Friday, February 25, 2011

Seductress Pick: Vivien Leigh

This is a character study on Vivien Leigh, one of the most profound actresses to ever grace the silver screen and my personal favorite.  Vivien Leigh is a very interesting character to consider. There have been many conflicting views on what she was personally as well as professionally. What I have found through research including documentary and biography sources have concluded to be contradictory. Though I feel I have come upon certain aspects of her personality from which I can write a cohesive developed character. 
Vivien was a young girl raised in an atmosphere based on mannerisms and everything that we can attribute to the superficiality of the upper-clas of England at the time (the time being the beginning of the 20th century). Both of her parents were not only well-off, but exheuted all aspect of the English upper class. 
What is most fascinating about this woman is her raw determination. When she first laid eyes on her first husband, a barrister named Leigh Holman, she bowed that she would marry him, even though knowing that he was at the time engaged to someone else. This is the same attitude with which she pursued her great love, Lawrence Olivier. When she first met him, a friend had to remind her that she was already married after she had exclaimed that she would make him her husband. The fact that he was already married to actress Jill Esmond was of no consequence to her. This could be viewed as profound selfishness and disregard for others, and at the sam time can be attributed to a woman's determination to get what she wants. 
What is an interesting question to consider is what was more important in her life. Did she persue Lawrence Olivier because he was a successful actor and she believed that they would mesh well together, or was she in love with him. 
One story is that she was completely dissatisfied with married life. Not only that, she was also dissatisfied in a home life, being a wife and mother. When she gave birth to her daughter Suzanne, she wrote in her diary; "had a baby" and that is all. Her biggest concern was her career. 
This determination led to her obtaining the most coveted role in American film history up to the point; Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind". Even when she was an unknown English stage actress, she had related to friends that it will be her part, no matter what. 
This is what I would like to explore in my interpretation of her character. Nothing mattered but for rising to the top, achieving what she felt she was worthy of. Her first husband was in the way, whom she subsequently divorced, and eventually, her great love, Lawrence Olivier became "in her way" as well. 
The only thing that stifled her was her mental illness, even that she would not allow to stand in her way. I do not believe that it was her intension to be famous, to be a star. But I do believe that her indelible determination was attributed to the fact that she was so incredibly independent and saw greater things for herself than just a barrister's wife, a mother, or the wife of a famous actor. She wanted to be an original, and her achieving that lead to her demise in means of her personal life. 
Even in her worst state of manic depression, she remained a seasoned professional. She had undergone everything form psycho-analysis to electric shock-treatment, sometimes at the same time that she would be working on a film. Her drive to succeed eclipsed any pain that she might have gone through personally, and herein lies the paradox. 
Though Vivien was driven, she was stiffeled. The greatest thing in her life that was stifling to her drive was her mental illness. People who know her well recount how terrible her condition was. She would explode on people and be incredibly rude to others. Once she gained composer of herself she would take time to write to them and apologize. But regarding this, her focus was her career. In the depths of the worst parts of her mental illness she still appeared in many plays, working herself to pieces as it were, disregarding her need to get well and focusing on what she felt she needed to accomplish. 
There is a very interesting dichotomy between Vivien and one of her most significant roles in both theater and film. Lawrence Olivier called "A Streetcar Named Desire" "that awful play", even though he had directed her in it in England. He thought that the character of Blanche was so close in frailty and misunderstanding that Vivien was at that point and believed that it was her total immersion in this role that had completely had pushed her over the edge. 

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