Cowards are often depicted in film and television as weak characters who run away from danger or confrontations. However, there are a few brave cowards out there who have broken the mold and shown that being a coward isn’t always a bad thing. Honestly, it’s not easy to play a coward.
I’m going to share tips that actors use to depict being a coward and yet being brave at the same time. I’ll go through the tips after the first example, and then finish off the article with more examples. You may want to study the characters mentioned, and if you know of any other actors that meet the criteria of playing a coward, please share with us at Direct Submit @NYCastings. We would love to hear from you!
My favorite example is the character George McFly (played by Crispin Glover) from the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future.
In the movie, George is a shy, introverted teenager who is bullied by Biff Tannen (played by Thomas F. Wilson). George is also in love with Marty McFly’s mother, Lorraine (Lea Thompson). Some people believe that George is a coward because he does not stand up to Biff and he allows himself to be bullied. Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you know that in the end, George takes control. See the CLIP of George being bullied by Biff.
Alright already, let’s get into the tips!
But first…! I want to mention that cowardice is not a character flaw. It is simply the avoidance of risk, even when the potential reward is great. To be a coward is to be sensible and prudent. But there are times when prudence dictates that we take risks, even if we are scared.
Here are SIX TIPS for acting like a brave person in the face of fear.
(Read the tips as if you ARE the character…)
Own your fear. Don’t try to mask it or pretend that you’re not afraid. It’s okay to be scared; it’s part of the process of conquering your fear.
Admit your fear. Don’t try to make up explanations. Just say it.
Talk about it. It’s okay to talk about the things you’re afraid of; just don’t do it behind closed doors or with people who can’t help you.
Take action to conquer your fear. Don’t wait around for the perfect time or circumstance. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to do something about your fears; go out and do it yourself.
Find a mentor who can help you with your fears.
Give it time. Don’t expect to conquer your fears in a day or two.
The above actions are what you should be asking and doing AS the character. And hey, if it helps you in real life too, that’s even better.
As promised, here are more examples of characters who are considered cowards but dealt with it:
1. John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) is known for his unrivaled precision with firearms and his fierce fighting skills. However, in the first film he is forced to use his cowardly instincts to escape from assassins after his car is bombed. The 2014 action film has Keanu Reeves playing the title role of a retired hitman who comes out of retirement to seek revenge against the gangsters who killed his dog. Some people have said that John Wick is a coward because he doesn’t fight the gangsters head-on, but instead uses strategies to take them down one by one. Others say that he is a hero because he doesn’t hesitate to fight for what he believes in.
2. In the first Jurassic Park movie, Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, is known for being a coward throughout the film. He is hesitant to do anything and often relies on others to make decisions for him. While this may be true, it is also worth noting that he is one of the only characters to survive the movie. He also makes some important contributions, such as figuring out how to open the door to the control room. Overall, while Goldblum’s character may not be the bravest, he does have his moments and ultimately survives the movie.
3. In the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, Will Turner (played by Orlando Bloom) is known for being a coward throughout the movie. In the first movie, Will Turner is a coward because he doesn’t want to be a pirate. He wants to be a blacksmith like his father. But his father is killed by pirates and Will has to become a pirate to save his mother. In the fifth movie, Will Turner is not a coward anymore. He becomes the captain of the Flying Dutchman and he helps Jack Sparrow fight against Captain Salazar.
4. In the first Mission Impossible film, protagonist Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) is known for being a coward throughout the film. After all, he’s known for running away and leaving his team behind during dangerous missions. In fact, in one movie he even abandons his team in order to save himself. However, others might argue that Hunt is actually quite brave. He’s always willing to take on dangerous challenges, and he never backs down from a fight. In fact, he often puts himself in danger in order to complete his missions.
5. In The Dark Knight, the Joker (played by Heath Ledger) is often depicted as a cowardly villain who spits in Batman’s face and runs away from him when the hero comes after him. But in the film he saves Harvey Dent from being killed by the mob boss. The Joker is one of the most infamous villains in all of comics, and his cowardice is often on display. In particular, The Joker has a history of running from Batman whenever things get tough. However, some have argued that The Joker is not actually a coward, but rather is playing a sophisticated game of mind control over Batman. This argument rests on the idea that The Joker knows he cannot defeat Batman in a fair fight, so he instead relies on psychological warfare. Whether or not The Joker is truly a coward remains up for debate, but it’s clear that his fear of being defeated by Batman is what drives many of his despicable actions.
Bert Lahr in The Wizard of Oz
Once your character has conquered their fears, the next step is quite simply continuing to own the fears. Out of curiosity, if you know of a cowardly character that does NOT become confident by the end of the show, please let me know! I mean, sheesh, even the Lion in The Wizard of Oz becomes fearless in the end.