William Hurt talks technique at the junket for “The Yellow Handkerchief”
BY TODD GILCHRIST
In his new film The Yellow Handkerchief, William Hurt plays an ex-convict coming to terms with his past while on a seemingly inescapable road trip with two teenagers. At the film’s Los Angeles press day, Hurt explained the process of bringing a character to life in ways that are compelling without being cloying, or worse yet, contrived.
“There’s a difference between telling a story and living a story,” Hurt said Thursday in a roundtable interview. “The idea is that if you’re really earning [the audience’s] respect, my character is living through a situation that you would believe if you asked yourself, ‘do I really believe this? Do I really believe that behavior is appropriate?’ The only way for me to do that is to say, do I believe it? So I’m trying to create a character that is living, and I ask myself on every page and every word, do I believe it? Is this true? Is this a true depiction of human nature, or is this just a made-up character to make everything easier for us?”
While revealing his approach to acting, Hurt perhaps inadvertently happened upon a truism about all storytelling. “You don’t identify with me unless I’m as individual as you are,” he observed casually. “You don’t identify with that character unless he’s living through something you can believe you would if you were him. So why be showy?”
Hurt’s career is among the most eclectic in Hollywood, having appeared in comedies, dramas, thrillers and action movies, one after another, throughout his entire career. His last true mainstream work was in The Incredible Hulk, playing General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross, and he explained that spectacle-laden blockbusters are often the hardest to inject with that sort of intimate, intense character development. “It’s horrendously difficult. It’s awful. It’s hard. It’s like, why didn’t you give me any rehearsal, especially when the budget went up? I get that much more scared when I go to work.”
That said, Hurt indicated he would be interested in returning to the role if the directors of upcoming Marvel movies like Thor or the proposed Avengers wanted him. “If they call me, I’ll answer,” he admitted. “I would do it.”
The Yellow Handkerchief, which also stars Kristen Stewart, Eddie Redmayne and Maria Bello, opens in limited release on February 26, 2010.