Answering a FAQ: “Why do you play so many evil characters lately?”

Every actor has a particular type they can play well, for some reason or another. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with who we are in real life, but it's just what we do well.

Example: Travolta is amazing as the Lovable Loser. When he's in Welcome Back Kotter and Saturday Night Fever in the 70s, he is the biggest star in the world, because people can identify with him in a way they may not be consciously aware of.

Then, in the early 80s, the industry decides to make him The Leading Man. They put him in films like Perfect and Urban Cowboy, and his career tanks. Nobody can connect to those characters, because it's not the right type for him to play. He does those talking baby movies for awhile, and then he explodes back to the top of the A list when he plays a junkie hitman in Pulp Fiction. He's back to being the Lovable Loser, and audiences go crazy for him, because that's the type he's meant to play.

You can do this with just about every actor if you look hard enough and spend enough time on it. It's all about Jungian Archetypes and Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces.

So why do I play evil characters? When I was a kid, I played the sensitive, awkward kid full of self doubt who really wanted you to like him*. When I was in my 20s, I kept getting auditions for those roles and never booking them, because it's just not the type I'm meant to play. When Kim Evey cast me as a douchey agent in Gorgeous Tiny Chicken Machine Show, and Felicia wrote me into The Guild as douchey Fawkes, things started to turn around. I realized that I'd found my type, and I started looking for those roles.

It turns out that my type is the Villain You Love To Hate, so that's who I am in The Guild, Leverage, Eureka, and Big Bang Theory. I don't think it's a coincidence that, once I started playing these types of characters, my acting career began to come back to life, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life to Kim and Felicia for taking a chance on me.

I really don't know why this is my type, but whenever I try to figure it out, I start to feel like Lenny with the rabbit, and I really don't want to break something that's working out pretty well for me right now.

I do know this, though: the whole point of being an actor is to portray characters who are different from who you really are. The most important thing in the entire universe to me is kindness, so it's really fun to play characters who are antithetical to my personal ideals. Exactly why I seem to be so good at doing that, though? I'm not going behind that particular barn.


*Incidentally, that's pretty much who I've been in my real life since I can remember.

71 thoughts on “Answering a FAQ: “Why do you play so many evil characters lately?””

  1. I’d still like to see Wil play a different kind of character than the ones he’s done already. How can anyone judge his potential range if we don’t see any results? I realize this is mostly wishful thinking on my part as it would take someone willing to take the risk and cast him in something he has never done before but since that’s how he started playing “evil” I think it would be worth a try.

  2. You’re totally right about playing the antithesis of what you are. Most of my roles I’ve played are like that. I’m generally a very mellow, laid-back kind of guy, but I excel at roles that are boisterous, overbearing, animated, and obnoxious :).
    By the way, you’re not just ‘evil’ Wil Wheaton. You’re also a darn good ‘comedic’ Wil Wheaton, too! Just out of curiosity, I’ve been wondering who some of your comedic influences are? My own could best be described as the contemporary rantings of George Carlin and Denis Leary, mixed with the physical laughs of Gallagher and Rowan Atkinson, blended with the intelligent wit of Monty Python.

  3. Very good read.
    Just finished Eureka the other day and was thinking about how similar Fawkes and Dr. Parish are.
    Alternate timeline possibly?

  4. Well, I’m seeing the range as both Evil and True Neutral (Eureka and The Guild). And as to why, the answer is “They pay me to.” Filthy lucre is a stronger force than gravity or electro magnitism.

  5. Besides Vincent Price, there are two more actors that play(ed) evil/bad/strange/deranged characters that from interviews and comments by other actors seem to be really nice people – Peter Lorre and Christopher Walken.
    I’m sure that Wil could add some more from the people he has worked with.

  6. In order to understand something, one doesn’t squat in the middle of it, one observes it separately. Stupid people do a terrible job of playing stupid characters, because they have no objective perspective on stupidity. Truly wonderful @#!holes are portrayed by kind people, because of perspective. Visionaries like Nikola Tesla saw things about how our world worked because they existed their whole lives on an abstract plane so far removed from our own that they saw the world differently. He was also bat$#!& mental, but… again, it gave him perspective.

  7. Why do people question such things? Evil characters are more fun to watch. I think it takes a very special talent to create a likable douche like Dr. Parrish. And the Evil Wil Wheaton of Big Bang… genius. You go Wil Wheaton!

  8. I’ll admit, when I saw the Guild episodes with you in it, Wil, at first, I was thinking, “Hey! That’s Wesley!” Later, I realized that, yes, the guy-you-love-to-hate really DID work for you. I’m glad you’ve found your niche.
    I was catching up on the last couple Eureka seasons recently and thought to come post here with an “Atta-boy!”. I look forward to more of your work!

  9. He does in theory, but as soon as he internalizes it he’ll inevitably become Wil Fucking Wheaton. Which is why he needs to keep reminding himself of his initial insecurities; it keeps him balanced and not a dick. :)

  10. Have you been able to bring that back to your life? Been able to see that most of the jerks you’ve run into (and fretted about) over the years, were really doing the “right” thing in their own minds?
    Which may, in some cases, bring you to an understanding of their dickishness?

  11. “Unleash the Dick Side” – there is so much fun in that statement!
    Announcer Voice: Coming this fall, The Dick Strikes Back, a video game, a world… a way of life… the choice is yours. On November 3rd 2012 be ready to… unleash the Dick Side!

  12. Interestingly, my sweetie and I were just discussing Evil Wil in Big Bang Theory. And we might have hit on why it works for you, and why that show is so appealing in general. The idea first came up when we were watching Victor/Victoria, and remarked that the cast were obviously having a blast making it. And that makes a big difference – people enjoy watching actors having a good time. And I’m guessing you enjoy playing Evil Wil. And the rest of the cast enjoys playing Leonard, Penny, Howard, Sheldon, Raj, and the rest. I know I would.

  13. Let’s not forget Wil’s appearances on CRIMINAL MINDS as an “Unsub” – a REAL psychopath, perhaps the evilist of his bad guy roles.

  14. I find I play my opposite a lot in RP and TT games a lot because that is a side of me I can’t show in RL. So if, for instance, I am feeling angry or bitter, and, being an adult with responsibilities and blah blah blah, can’t get it off my chest, I can do it very effectively in game.
    it works to get my angst out, whereas in RL, I try to be as positive and optimistic as possible, because being mean, and trying to maintain a negative outlook is exhausting.

  15. Pretty much the reason I usually custom make my characters in RPGs to have long hair and/or a pony tail…to play something I am not. It would be pretty boring to play myself.

  16. I just finished watching a rerun of your performance on Criminal Minds, and, I must say, to your credit… I kinda hate you a little right now. Because you play these roles so convincingly, I don’t see “Wil Wheaton playing a serial killer” I see “Wil Wheaton BEING a serial killer” and I find that both disturbing and cool… that you are that good to transcend the “acting” to “being”. Of course, my temporary distaste for you at this moment will fade soon, and never detracts from being a fan of your work, and if anything only adds to it, as I appreciate your talent that much more. You’ve come a long way, Master Crusher! Good on ya!

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