Author: Nina Lee
How do you rationalize a manipulative pimp’s actions and bring him to life? Mark Nuttall had the difficult task of taking an aggressive, manipulative and demanding character, giving him emotional depth and sensitivity.
I chatted with Mark about his character in Drowning recently, and had a chance to pick his brain about playing a bad guy. I always start these interviews asking what attracted the actor to the role and the film. Most people answer - “I loved the character, or I loved the script.” But Mark’s character, Marcus, is despicable by most accounts, so I was surprised to learn that it was Marcus’ damage that Mark found most interesting - here was a character that was unique and a challenge. “It's interesting, when you first go into a role like this you think, 'man, I really have to do some transforming here to get this guy right,' but after putting in the time and research it takes to understand a character like Marcus, I realized he is not too far off from me, or you, or any other real person.” Mark explained, “It is the circumstances of his traumatic upbringing and the subsequent poor choices he has made and continues to make as a reflection of that upbringing that make him different. But that said, the essence of Marcus comes from his unrelenting, impassioned love for Anna, something I think anyone who has ever loved or been in love can relate to.”
Wait a minute, did we read the same script? No, seriously, did we?
Perhaps I identified more strongly with Anna, or even her sister, Mary. Two women who had been dragged through mud emotionally, but who dealt with their resulting emotions differently. Anna acted out, Mary internalized, Anna fantasized, Mary buried. But I hated Marcus, I couldn’t see any humanity in him, he was aggressive and manipulative and just, grrrrr, I don’t even have the vocabulary to explain how I felt about him. So I was genuinely curious about Mark’s interpretation, “Marcus is aggressive, yes, but he is also deeply emotional and highly sensitive. In fact, it is this sensitivity and emotionality that charges many of his fears, and in turn, gives way to his aggressive behaviour...He is a human being, and like all human beings, he has many layers; relative to the overarching theme of the film that says human beings whether it be Marcus, Anna or whomever else have depth far beyond what we can see or hear.”
Okay. Marcus is layered, I can accept that. He’s sensitive and emotional and expresses himself through aggression, rather than logic and rationality. Interesting. I glossed over that aspect of his character’s motivation in the script, but now I’m pondering, How did Mark bring this role to life? I talked my way into an advance screening of the film, and I was surprised that I didn’t hate Marcus. Mark gave him depth and personality, and the moments when Marcus expresses his love and fears on screen are powerful and feel genuine. So I asked Mark about his method and how he managed to bring range to Marcus’ character. He explained that he took time to study strong, thinker-type actors, Alpha-males, like Marlon Brando. Mark explained, “Brando once said he took the role of Vito Corleone because he loved the idea of playing the bad guy you root for. I don’t necessarily think people are rooting for Marcus in this film, but I do feel if I have done this role justice, people will see the good in him, or at least get a sense of what this broken man has been through.” But Marcus isn’t just a sensitive, emotive guy. Because then he’d be Ryan Gosling. He’s dangerous. He’s been on the streets. He’s been a gigolo, and now he’s a pimp. He doesn’t keep his status by sitting back and watching others take control. Mark had to adopt a fighting stance and a bravado, which he did by studying professional fighters. “In Marcus, you have someone who is capable of doing truly inhuman, horrific acts to others. He is a man who shows almost no remorse for causing physical harm. And so, I studied professional fighters, not to say that fighters are criminals or evil people, but just for the simple fact that these professional athletes are able to answer the call to violence in an instant, similar to Marcus. Mostly I studied their posture, their movements, their physicality; anything that will give me an edge toward looking like someone, at least on the surface, who has the ability to ignore humanity and exact physical harm on another person.”
After hearing Mark talk about his character’s emotional scars and his need to be aggressive and manipulative as a way to deal with his own tumultuous past, I realize, Marcus’ line, “Either you go back on the streets, or I do,” perfectly encapsulates his story. He is a man afraid of having to do what he forces his girls to do every day. And his fears hold him hostage. He is a man as trapped in his world, unable to break free, as Anna is. Ultimately, Drowning is a story about, well Drowning in our own lives and fantasies.