What about all those delicious “bad guy” roles that aren’t necessarily the Big Bad? We’re talking minions, henchmen, evil underlings of all shapes and sizes. It’s easy to disappear in the shadow of the primary villain character, but often these types of supporting roles offer opportunities for in-depth characterization and can be memorable in their own right. Here’s how to make your supporting baddie stand out without stealing the biggest baddie’s thunder.
- Distill Your Objective. If your only wish is to serve your evil master, you will disappear. While in the case of a walk-on minion, it may be required of you to do your job and get out, you still want to be specific in your mind about your motivation. Your minion has needs and desires independent of the lead villain. Why are you serving them? Are you climbing the ladder? Sheltering in their superior power? Attracted to their cruelty? To be an effective minion, you must know not only what support you are providing the villain, but what you yourself are getting out of it.
- Go Back to the Tone of the Show. Knowing the tone of the script is going to help define your role immensely. Depending on the intended audience, you may be there to provide endearing comic relief, or to sneakily be the most despicable character (thus giving the lead villain room for redemptive traits). Figuring out what purpose you serve in the world of the play will show you what room you have to play.
- Keep it Grounded. Minions often have colorful quirks or fantastic abilities that operate in a heightened reality. Committing fully to these will help the character and the world come to life. But if you want your henchperson to have depth, they must come from a place of honest motivation. Remember what you’re fighting for in each scene.
- Put Your Stamp on It. While obviously you want to remain in the bounds of professionalism, there are times when your creative input is not only welcome, but necessary. Arleen Sorkin famously raised the character of Harley Quinn from bland henchwoman to the unforgettable character we know today, coming to the table with specific choices and genuine heart. These are not characters to phone in. They are opportunities to stretch as an artist and creator.
- Find the Joy. Once you’ve done the homework of creating a fully lived-in character, it’s time to play. Supporting villain roles often come with great freedom. There can be joy found in fully committing to a black-and-white worldview. Look for the little gifts the script gives you, and then bring your own.
There is no reason for supporting evil to be boring or written off. Look at the most famous minions today — those little yellow one-eyed henchbeings stole the show and went on to have their own. The best thing you can do is to come at a B-team villain with an open heart, a curious mind, and the commitment to put in the work. The rest will follow.