Analyzing the criminal mind through a role

There are many interesting people in the world of show business, but it is very few that keep you hanging on their every word. William Hurt, who has taken on the role of a peculiar gangster in David Cronenberg’s «A History of Violence» (also starring Viggo Mortensen and Ed Harris), is one of them. Besides being an extraordinary actor, he is also a deeply thinking man. A graduate of both Tufts and the Juilliard School of Music, Hurt’s acting career began on stage – something that seems obvious given the way he thinks. We met in New York and, upon learning that he was talking to a Greek journalist, Hurt gave a eulogy to the beauty of Epidaurus and Piraeus, and proceeded to talk – without any trace of habitual actor vanity – about violence and its relationship to human nature. How would you describe David Cronenberg? You cannot describe truly great people. I would describe him as silk, because work seems so soft when you’re next to him. I think in reality he’s like an SR71. Do you know what an SR71 is? It was an airplane originally designed many years ago and no one really knows, even today, how fast it could fly. So, when you come across someone like David, who seems so ordinary, working in a straightforward manner, you realize that he has a highly complicated inner mechanism. He is a director in the sense that he communicates ideas among talented people, to whom he has dedicated a great amount of time in order to understand them. You rarely play the villain… The truth is that I studied criminal characters when I spent a bit of time living in St Petersburg 10 years ago. From my window, I could see mothers queuing to buy some food when, all of a sudden, guys with a mobile phone in each hand would step out of big black Mercedes cars playing very loud disco music. It was absolutely vile. In «A History of Violence» you do not play a typical criminal. How did you create the role? When we started rehearsing, my face was covered by a beard and slowly, I began removing hair in order to make my head look like a bullet. I wanted the character to act like a beast attacking out of instinct, for food. A primitive kind of being. The human brain has a structure, with a most primitive part. That’s where we experience fear. This has to do with who’s the strongest, who’s the boss, who has the biggest teeth, who’s the most bloodthirsty. Altruism, a more developed notion of the brain’s operation, deemed necessary for survival and common good, is a quality lacking from Richie’s brain. That’s how I developed the character, like a thorny barracuda. He was created in order to be violent and that’s all he can see in others… As if when he was born, he received the message that he had to emerge as the winner – even against his own brother. Do we all receive this kind of order? We believe what we are told during the very early stages of our lives and we are born with this kind of medieval order. Bastions of this kind of medieval structure are still evident in society, there are still dilemmas concerning violence. They say it has to do with America. But it’s not only about America, it runs through the entire history of mankind. From the Romans to the Germans and the Spaniards to the Greeks, is there any surviving nation that didn’t go through one or more periods of violence? The history of violence is a human story, a fundamental tragedy of civilization. The film’s main character, interpreted by Viggo Mortensen, goes against those exercising despotic violence upon him and becomes part of the violence. Yet the film doesn’t condemn this, because condemning is easy and hypocritical. Another of your recent films, James Marsh’s «The King» (screened during the Cannes Film Festival), also features violent behavior. Is violence something of particular interest to you? Naturally. Are we ever going to live without it? Is it a prerequisite for development? Most people will never change unless they find themselves against the wall. Very few wake up in the morning and say, «Let’s educate ourselves.» Most people think, «Who cares?» and go on to turn a soccer match into a massacre. Some were able to realize this: Buddha, Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King. Others didn’t. But that’s where we’re heading. What about all the violence in cinema? I don’t think that any one of us working in cinema enjoys dealing with violence, on a basic level. It’s more of a kind of survival mechanism. An attempt to solve the mystery of life in the same way that we try to figure out the mystery of death. To find out what order we are given by life itself. Life, which, given the knowledge of mortality, tells us to «live.» I believe that each and every organism that is aware of the end is tormented by this and tries to go beyond it. If not, why is there such curiosity and science? Why do we want to find out about the world and our place in it? Why do we watch Discovery Channel where they talk about the sun exploding in 3 billion years? Why did we come up with computers, if not to develop a new nerve communication system for us all? Very few films make proper use of violence and sex… The majority take advantage of the problem they claim they are trying to solve. I don’t want to be a part of that and I don’t believe I am. Translated from the Greek text. An extremely productive year At the age of 55, William Hurt can be considered one of the most respected film actors, even though he has limited his appearances over the past few years. One of the highlights of his career was winning an Oscar in 1986 for «Kiss of the Spider Woman,» which was followed by two successive nominations for his performances in «Children of a Lesser God» and «Broadcast News.» His big screen debut was in 1980 with «Altered States» and since then he has starred in numerous films, such as «Body Heat» (1981), «The Big Chill» (1983) «Gorky Park» (also 1983), «I Love You to Death» and «Alice» (both in 1990). His pace slowed somewhat in the 1990s, during which he appeared in, among others, «La Peste,» «Dark City» «The 4th Floor» and «The Big Brass Ring,» while it appears that 2005 is becoming a new period of intense activity for the actor, who said that, apart from «A History of Violence» and «The King,» he is looking forward to the release of another five productions.

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