Creative Writing Ink: STEPS – a ‘Hearts Want’-related short story

Today I’m taking the time to post something a bit off-the-beaten path from my normal posts, but still movie-related of course. Those of you who’ve been around FC for a while have probably read my first fantasy draft pitch Hearts Want I wrote last September, which is a romantic thriller.

So what’s that got to do with this post? Allow me to explain.

The first time I came across this brilliant writing exercise was at Novroz’s blog and I was impressed by her short story on Alice. It turns out the idea came from Olive of Creative Writing Ink, who posts a picture each week to prompt people to write something based on it, be it a poem, short story, what have you. Well, the ‘steps’ picture she posted on April 18 somehow made me think of that movie concept, particularly the relationship between the main protagonist Spencer Wesford (Timothy Dalton) and his estranged son Jacob (Gerard Butler), the woman mentioned below refers to Spencer’s former lover Olivia (Helen Mirren), whom he had an affair when he was still married to Jacob’s mother.

Spencer instantly got all choked up as he approached the steps to the villa. The harder he tried to conceal his tears, the more he failed miserably… it’s as if someone had broken the floodgates within him and water just kept pouring out. His biggest fear all of sudden came true as Jacob placed his healthy hand on his shoulder, “What’s wrong, dad?”

Spencer leaned on the stone walls, covering his mouth as he’s practically sobbing now. He couldn’t speak, barely even able to stand up straight. He had figured he’d be a bit emotional coming here, but nothing would prepare him to be overcome by it in this way. He recalled the time he brought Olivia here, mostly during the night so she couldn’t track down the exact location. He had missed her, but the fact that his affair was the main cause of their estrangement in the first place wasn’t lost on him.

Jacob had never seen his father this way, never. The 64-year-old had always been a picture of controlled grace, almost severe in his stoicism, perhaps something he had learned in his long years in MI-5 that no amount of retirement years would ever shake it off. But in this surprisingly sunny afternoon, for the first time Jacob saw his father in a different light. It’s kind of ironic that minutes ago it was Jacob who was in a gloomy mood, remarking about how even the bluest sky accompanying their ride from the city could barely make a dent.

Jacob dropped his duffel bag on the ground and reluctantly embraced his father. Reluctant not because he didn’t love him, it’s just that they didn’t quite have that kind of relationship, not since Jacob was a wee lad, and especially not after his mother passed away. Spencer made the most of that slight gesture and held on to Jacob, holding him as tightly as he could with tears still streaming profusely out of him. Jacob was starting to feel a bit of pain on his wounded shoulder, but he didn’t want to say anything. Besides, it couldn’t be anywhere near as painful as what his father must be feeling, he thought.

Spencer finally stopped sobbing and regained his composure, wiping his nose with his jacket sleeve as he broke away from Jacob. “I’m sorry.” His voice was suddenly stern and his gesture seemed to suggest that he’s back in control again, though of course his bloodshot eyes betrayed him. “No need to be sorry… it’s… really ok…” Jacob muttered, he was going to say ‘it happens’ but it didn’t seem appropriate as it actually never happened before. “Grab your bag, we should go inside.” Spencer said, “A lot of things I have to tell you. You have the right to know.”

With those words, the two lanky father and son walked quietly up the steps and into Jacob’s safe house. Perhaps this very place could in fact bring healing to their weary hearts? Spencer could only hope.

The short story would make more sense to you if you’ve read the pitch, which you can access here or by clicking the ‘Hearts Want’ poster on my sidebar.

Well what do you think? I’d really appreciate your feedback… thank you kindly 😀

Timothy Dalton: most underrated actor of all time?

Dalton – dashing then as Bond & now at 65

Inspired by a recent similar post by Caz from Let’s go to the movies, and the fact that award season looms upon us, I thought I’d bring forward the one actor that I thought deserve far more recognition than he currently gets. Perhaps the title of this post could be construed as a bit of a hyperbole. But I make no apologies that I think Timothy Dalton is a fantastic actor, and for the life of me I cannot fathom why he isn’t as big a star as other equally talented thespians like Daniel Day-Lewis or Michael Caine.

Like most people, I first saw Dalton in his debut as Bond in The Living Daylights (1987). The film itself is entertaining, albeit far from perfect. But the best part of the movie is Dalton, no question about it.

Stuff my orders! I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. Go ahead. Tell M what you want. If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it. – 007, The Living Daylights

Though I grew up with Roger Moore as Bond, seeing Dalton bring out the darker and tougher side of the British spy is so refreshing and captivating to watch. Ok, I’m a woman so naturally I expect Bond to be somewhat of an eye candy too, and Dalton — who at 6’2″ is the tallest Bond ever — is both devastatingly handsome and sexy in that dark & dangerous kind of way. Not to mention that irresistible deep and raspy voice — I could read this guy read a phone book all night long! But looks alone doesn’t make an actor, and Dalton is definitely one whose talent and acting tenacity transcend even that impossibly chiseled looks.

Dalton_LTKI’m not the only one who share that sentiment in regard to his Bond role. In the September ’09 issue of Total Film, journalist ‘ Richard Matthews wrote Is it just me?… or is Timothy Dalton the best Bond as he reassessed both The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989) in light of their recent DVD re-release.

In that article, Matthews said that Dalton conformed to Ian Fleming’s blueprint for James Bond perfectly: “black hair falling down over the right eyebrow… something cruel in the mouth and the eyes cold”. And in both TLD in 1987 and LTK in 1989, according to Matthews, Dalton “brought Fleming’s fractured, damaged psychology back to Bond”. Even this National Lampoon writer defied the “commonly agreed-upon” Bond ranking in his Apology to Dalton article.

This UK’s Guardian blogger back in 2006 definitely took the words straight out of my mouth:

Ironically, the very characteristics that got Dalton slammed are the very same things that the Bond producers are praising Daniel Craig for. On and on, they have said they want Bond to be closer to the original Ian Fleming character. They want him to be grittier, darker and less jokey. What they really want, it seems, is to have Dalton back.

Some people in various Bond forums argue that Craig lack the sophistication of a British spy, instead behaved more like a thug-ish action star. That’s another topic for another post but I’m definitely in the camp that both Craig and Dalton epitomized that merciless grit and ruthlessness like no other Bond before them. Yet Dalton was clearly way ahead of his time as Craig took all the credit for doing what he had started.

Dalton as Rochester

But Dalton is more than just a James Bond actor. Just a few years ago I came across the 1983 BBC version of Jane Eyre where Dalton played Charlotte Brontë’s ultimate Byronic hero Mr. Rochester. I totally fell in love with his brooding and enigmatic performance, and he makes the poorly-made production of the miniseries entirely worthwhile. He continued to impress me in a variety of things I’ve watched him in: The Lion in Winter (his debut alongside Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn), Framed (a fascinating crime thriller with David Morrissey), as Julius Caesar in Cleopatra, and another Brontë’s adaptation Wuthering Heights. Any one of which warrants some kind of award nomination.

The thing is with Dalton, he’s great at playing both hero and villain, as displayed in his scene-stealing turn in Flash Gordon, The Rocketeer and the Simon Pegg comedy Hot Fuzz. Heck, he even played a comic-strip character believably as Basil St. John in Brenda Starr. He even dared to venture into one of Hollywood’s all-time classic roles of Rhett Butler, in the Gone with the Wind‘s ill-conceived follow-up Scarlett and [gasp!] even silly rom-com in The Beautician & The Beast. Sure, those two are definitely poor role choices, but I don’t think it undermines his talent as an actor.

Dalton as Neville Sinclair in ‘Rocketeer’

The classically-trained thespian is perhaps most comfortable on stage, having toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Prospect Theater Company in England. He’s also keeping busy doing voice work for various audio books, so perhaps the lack of movie roles is his own choosing. Based on this UK’s Metro interview, he strikes me as someone who’s entirely at peace with his career and is unapologetic about his choices, even his decision not to do his third Bond role. Still, I can’t help but wonder why he’s not offered the roles that actors of his stature keep getting? Think Anthony Hopkins (who had his debut in the same film The Lion in Winter), Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and the other two I’ve mentioned above. As I told Marc on his The Rocketeer post, it’d be nice to see Dalton in The Wolfman in Tony Hopkins role, or in Clash of the Titans as Zeus instead of Liam Neeson, or something like Michael Caine’s Is Anybody There?. We all know he has the chops and at sixty-five is still far more dashing — and Botox-free — than even actors ten or fifteen years younger.

Instead, all I can look forward to is his voice-over part in Toy Story 3 as Mr. Pricklepants, a hedgehog toy with thespian tendencies. Ha! For all of you Dr. Who fans, he’s also been reported to guest star in David Tennant’s finale as the titular character. Tennant was quoted praising Dalton to Radio Times, “He was lovely. He had the panache and the skill of a movie star, without any of the alarming eccentricities or peculiar demands.”

I don’t expect anything less from this classy actor. Here’s hoping a starring role, or even a pivotal part in an ensemble flick, pops up in the horizon soon.

P.S. If you haven’t already, check out my fantasy movie pitch Hearts Want, a romantic thriller starring Dalton as a retired MI-5 agent.

So folks, do you have your own analysis of an underrated thespian? If so, let’s hear it.