Make sure your difficult protagonist is fascinating: Dr. Hannibal Lecter is brilliant, cultured, precise, and incredibly well mannered. He also kills people and eats them.
In A Beautiful Mind, John Nash is a genius, Nobel Prize-wining mathematician who is also subject to delusions and hallucinations that cause him to see people who aren’t there and think he is a CIA agent.
Neither of these men are your normal, run-of-the-mill heroes, but each one is incredibly interesting, which keeps us hooked even when their actions are repellant.
Make sure your unlikable protagonist is incredibly charismatic: In movies as in life, we’re willing to overlook a lot of bad behavior if a person has enough charm.
Scarlett O’Hara may be a selfish, manipulative schemer, but she’s also sexy as hell.
Give your unlikable protagonist a few likeable qualities: Nobody’s all bad – including your anti-hero. Find something positive about your protagonist to shine some light in the darkness –something like Scarlett O’Hara’s fierce determination;
Give your unsympathetic hero a sympathetic goal:
Make your difficult hero self-aware:
Show your anti-hero’s pain: In real life, people usually behave badly because they are in some sort of emotional or psychological pain. We all understand that on some level, so if you can depict your protagonist’s pain, we will understand him as well. —
Make sure that your script knows your protagonist is flawed:
By the end of The Godfather Part II, Michael Corleone has been transformed from an idealistic college student into a cold, heartless killer. Michael’s attitude towards himself is one of self-righteous justification – he feels right to have done all of the horrible things that he has done. But the film itself never feels this way –
Context is everything:
- Your flawed protagonist must earn his redemption:
If you are going to redeem your anti-hero, get the process started early: The risk in holding off on redeeming your unlikable hero until the very end of the script is that we may dislike him so much that we won’t stick around until the turnaround happens. So get the process (at least the self awareness part) started sooner rather than later in order to give us a reason to hang in there.