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Friday, April 20, 2012

Lucius Malfoy and Vlad Taltos: Kindred Spirits

My wife and I have this argument (sorry, discussion): she contends that watching movie credits is a waste of time; I find them interesting.  Case in point.  Last weekend, we had just finished “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” when a name popped out at me: Jason Isaacs.  To her chagrin, I watched longer, until the cast list appeared.  What?  Jason Isaacs plays Lucius Malfoy?  No!

(Note: When I’m screaming “No!” like this, picture me as Captain Kirk in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” after Khan has seemingly left Kirk for dead inside the asteroid.  But instead of “Khan!” I’m shouting “Noooooo!”)

As an aspiring writer (sorry, a writer aspiring to be published), I don’t usually track actors.  Instead, I follow people like screenwriters, directors, and producers.  You know, those “creative” types.  It appears, from scanning Mr. Isaacs’ resume, that he’s been in a lot of productions I should have seen, along with a few I have.  But the first time he really stood out for me was in the recent PBS miniseries “Case Histories,” about private investigator Jackson Brodie.  Part of the reason the show impressed me was that it was set in and around Edinburgh, a city I’d love to visit someday, and have always associated with SF/Fantasy authors Charles Stross and J. K. Rowling.  (In the Kate Atkinson novels upon which the PBS miniseries was based, Jackson Brodie apparently lives in Cambridge.  Like I said, these “creative” types).  

The Edinburgh Duo
"In this corner..."

But another, and perhaps the main reason the miniseries sucked me in was Jason Isaacs’ performance.  The cases he sought to solve didn’t matter all that much: what really brought the show to life was Isaacs’ performance.  I really felt for him when he tried to convince his divorced wife not to move away, and to allow him to continue seeing his daughter, despite his violent career-choice.  I believed the love he felt for his daughter.  I understood why others remained his friends, even when circumstances dictated they should shift their loyalties.  His portrayal of Jackson Brodie reminds me of why so many love the Vlad Taltos novels of Steven Brust.  Like Vlad, Jackson seems the perennial outsider, and there are constantly forces at work to prevent those friends and family members from helping him.  Yet they risk their reputations and their lives repeatedly for him, because of who he is, and what he has become to them.  

While I find the storyline of “Awake” compelling, the main reason I started watching the Science Fiction drama was because of Isaacs’ performance in “Case Histories.”  While I miss the moody setting of Edinburgh, I find his portrayal of Detective Michael Britten just as compelling.  In many ways, his looks and on-screen presence remind me of Daniel Craig, another British actor who has shot to worldwide fame since he started playing James Bond in the Before-He-Was-Bond productions of “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace.”  But Jason Isaacs as Lucius Malfoy?  I’ve seen all the Harry Potter movies at least once, the earlier ones several times, but never would have connected him with the somber, brooding Jackson Brodie, or for that matter Michael Britten, in a million years.  Recognizing this, I’m less surprised that his portrayal in the miniseries connected with me so strongly.  If he can transform his features and mannerisms so completely from one role to the next, he seems capable of tremendous range for an actor.

This ability, combined with the respectable body of work he has accumulated, begs the question of Isaacs’ relative obscurity, in comparison with Daniel Craig, an actor who, from my perspective, exhibits similar looks and capabilities.  (Given all the high profile roles he’s been offered since he took on Before-He-Was-Bond, I’ve never seen Daniel Craig subsume himself so utterly in a role as Jason Isaacs did with Lucius Malfoy).  But then again, I might as well ask why Steven Brust, despite his impressive body of work, his creation of an unforgettable character, and having built a strong following, has yet to achieve a superstar status in the literary community similar to that of J. K. Rowling or Neil Gaiman.

Ah, the quirks of fate!

This entry will conclude with Lucius Malfoy vs. Neil Gaiman

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