Thursday, February 18, 2010

You know who fascinates me?

Actors who play long-standing characters on long-running soap operas, that's who. Say you're William Roache, for instance. That means that you've played the same character on Coronation Street, continuously, for going on fifty years. Apart from a purely conceptual thing like Sleep that isn't meant to actually be watched, that seems like the closest thing we have to the map equaling the territory, à la Borges' "On Exactitude in Science." I know I'm stating the obvious here, but when a novel or a movie takes place over the span of many years, it's selective; it doesn't try to cover everything; if it did that, it would take as long to read or watch as the period that it covers. With the likes of Coronation Street, that seems pretty close to being literally the case.

Roache was twenty-eight when he started pretending to be Ken Barlow. Now he's seventy-seven, and whaddaya know--he's still at it. According to IMBD, he's appeared in a staggering nine hundred fifty-one episodes. The question is: how the heck does that affect you? Are you really able to perfectly compartmentalize--to decide, okay, this is my job; I go in every day for however long and pretend to be this other guy; then I punch out and go about my life? Maybe you are--obviously, I have no relevant experience here. It's just hard to believe that inhabiting this character for so long would not in some way have an effect on you. It really does seem as though you'd be leading sort of a double life. And the difference (aside from length) between this and someone on a long-running sitcom or whatnot is that a sitcom (or a drama) is selective in what it depicts; as I understand it, a soap opera is more naturalistic--at any rate, it's meant to depict characters' lives in a more thorough, extensive way than other kinds of teevee shows.

When you think about it, I suppose it might not be that much different than being a long-serving Senator or similar--given that politics is so suffused with artifice, you're essentially playing a public role for your constituents. Still, in that case there's at least a connection between your public and private lives--and sometimes you slip up and publicly lament the fact that pro-segregation candidates failed to become President, and then you have public relations problems.

According to his Wikipedia page, Roache is a conservative whereas his character is a socialist. This would seem to indicate that he is indeed able to keep his lives separate. But who knows? Maybe doggedly maintaining separate politics is a defense mechanism. I have to imagine that if you're playing a character with opposite political views from your own who is supposed to be sympathetic (I assume; My Terrible Secret: I've never seen Coronation Street and know nothing about it aside from the fact that some dude's been on it for a long time), you would at least become somewhat more receptive to his belief system.

I could be wrong. Regardless, it seems like the dichotomy would make for an interesting story in any number of different literary modes.


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