Comic book villains are not generally known for subtlety and nuance. They have a tendency to be over the top, from their costumes to their core personalities. What separates several of the best villains from the rest of the pack, however, is the emotional truth underneath it all. That’s what Patrick Wilson wanted to tap into when he signed on to play Orm, a.k.a. Ocean Master, in Aquaman.
“You always have to find your way in,” Wilson tells Batman News (via our sister site Superhero News). “Usually, when I don’t take a movie, if I can sense something and I don’t do it, usually my comment is, ‘I couldn’t find my way in.’ Which is a very sort of actor-y thing to say, but you do. I don’t care if he’s good or bad. It doesn’t matter, but can you just find a way in because I have to build him from the inside out.”
Orm gave Wilson plenty to build with. The character is full of internal conflicts stemming from his role as ruler of Atlantis, a disgraced mother (from Atlantis’ perspective), a non-existent relationship with his half-brother (Jason Moma’s Arthur Curry), and an urgent need to protect the sea from the literal and figurative poisons of the surface world.
Orm has a legitimate list of gripes against humanity. His first act of aggression involves throwing our own trash back at us. Orm’s methods are enough to make him a villain, but his motivation is not entirely corrupt. Wilson believes that is critical in audiences caring about his character and this story.
“It’s easy to get behind,” he says. “It’s certainly easy to understand. Any time you’re playing somebody that could be pretty outlandish, whether it’s Greek tragedy in a huge amphitheater or even a clown in the circus, if you start from a real place, an emotional place that people can respond to and understand and care about, maybe not even like, it doesn’t matter. If they care about it, then you can go as big and broad as you want and take them on your journey because you started from a place of understanding and I think that’s what Orm does.”
Wilson expects moviegoers to have at least some sympathy for Orm’s cause. “You see very quickly that he is disgusted and angry and frustrated, to say the least, by centuries of pollution. I don’t think there’s one person that would go, ‘What do you mean?’ I love that. I love that they left this side of the environmental issue up to the villain because even if you’re rooting for Aquaman, I think you see that move of getting rid of all the trash and there’s a side of you that’s like ‘Good for him. You know what? You’re right.’ I think that’s really exciting because it gives audiences something to think about.”
This is still a guy who wants to be called Ocean Master, so there is more than just a little ego at work here. With the validity of Orm’s perspective established, Wilson felt free to go as big as the story and source material called for.
“I think the first thing is if you talk about Ocean Master, you can’t run from the mask,” he says. “If you’re gonna go for that mask, you have to inhabit that mask. You can’t judge it. You can’t judge the title. You’ve gotta go full throttle and believe that he is the only one that can do it. You never wanna back off the gas to make it feel more relatable or more contemporary. That’s where you get dead in the water, forgive the pun. Honestly, because of starting from a real place, you can go as over the top as you want because you understand where he’s coming from.”
Wilson adds, “If I came on the screen right away and just was like ‘Call me Ocean Master!’ It may have made people go ‘Oh God, just get away.’ But you have to earn that. And I think that sort of drive, even in a villainous manner, I don’t know if it’s admirable, but it’s certainly interesting.”
Having seen Aquaman, we are happy to report that Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of Ocean Master is indeed interesting. See for yourself, if you haven’t already, when the film hits theaters this weekend.