Win an Oscar, become evil?
That seems to be the new trend with the news that Cate Blanchett may be playing the Evil Stepmother in a Cinderella remake. She joins Angelina Jolie, who will be portraying Maleficent in an upcoming Sleeping Beauty film, and Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts, who this year both starred as the Evil Queen in Snow White movies.
It’s tempting to say that this is a sad commentary on the roles for 35-plus women in Hollywood who can no longer play “The Girlfriend.” As Tina Fey wrote, “The definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to f— her anymore,” but while Fey definitely has a point about Hollywood, I don’t think ageism is on display here. These women are still getting complex roles post-Oscar – Theron’s Young Adult, Jolie’s A Mighty Heart – but when a big-budget fairy tale comes knocking, it’s the villain – never the princess – that is the most fascinating and delicious role to play. If we’re going to rally around a cause about women in Hollywood – and there are plenty of issues about women’s opportunities and portrayals on screen – this isn’t the one.
Kids might grow up dreaming of golden-voiced maidens and courageous princes, but adults come to appreciate that the villains are often the most interesting people in the story. Power, intrigue, cunning: What’s not to love?
Jolie’s role in Maleficent will focus on how she was misunderstood – and the fairy tale will be told from her perspective. I pity not her, but Freida Pinto in Immortals, a talented actress forced to play “hot” and not much else. Batman’s “girlfriend” (Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal) was forgettable as a damsel in distress – but when she had an evil bent (Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman) audiences ate it up.
Even better, these aren’t your children’s versions of the princess classics. The upcoming Oz: The Great and Powerful will not have the one iconic green-faced villain, but at least three different witches – Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, and Mila Kunis – whose character and intentions seem to be more complicated than in the original. These actresses (and the producers) know what I think many fans are catching onto: The baddie is the best. If done properly, it’s the role you leave the theater talking about. People weren’t excitedly chatting about Kristen Stewart in Snow White (at least, not for the acting); they were discussing Theron’s showstopper as a bitter, obsessed bats–t crazy ruler.
You also can’t overlook how just plain fun it is to be evil. I still remember when I was younger watching Glenn Close in 101 Dalmatians, smoking a long cigarette and laughing maniacally. Although she certainly wasn’t who you were suppose to identify with, I still wanted to be her more than anyone else in the movie. Same deal with Helena Bonham Carter in just about everything she does, but most specifically the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Audiences relished Carter’s over-the-top, gloating portrayal of a character we thought we already knew.
There is a valid point that these female characters inevitably are consumed by vanity and jealousy, characteristics rarely on display with their evil male counterparts. But, despite this, I still smiled when I saw that Blanchett – with so much talent on display in Elizabeth or Notes on a Scandal – may tackle one of the most famously cruel women in Disney’s history. Evil is the new black: It’s trendy and desirable. I can’t wait to see what Oscar winner has the privilege of joining the fairy-tale villain ranks next.
Your move, Meryl Streep.