Michiel Huisman's casting in ITV's Angela Black is a stroke of genius
Angela Black spoilers follow.
When Michiel Huisman last popped up on our screens, his character was the victim of a violent and deadly crime. He starred as Alex Sokolov in The Flight Attendant, in which Kaley Cuoco's Cassie woke up in a hotel bed next to his bloodied corpse. In Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House, his character Steven Crain wasn't perfect (who among us is?), but he's not a morally bankrupt man.
Many of you will also remember him as Daario Naharis in Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen's advisor and lover who dedicated his life to defending her honour, never once raising his voice or hand to the Queen of Dragons. But Huisman's character in Angela Black has no qualms about grabbing his wife by her hair and dragging her to the ground, before beating her with such force that she loses a tooth, the skin around her mouth stained a deep shade of purple.
"I always feel like I more often get the opportunity to play a character that is a much more positive force, that is very charming," Huisman told Digital Spy and other press. "So I loved using that, and then playing somebody who's very nasty."
We hear Angela's initial scream and the strangled cries that follow, but we do not physically see Olivier harm his wife – a directorial choice which many viewers will find more affecting, such is the power of the unseen.
We're smacked with Olivier's white-hot rage in the first five minutes of the ITV thriller and ten or so minutes later, we learn that he has used Angela as his personal punching bag before.
"You're always sorry," she says, after he pleads with her not to leave.
Olivier's previous outburst left his partner unable to breathe after he fractured her ribs. She fled to a nearby hotel with their children, before returning on the promise that he would change. But Olivier is still inflicting both physical and emotional injury on Angela, and is now plotting to paint her as an unfit mother so that he can claim sole custody of their children. Huisman himself described Olivier as "messed up" as he discussed the "psychopathic strategies" that his character employs in his efforts to destroy his wife.
"[I don't know if would] play a character like that straightaway again because it is a challenge," he acknowledged. "I love to take that upon myself as an actor, but it's very dark."
Casting Huisman in such a monstrous role was a stroke of genius. He's both easy on the eye and has an innately charismatic demeanour which, when coupled with his most recent roles and the way they've chosen to dress the character of Olivier, has an intensely disarming effect.
He's predominantly softly spoken, only elevating his decibels during his assault on Angela; he doesn't cackle maniacally after he has beaten her; his face isn't peppered with scars – a feature that has been misused to attribute villainy on-screen since time immemorial. In fact, there aren't any external indicators typically utilised in film and television that highlight the depth of his cruelty. Instead, they paint the inverse.
His sartorial elegance, tidy facial hair and a body that has clearly been put through its paces at the gym are traditional markers of desirability that draw you in rather than send you scrambling in the opposite direction. Those attributes are supplemented by his financial security, denoted by his lavish home and golf club membership; his accent is a signifier of travel and culture; his drink of choice is red wine rather than a pint of Stella – just one subtle distinction that cloaks his hard edges with a blanket of civility.
At times, we struggle to square his true nature with the image that Olivier projects to the world, which is a damning indictment of just how potent such signals are. They are fundamentally superficial, failing to convey what really lies beneath and yet, they are endlessly seductive.
"He always seemed like such a nice man," is a phrase often heard from bewildered residents when they're vox-popped about the bodies squirrelled away beneath their neighbour's patio. Then there's Christopher Jefferies, a retired schoolteacher who was falsely accused of murdering 25-year-old landscape architect Joanna Yeates in Bristol back in 2010. Much of the press coverage about him focused on his "strange" and "eccentric" personality and appearance, which are fatal in the court of public opinion.
Olivier bucks many of our preconceptions, which is undoubtedly why Huisman was chosen for this role. If he was working class and spoke with a heavy Mancunian drawl, would our initial view of him shift? Would Angela's plight still be invisible to those around her if Olivier presented differently?
All of the layers that converge to build the man we see before us do not exist in a vacuum. They are loaded with connotations, social, political and economic. Factually, they mean very little, but in this reality in which we all live and are judged, they mean everything.
Writers often flinch when asked what "message" they want their work to impart to its patrons, instead championing the importance of total autonomy of feeling in regards to the fruits of the artist's labour. But in the case of Angela Black, we're confronted with the notion that abuse can, so often, go undetected, and those who mete it out do not wear t-shirts declaring: "I am a bad man."
"It's so important for my character to hold up appearances and I think that's very true for a lot of these cases in real life," explained Huisman. "On the outside it looks picture perfect.
"So maybe in a way our show, although it's primarily meant as entertainment, can serve as a reminder that we should stay open and listen to the people around us."
Angela Black continues on Sunday, October 17 at 9pm on ITV.
The Flight Attendant, based on the book of the same name by Chris Bohjalian, airs on Sky Max and NOW in the UK and HBO Max in the US.
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