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Villains are a crucial part to any narrative, be they larger than life bullies or simple foils to the hero that we're supposed to identify with. Robin Hood's Ben Mendelsohn has made a good portion of his career about crafting memorable villains, and he has one particular key to making his baddies accessible. If you want to create a baddie that the audience can buy, in Mendelsohn's eyes, the process is quite simply the following:
You can feel how accessible a villain is by how much you feel like they are just sort of walking through the space without any hindrance. The way you make something alive is by sort of paying attention to the sense of maneuvering that goes on. Generally for bad guys, the dilemma is a good guy. 'We've got these plans, we're gonna mess them up.' It's like the old Scooby Doo thing, 'I would have gotten away with if it wasn't for you meddling kids.' How you react to the presence of this fly in the ointment, this thing that needs to be dealt with, I think determines how accessible [you are,] or how much they get to feel you.
If you're not able to at the very least see where your story's villain is coming from, then you probably need to write yourself a new villain. No one understands this better than Ben Mendelsohn, as he's had his fair share of nasty antagonists to play. As a matter of fact, his experiences from 2018 especially have shown him as fully equipped for the job.
Already in this year alone, Ben Mendelsohn has tackled two big ticket literary villains, between Robin Hood's classic Sheriff of Nottingham, and the more contemporary Nolan Sorrento from Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One. While both are pretty slimy in their own right, you can at the very least understand their motives, and why they're doing what they're setting out to do. Mendelsohn understands this to a tee, and it's what helps make him so memorable in these evil roles.
This approach helps even more when an acclaimed actor like Ben Mendelsohn is asked to portray a villain that looms as largely as Robin Hood's Sheriff. While his performance definitely has its own rich moments of delicious bad guy dialogue, it never becomes a parody of itself. You're always able to see where the Sheriff is coming from, even though you're square in the court of Robin and his forming band of merry people.
Even more importantly, the approach of accessibility helps keep Ben Mendelsohn's performance separated from most other silver screen portrayals of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Most other versions of the role have wanted to focus merely on the larger than life part of the character, but not the more grounded and human side.
With Robin Hood allowing Ben Mendelsohn to do just that, it distances itself from its historical competition, and gives itself more room to breathe. His Sheriff is born of trauma, and a life of hardened discipline that's formed him into an opportunistic politician. So not only is Mendelsohn's version of the character in line with the traditional portrayals, but there's some timeliness to his evil that's undeniably applicable.
Feel free to watch Ben Mendelsohn himself discuss this aspect of his performance, courtesy of the video from our interview below:
In any other hands, Robin Hood's Sheriff of Nottingham could have became a classically laughable villain you'd boo and jeer in an instant. But with Ben Mendelsohn steering the role, we got a lot more depth than we expected to be mixed in with the traditionally outlandish role.