On Thursday, a new podcast is launching on the Ringer Podcast Network. It’s called Villains. And it’s my podcast. That being the case, I’m going to tell you a little bit about the structure of the series, and why we chose to do it.
First, the why we chose to do it: Because it seemed like fun, is why. I like movies. A lot. More to the point: I like villains in movies. A lot. They are, in nearly all cases, the most interesting part of whatever movie it is that they happen to be in. And beyond being just the most interesting part, they’re also the most integral. And if you find yourself somehow disagreeing with that statement, consider this truth: A villain can exist meaningfully as a menace without a hero, but a hero cannot exist meaningfully as a savior without a villain (assuming we’re allowed to consider non-human things “villains”). So that’s why we did it. Movie villains as a subject not only seemed like a fun thing to talk about, but also seemed like something that could be talked about with a measure of discernible insight and awareness, with the flexibility to be stretched into something bigger and more substantial, which always makes for interesting listening.
Second, the structure of the series (and each episode): This part is easy. It’s an eight-episode series. As mentioned, it starts Thursday. Each new episode will come out Thursday at 6 a.m. ET, with the one exception being next week’s episode. Since next Thursday is Thanksgiving, we’re going to post that one Friday at 6 a.m.
Each episode is structured exactly the same. It has the following parts in it:
An episode intro. It’s just a few seconds long. The whole point of it is to tee up who the villain is for the episode.
An audio clip. You know that part in Con Air when the convicts are being introduced and John Cusack’s character, Vince Larkin, speaking of John Malkovich’s character, Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom, says: “This one’s done it all. Kidnapping, robbery, murder, extortion. His name is Cyrus Grissom, a.k.a. ‘Cyrus the Virus.’ Thirty-nine years old, 25 of them spent in our institutions. But he’s bettered himself inside; earned two degrees, his juris doctorate. He also killed 11 fellow inmates, incited three riots, and escaped twice. Likes to brag that he killed more men than cancer. Cyrus is a poster child for the criminally insane. He is a true product of the system.” OK, that’s a thing that happens in basically every movie that has a big-time villain in it. The filmmakers do it as a fun and interesting way to lay out exactly how villainous a particular villain is, and also as a fun and interesting way to establish the stakes of the movie. So that’s what this section is. We’re playing just the clip in each villain’s movie where the villain’s intro happens so as to do a little world-building for the podcast. (There are also more movie sound bites that get dropped into each podcast at relevant points.)
A quick plot recap. It’s a quick plot recap.
A section called “Four Interesting Things.” Prior to recording each episode of Villains, I’d spend a few days researching the villain and their movie and all the supplemental characters and so on and such. Researching is, in many ways, my favorite part of the writing process. It’s just a lot of fun to dig around a bit and learn some stuff I didn’t know. Often, I’ll find something while researching where I’m like, “Ooh, that’s very interesting.” So this part of the podcast is a thing where I just go through four interesting things I found while I was rummaging through information. (One of my favorite things I learned about Hannibal Lecter that didn’t make its way into the podcast is that he is one of only a handful of villains to have ever won an actor an Oscar for their performance as said villain, a very distinguished category that includes, but is not limited to, Kathy Bates in Misery, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, Charlize Theron in Monster, and Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds.) (A follow-up question: If all of those performances are lined up next to each other and are vying for a Super Oscar, who wins it? Does Anthony Hopkins still walk away the winner?)
A simple question. “Why is [NAME OF THE VILLAIN] scary?” I asked that question to every person who appears as an episode guest. Because it’s such a direct and specific question, I knew that the answers, which were varied and almost always rooted in something very personal, were going to explain a lot about the way the respondent views all of everything. Some gave literal answers, others gave metaphysical answers, others gave allegorical answers, etc.
The first conversation category. This one is called “Worst Behavior.” This is the real and actual start of the podcast, if I’m being very honest. The two guests and I try to figure out the most villainous thing a villain does in the movie. (Was it more villainous when Hannibal cut that one guy’s face off and wore it as a mask or when he talked Miggs into dying by suicide? Was it more villainous when Regina George framed Cady as being the originator of the Burn Book or when she stole Aaron out from under her? Was it more villainous when Killmonger shot his girlfriend or when he choked that old woman? Things like that.) I offer up a few options (and sometimes the guests have alternate options), and so we go through them and settle on an answer. I don’t think one single time in the entire series did everyone agree on one answer, which either means a great deal or means nothing at all.
The second conversation category. This one is called “Maybe They Had a Point.” (Sean Fennessey, guesting on the Hannibal Lecter episode, referred to this as the Unofficial Thanos Award.) Each person tries to come up with an argument that, in one way or another, justifies why the villain behaved in the way that they behaved. It’s fun, and silly, and I should tell you right now that I am extremely pro–Regina George and think that she had every right to be exactly as Regina George–y as she wanted to be.
The third conversation category. This one is called “The Jason Statham School for Rehabilitation.” The guests and I try to figure out whether the villain in question can be rehabilitated—much how Jason Statham’s character evolved between Furious 7 and Fate of the Furious—and turned from a villain into someone less evil and possibly even good.
A fourth conversation category. This one is called “Bonus Footage.” Each of the guests talks about a thing that we know happened for sure within a movie’s specific universe but that we didn’t get to see that would be fun to watch. For example (and this wasn’t a villain that was discussed in Season 1, but it’ll work fine here), we know for sure that something happened in The Dark Knight universe that caused the Joker to have those giant scars on the sides of his mouth. He gives a couple of explanations for how they got there, but because each one is different we don’t ever really get to know what the actual way that they got there was. I’d very much like to know that, and so if I was getting to pick a Bonus Footage scene here, I’d ask to see how he got the scars.
A fifth conversation category. This one is called “Overmatched, Undermatched, or Fair Fight?” Each villain was chosen because they were, in one way or another, excellent. And so the point of this part of the podcast is to spend a few minutes talking about whether the person who was acting across from the villain was able to keep up with their counterpart’s performance. Was Jodie Foster as good at being Clarice as Anthony Hopkins was at being Hannibal? Was Lindsay Lohan as good at being Cady Heron as Rachel McAdams was at being Regina George? Was Chadwick Boseman as good at being T’Challa as Michael B. Jordan was at being Killmonger? Etc.
A sixth conversation category. This one is called “Regrets.” This is my no. 1 favorite part of every episode. The guests and I go through a list of all of the different people who made mistakes while dealing with a villain and then try to pick out which of those people made the all-caps BIGGEST mistake. It’s surprising how many people make crucial mistakes when dealing with these villains, particularly when you remember that, as was mentioned above, they almost always know exactly how dangerous a villain is before they interact with them.
If it seems like that’s a lot to pack into a podcast, that’s probably because it is. But it all moves quickly and has been edited in such a way (by producer Kara Hart, who has worked on a number of important and substantial podcasts) that no episode stretches anywhere too far past 45 minutes.
One last thing, and I’m excited about this: Each new episode goes up Thursday, right? So what I’m going to do between each episode is post an email address and phone number where you can either email or call and leave a voicemail asking a question about a villain. I’m going to collect the best questions and then record a short Q&A podcast (probably 20 minutes) that’ll go up Tuesday. So the Hannibal episode goes up Thursday, and then Friday I’m going to post the phone number and email, and then people will submit questions (or insights or whatever) about Hannibal over the weekend, and then I’ll answer some of those on a short podcast Tuesday. It’s all going to be good. Or bad. Or fun. Or terrible. I’m not sure yet. But we’re going to do it for the next eight weeks anyway. I hope you’ll be a part of it.