I am completely, unashamedly truthful when I say that I started watching ABC (and in effect Disney)’s Once Upon a Time because I saw a picture of Captain Hook on Tumblr.
He’s gorgeous. Dark and dangerous, and oh, the leather. Drool-worthy. And once you see him in action, not only is he a sexy pirate hell-bent on revenge, he’s a sexy pirate hell-bent on revenge with an accent. My poor heart was all a-flutter watching Season 2.
(And dear God, readers, please never tell Colin O’Donoghue this article exists. Talk about blushing.)
So this begs the question, why is it that television and film gravitates towards attractive people to feature on screen? And why do people prefer watching attractive people on film and TV?
In terms of Once Upon a Time, all of the major players are really attractive. You’ve got the Charmings who very much live up to their name, the foxy Evil Queen, the stunning blonde Savior, and for God’s sake, even Gold is kind of hot, in his own way.
I first became aware of the attractive trend on OUAT about midway through Season 1 when I discovered that all of the men were dressed in leather pants while in the Fairy Tale world. Just as the women are decadently draped in yards and yards of satin and tulle, the men are consistently strapped into pants that must be sweltering on a good day. The show does a good job of equality between the sexes of strength and wit, and most certainly on other fronts, if you know what I mean.
Captain Hook is of particular interest to me because of the way in which his story is treated in Once Upon a Time. Every story is altered to fit the show, both in terms of what is marketable as a TV show and how it ties together with the through-line revolving around Rumplestiltskin.
Besides my immediate infatuation with Colin O’Donoghue, Captain Hook is a rather fascinating deviation from the original. Captain Hook has been depicted in a number of ways over the years and the different forms.
When I was younger, I watched the movie Hook and had nightmares about Captain Hook for weeks. I have vivid memories of him being really terrifying. I haven’t watched the movie since, but I have come across a number of adaptations including the animated Disney movie and Syfy’s Neverland, which I really enjoyed. In the Spring semester I will be designing the set for a stage adaptation of Peter Pan, bringing my fascination full circle.
He’s described in the books as handsome but frightening because of his character, blood thirsty and fearless as a pirate. OUAT’s Captain seems to do quite well in that category. He’s very pretty and gets really very frightening when he gets angry. He’s probably one of the most truthful actors on the show. ABC, while a good channel, is not always known for the quality of the acting on their productions. Other characters on the show are often overdone or contrived, but O’Donoghue makes solid choices and is always motivated as Captain Hook. Perhaps that’s what the draw is for me – a good actor playing a role that could very easily be thrown out and overdone.
However, not everyone has been trained to look for truthful behavior and do prefer to see pretty people rather than talented people.
If you think about a number of movies, especially in the action genre, it’s a lot of pretty people running from things or explosions created in post, and you have to wonder what it is about physical beauty that makes people want to watch.
At the beginning of last year, I was going to a party with a friend and some of the freshmen that we were trying to bring into the theatre community, make them feel at home, and one girl asked me what it is that I wanted to do with my life. I was still super optimistic about my future, so I told her all about directing and sets and stuff, and she asked me why I didn’t want to be an actor, “because you’re really pretty!” I’m not always the biggest fan of that response from other people, but it got me thinking recently. This girl had never seen me trying to slog my way through a monologue with my knees shaking and my focus all over the room. All she saw was my face and the short dress I was wearing. Despite her good intentions, it seems sometimes that the world is a little more focused on what people look like than their abilities as actors.
The biggest problem that occurs when attractive people are chosen, regardless of their acting abilities, is the “misunderstood” argument used frequently by young women that overlook certain traits in a male villain because they think he’s really hot. Loki, for example, is a demi-god willing to enslave the Earth, but that’s often overlooked because he’s thought to be misunderstood. While there are a number of circumstances to lead him to where he is, the fact that he’s willing to go to those lengths is a testament to his character.
Hook is an example of the complications that result from the alteration of the storyline and the attractiveness of the actor playing him. The character is driven by revenge and uses manipulative tactics to achieve his own ends, everyone else be damned. Though this changes through the development of the character over the course of Season 2, the altered given circumstances mean that his entire story is based on romance and revenge, a deviation from the original story based around pirate-y ambitions.
Film and TV as visual media focus on attractiveness of a person as a selling point. It’s a question that we should ask as a society of whether that needs to be an important issue. As much as I love Once Upon a Time and all its pretty people, not all of them are of the acting caliber of O’Donoghue, and overall, actors in popular media are rarely both extremely talented and extremely attractive. It often happens that actors become more attractive to audiences as a result of their talent (i.e. Benedict Cumberbatch, a point of contention among the staff of Girls in Capes). Actors have to be extraordinary to be able to do that, it seems, and sometimes I prefer theatre because there is less of a stigma about physical attractiveness.
The glorifying of physical beauty is one more thing to put on the list of things that need to change about society.
Christina Casano is a TV & Film Writer at Girls in Capes and studies Theatre and Mass Communication at Miami University in Ohio. She is the resident expert on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.