Continuing my series of interviews on character, today we have Paul Guay.
Paul Guay’s films have grossed over half a billion dollars. He conceived and co-wrote Liar, Liar and co-wrote The Little Rascals and Heartbreakers. He’s working on several new projects, all of them with characters. In his spare time, he is a script consultant.
Q.What is required for a compelling character?
For me, movies (and other narrative arts) consist of interesting people doing interesting things.
Compelling characters are heroes (or antiheroes) whose needs I care about.
Q. What is your approach to building a character?
Story is character revealed in action. It’s not either/or, plot or character; it’s and/and, both. Therefore, I build story and character simultaneously.
If I start with a central story idea, my first question is: what kind of character (and what kind of needs) will let me get (or force me to get) the most out of that idea? What kind of character arc will illuminate the idea and reveal the character in the most fulfilling way?
What is the most satisfying journey for this character to go on? And who is the most satisfying character to go on this journey?
That said, I don't really know my characters till they start to talk.
Q. How much back story do you create for your main character before you start writing?
None per se. I don’t know what my hero wore when he was nine. But I do jot down every idea and characteristic and line of dialogue and scene and setpiece that comes to mind while I’m brainstorming. Some of them will wind up in the final script, fleshing out my character, and I have the rest to draw on if I need them.
Sometimes, of course, a script will call for a backstory to be articulated by one character or another, or shown onscreen. In those cases, I steal.
Q. What is the most important thing(s) you need to know about your character before you start writing?
His height. And what he needs.
Q. Do you base your characters on people you know or imagine stars in the part as you write?
I don’t base my characters on people I know, but I do borrow some of their characteristics – their walks, their interests, their idiosyncrasies.
Some of my characters are partly autobiographical, but so far I’ve been unsuccessful in persuading studios to pay me $15 million to act in my films. So I have to settle for stars.
When I first started writing, I was aiming at Tom Hanks and Steve Martin. Liar, Liar wasn’t written for one particular star, but it attracted first Hugh Grant and then Jim Carrey. When my then-partner and I rewrote Heartbreakers we weren’t writing for one particular star, but the script attracted first Anjelica Huston and Alicia Silverstone, then Cher, then Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt. And for a cameo in The Little Rascals we landed our next President, Donald Trump. So you never know.
Thanks Paul! Next up I thought we’d hear from a novelist - my sister, Chris Eboch, who has several published novels including The Well of Sacrifice, The Eyes of Pharaoh and the Haunted series. It will be interesting to see if she has a different take on creating character than the screenwriters. After that, we’ll hear from Eric Heisserer (Final Destination 5, A Nightmare on Elm Street)