Dear Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: here’s my advice on playing Doc Savage
Dear Mr. Johnson:
Oh, actually, I don’t know…do I call you The Rock? Dwayne? The? Please pick whatever appellation you would prefer.
I believe you make intelligent choices as an actor (being a former actor myself), and that you’ll possibly appreciate some insight from a fan of Doc Savage.
You see, while Doc clearly inspired Superman and Batman (and others), you’ll need to find a way to make him stand out, to be different from all those other heroes out there.
He is…and you can be, and still make it appealing and commercial.
You see, Doc is vastly superior to most of us, but believes that he will never be good enough.
That’s the key.
He is intensely introspective, and acutely aware of anything he sees in himself as an imperfection. Of course he is self-sacrificing…perhaps, he thinks, even in dying, he could contribute in some small way to make the world a better place…and what right does he have to stay in it?
Where does he get this attitude?
It goes back to his childhood…not to get all Sunday Supplement psychological on you.
Doc’s mother died when he was a baby. Does Doc blame himself for this? Possibly, but it’s what happens after that which shapes his sense of unworthiness.
Doc’s father was already an adventurer, a world traveler. Clark Savage, Sr., makes the decision to raise his son to be a “superman”. Doc is raised on an island, and (exclusively male…he doesn’t see a woman until he is an adult) experts are brought in to tutor him, to make him into Homo superior.
Any slight failure proves to himself that he has not achieved his father’s life’s purpose for him.
Once he gets into the real world (fighting in World War I), his obvious physical and mental superiority (in part derived from an incredible self-discipline and commitment to improvement) becomes apparent to him. He becomes a leader to a group of extraordinary friends.
In the first few adventures, he kills people right and left, perhaps a bit overwhelmed to be that superior…he may actually believe he has a chance to make the difference he was raised to make.
Then he fails.
He comes to believe that his killing people was a weakness…a proof of his flaws. He vows never to kill again, and would rather die than kill even a villain.
He is driven to, as the Doc Savage oath (not part of the original adventures, but from that time) says, “…strive, every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit from it.”
He can never be good enough. Not as a brain surgeon. Not as a pilot. Not as a leader. He can, though, be better than he is now.
That’s the core.
It explains a lot of things.
It’s why he ignores questions about what he thinks is happening in a mystery, until he is sure. He thinks he could be wrong, and his error could be disastrous.
It explains his two hours of exercises a day…exercises which include mental and sensory exercises. Why does he do it even when imprisoned by a bad guy? He’s not worth surviving as he is…he needs to be better, to closer to the goal his father had for him. If he dies, the world might be better off without him.
He risks riding on the running board of cars…his being able to see better and possibly help his associates is worth the risk of his life.
It shows his anger at being told he was more useful at home in World War II than being in the thick of the fight.
It’s why, in the later adventures, he abandons many of his gadgets…if he relies on them, he isn’t getting better, no matter how useful they are.
That’s not to say he wants to die. He doesn’t: he wants to make the world a better place, and dying for its own sake doesn’t do that.
Dying in the service of others would.
He’s not illogical in this…he knows the value his skills give to his team and to society at large. He’s not going to throw his life away on a small item.
To play Doc, work with this motivation: “I can never do enough to be as good as I should be…but I can be better than I am.”
I hope that helps! You’ll get a lot of advice about being Doc Savage, and some of it will be contrary to this, I’m sure. No doubt, there will be some who suggest you play him as supremely confident. I would say this: on the surface, he can appear confident, because he knows it benefits others that he seem to be so…but that unconscious trilling will show you that there is an uncontrolled undercurrent in Doc Savage’s thoughts.
Take the opportunity to make Doc as complex as he is…we don’t need to see it overtly on screen, but I hope to see it inform your performance in a movie I have anticipated for years.
No pressure, though…I’m not Clark Savage, Sr. 😉
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