrays, but Spacey somehow manages to come across as charismatic, enigmatic and yep, sexy.

Spacey is of course well versed in playing the baddie. Remember mega creep John Doe in Seven? And sleazy dad Lester in American Beauty? Or what about Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects (“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist”).

I’ve got to say, though, I wasn’t so attracted to him in Seven. It may have had something to do with the baldness — or perhaps the fact that he cut off Gwyneth’s head and put it in a box. Who can say?

Spacey is also a man of mystery, whose private life is well guarded. There are rumours he may be gay, since he’s never married and keeps his relationships under wraps, but he has never confirmed them. “It’s not that I want to create some bullshit mystique by maintaining a silence about my personal life,” he says, “it’s just that the less you know about me, the easier it is to convince you that I am that character on screen. It allows an audience to come into a movie theatre and believe I am that person.”

I get that. Even if he is gay, I don’t want to know about it. I’d rather believe that he is available to me (and quite within my reach, I’m sure).

Even when I was at school I was drawn to the bad guys. In hindsight, perhaps it was approval that I was after. I already knew that the nice guys liked me. I could tell. They were the ones who flattered me and hung around a lot but were too scared to actually ask me out on a date. The bad dudes, though, now they were the ones to impress. They broke the rules and lived life on their own terms. They were unpredictable and exciting. And they didn’t seem to like too many people, so if they showed a preference for you, that meant you were special.

Why are bad guys so appealing? What’s wrong with the nice guy who buys you flowers, tells you how gorgeous you look and is bursting with happiness to see you? Those guys are admirable, sure, but perhaps a little on the boring side? And where are those guys anymore, anyway? Even the characters we love on TV now reflect our penchant for bad men. Think Dexter Morgan (in Dexter) and Don Draper (in Mad Men).

Television and film producer Stephen Garrett (Spooks, Life on Mars) links the “rise of the anti-hero” to society’s disillusionment with real-life heroes. He believes that TV dramas are a reflection of the times, arguing that classic good guys are a relic from when bad guys were pure evil (the Nazis being the ultimate “baddies”). Now, world conflicts are morally ambiguous, and our leaders are suitably drawn in shades of grey. We don’t buy into the perfect man, or find him interesting, and there’s no going back.

But that’s just TV. And we girls are (for the most part) sensible. We may take up the challenge of pursuing the bad boys for some time, while relegating the nice ones into the “just friends” category, but most of us end up marrying one of the good guys. I know I did – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Unless of course Kevin Spacey comes knocking on my door. Or Don Draper, for that matter.

About Sonia Bowditch

Writer on society and culture in Australia. And short stories.

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