Tragedy Strikes Acting Students When Life Imitates Art
An exclusive Authorlink interview
By Diane Slocum
If We Were Villains, M.L. Rio, Flatiron Books Macmillan – Seven acting students made the cut into their fourth year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory. Their on-stage Shakespearian roles have become predictable – Richard the tyrant, Meredith the temptress, Alexander the villain, James the good guy and Wren the ingenue, leaving Oliver and Filippa for whatever was left. Having been immersed in Shakespeare for three years, his lines pepper their speech and thought. But as classes begin, they have no idea the changes that will play out as something wicked their way comes, or what roles they will be playing in their real-life tragedy. No one is left unscathed as “death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”
|“I suddenly realized I’d been writing for ten years and acting for ten years but I’d never written about actors.”|
AUTHORLINK: How did your idea for this story develop?
RIO: It started my senior year of college, when I was working on my honor thesis, which included a staging of Henry VI. You could call it a blinding flash of the obvious, because I suddenly realized I’d been writing for ten years and acting for ten years but I’d never written about actors. So I sat down and tried to decide what personalities you would inevitably encounter if you walked into a room where a troupe of Shakespearean actors were rehearsing. Once I had what I thought was the right character dynamic, I constructed a story around that group of people. It doesn’t mimic any one play, but draws from the dramatic structure consistent in the tragedies.
AUTHORLINK: Did you always have Oliver telling the story from 10 years later or how did that develop?
RIO: To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember how it developed, but what’s crucial about that frame element is that Oliver is telling the story ten years after the fact but it’s not quite over yet.
|“. . . some of the Lear scenes in particular dovetailed so perfectly that it would be difficult to say what came first, the words or the action.”|
AUTHORLINK: How did you find Shakespeare’s lines to match your scenes – or did your scenes sometimes evolve from his words?
RIO: It completely depends on the scene. I’ve been doing Shakespeare for so long that bits and pieces of different plays live in my head and some just filled themselves in naturally. But there were also times when I had to go hunting for just the right lines. I did let the scenes choose the lines rather than the other way around—because I didn’t want this to become a retelling of any one play—but some of the Lear scenes in particular dovetailed so perfectly that it would be difficult to say what came first, the words or the action.
AUTHORLINK: How did you become obsessed with Shakespeare yourself and what else have you done in relation to him?
RIO: I read my first Shakespeare play—it was Comedy of Errors, admittedly not his best—when I was about nine, having stolen it from my parents’ library. I didn’t know if it was something I was allowed to be reading so I smuggled it upstairs and read the whole thing in one sitting and it was honestly like a religious experience. I didn’t understand half of it at the time but the language just grabbed me and refused to let go. I spent the next couple years reading through all the plays and then was in my first production (I played Feste in Twelfth Night) at age fourteen. After that Shakespeare was the only acting I really wanted to do, and it was mostly what I did through college.
AUTHORLINK: Do you know of performing arts schools similar to Dellecher and how did that influence your story?
RIO: Dellecher isn’t an exact avatar for any one institution, but it does borrow bits and pieces and details from real conservatory schools and arts programs—NCSA, Governor’s School, my own experience as an acting BA. And of course some of it’s wishful thinking, plain and simple. I’d love to go to Dellecher (murder and all).
AUTHORLINK: Which of your characters intrigued you the most or gave you the most trouble?
RIO: This is a bit like asking a parent to pick their favorite child—it’s impossible. I love and hate them all at different moments, for different reasons. (Alexander did get all the best lines, but that wasn’t intentional.)
|“There were about 45 different drafts of this book, reworked with input from my agent, my editor, the publisher, beta readers, you name it.“|
AUTHORLINK: What did you have to go through to get from first draft to publication?
RIO: Honestly, I could write you a whole book about that. There were about 45 different drafts of this book, reworked with input from my agent, my editor, the publisher, beta readers, you name it. But even after you’ve got a production draft turned in there’s art and copyediting and marketing… We’re still working on it, because once a book’s published, you have to get people to buy it. The fun never stops.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
RIO: I just turned my next MS into my agent, so I’m waiting to hear back from her and see what she thinks. It’s a very different project from Villains, but I’m really excited about it. It started with some of my dad’s stories about bouncing concerts in Los Angeles in the 1970s and turned into an epic road trip novel set in ’77. A little less Shakespeare, a little more rock and roll.
|About the Author:|
M.L. Rio has worked in book stores and theaters for years. She has a Master’s Degree in Shakespeare studies from King’s College in London. Last year, she won the opportunity to spend the night in Kronberg Castle, known as Hamlet’s Castle, on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Villains is her debut novel.
See more information at: https://us.macmillan.com/books/978125009528’
About Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.
This post was written by Diane Slocum