Villain Watch: The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz 1939)

It’s Monday again, so I figure it’s time for another Villain Watch.  Again, I have to keep my posts somewhat short because I’ve been pretty busy, but I just had to say a few words about The Wicked Witch of the West as one of the great movie villains.  She may seem like a more obvious villain to write about but I came across something about her performance by Margaret Hamilton that I just loved.

I watched an old YouTube video of an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood where he actually had Margaret Hamilton as a guest.  Margaret was concerned about the effect her performance in the Wizard of Oz had on children, as many of us grew up frightened of her character.  She explained about the idea of acting, and how actors dress up and play pretend like children do.  But it was her description of the witches personality that I loved and she described it in a way so children could understand.  She doesn’t think of herself as an evil character, Margaret said.  She said she always thought of the witch as a person who always did a lot of things that gave her joy.  Anything she did, she did because it made her happy.  But in reality she was pretty unhappy because she never really got what she wanted (that being the ruby slippers and all the power that came with them).  There was something kind of sweet and yet truthful about those comments.  Certainly the best actors who approach their villains never think of them as being evil (why would they?  They simply think what they’re doing is the right thing to do.)  It’s such a simple explanation for such a dastardly character, but it works, and at the heart of it I think it’s why we all love her.  The greatest actors can find ways to bring empathy to even the nastiest of characters.  Even if they always appear evil on the outside, it’s finding that thing to like about the character that makes more accessible to play.

The great thing about the witch too is that she’s just an animator’s dream come true.  She comes up with these wonderful expressions and poses.  It’s the same kind of heightened stage play I mentioned with Silas Barnaby in March of the Wooden Soldiers.  I never quite understood it when Wicked became popular, because to me it’s just too lighthearted a backstory.  Who really needs an explanation for why Witch of the West is the way she is.  She just is.  Margaret stated it beautifully what her character was all about.

I haven’t watched the Wizard of Oz in awhile, but I may pop it in again after watching Margaret’s interview just to see the witch from her viewpoint.  I watched another great interview with Margaret where she talked about the phone call she got from her agent about being in The Wizard of Oz.  She said she loved the stories of Frank L. Baum and was excited to be in it.  “What part do they want me to play” she asked.  The agent said, “well, the witch.”  Margaret got a stunned expression.  “The witch?!”, she said.  And the agent said, “well yeah, what else?”

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