Its hard to go into anything without expectations. When you're telling stories you have to decide whether its going to be better to meet the expectations of an audience or surprise them. There's benefits to both options, but if you do nothing but meet expectations things are going to get boring and stale. You run the risk of losing the audience. I'm not talking about quality. If you have a reputation of doing quality work, that's an expectation that you're going to want to try to achieve every time. I'm talking about the type of work that you do. You can't just plug stuff into the same formula over and over and over. You don't grow that way.
Since its been a Sarah Michelle Gellar week, she's going to be our example. When we think of her there's one role that she played that springs to mind: Buffy Summers. Its easy to equate the two. She wasn't the first actress to play the role, but she played it for seven seasons on television. The show was the premier show of a network and spawned a spin off. It had legions of fans. She won awards for the role, and received a ton of nominations for other awards. We equate the actress with the role and vice versa. When you envision Buffy Summers she looks like Gellar. When you think of Gellar in a role, you expect someone tough, funny, and heroic. Not too shabby for an actor.
She then proceeded to deliver the goods to the fans of her show, but she player smart and branched out a bit. She got noticed for many different reasons for the movie CRUEL INTENTIONS. Most notably she had a steam on screen kiss with another actress, Selma Blair. I don't make the claim that that's the most notable thing about that role because I'm a big old perv who likes watching hot girls kiss. That kiss won an MTV movie award. It surprised people a bit, and folks took notice. She won best female performance at the same awards show and was nominated for "best villain". Gellar played against type here. The role called for her to be manipulative and overtly sexual. These are two traits you don't think of when you think about Buffy Summers. She pulled the role off masterfully. If you went into that movie expecting to see the same role from her as she played on TV, then you were in for a surprise and, probably, a bit of a shock.
What she was doing there was showing range. It was a different role, with different challenges to it. By meeting those challenges, she helped herself avoid being typecast.
The fact that she drastically changed genres worked for her advantage. Nobody expected her to kick an undead creature in CRUEL INTENTIONS. However, other movies she made were in the horror genre, and she was rather forgettable in them. In the movie I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER she was second fiddle to Jennifer Love Hewitt playing "hot girl in the movie who will eventually die horribly". Even worst was SCREAM 2 in which she played "random sorority person who dies horribly". I watched both these movies, and was sitting in the theater expecting her character to kick a bit of butt. I was placing the expectations I had of Buffy onto these characters. That's not to say that all of the horror movies she started in were suddenly equated to Buffy expectations. After the TV show had wrapped, her next role was in THE GRUDGE which was a horror/suspense piece but the tone and performance was so very different that she managed to put away the expectations we had of her and move on.
She's also been smart enough to do a couple of movies aimed at much younger audiences with the SCOOBY-DOO movies. I'm not going to sit here and rave about these as I skipped them entirely. I'm not a huge Scooby-Doo fan aside from the shows first season. But again, she branched out a little bit playing to a different audience. This audience wouldn't know her as Buffy, although their parents probably would. Again, she played a character in a supernatural adventure piece, and she played it to the fans not only of the old cartoon show, but from the previews the character had a few martial arts moves as a nod to her role as Buffy Summers. This is using the audience's expections to give them a wink. It acknowledges the expectations even if its not playing totally to them.
Its been a Sarah Michelle Gellar week, not because of the weird dream I had a few nights ago in which I was married to her, but because of her new TV show, RINGER, which debuted this week, and I previously reviewed. The actress is returning to television after the birth of her daughter to a show on the network that made her a huge star. Expectations were already in place from the first advertisements. The thing is that we couldn't be exactly sure what to expect because with the nature of the show and the events of the premier episode the network, wisely, didn't want to give too much away. I did go in with expectations, however my expectations didn't include her shoving pieces of wood through the bumpy-faced undead and delivering kung-fu kicks. I expected her to turn in a good performance and be watchable in the role. She did that times two with her portraying very different twin sisters.
I approach expectations as a writer. I'm no actor. I'm a ham with a lot of cheese, but no actor. But the type of expectation that an audience has of me as a writer and cartoonist are the same as type of expectations that they have of an actor. We're both there to try to deliver a, hopefully, good and memorably story/performance. Both walk a fine line of trying to give people what they want, and try to give them something they wouldn't expect from us, but will still like.
I'm struggling with it, but it looks like Sarah Michelle Gellar's got it all figured out.
What would you do for a girl like SMG... aside blog about her for a week?
That's it for me today. I've actually had the weekend off and have been enjoying a bit of recuperation time. I'm going to be getting back to that and I'll see y'all Wednesday.