Villain Competition - Winner

Wendy Hood

The Method
Villain Competition


After many years working as a chartered physiotherapist and university lecturer, Wendy decided to follow her creative passion and completed an MA in Creative Writing in 2022. She was short-listed in the 2022/23 Comedy Women in Print Short Story Prize, which resulted in her first publication in an anthology. As well as writing, she also loves reading, paper-crafting and making music, and can often be found riding a tandem with her husband or walking along the sea front near home in the North East of England.

The Method By Wendy Hood

Russel Smith can’t quite believe his eyes as he looks at the newly-posted cast list on the notice board. He walks towards the director, who smiles when he sees him coming.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, but I wondered if there might possibly have been an error with the casting sheet. You see, I didn’t audition for...”
“Ah, Russel, yes, em, no there’s no mistake. We just thought you might be more suited to this role. We thought you’d be up for the challenge of trying something new.”
“I’m not sure I understand. I always play the good guy.”
“Yes, but the hero in this particular play is supposed to be a good-looking young fellow, twenty years your junior, and you know what they say; time waits for no-one, and there’s only so much that make-up can achieve.” Stuart fiddles with his pen as he chuckles at his own joke, and Russel finds himself nodding and smiling as though it’s no big deal.
As he walks home, he mulls over the implications of this. There’s a good reason why he never auditions for the parts of villains, but on the other hand, it’s a big role, and it’s not in his nature to argue. So, how does one get into the mind of a stone-cold killer? He thinks to himself. And just like that, the transition begins.
He reads the script, committing his lines to memory, but that’s the easy part. This character is a sociopath. He is a rude and obnoxious man who antagonises everyone he meets, except for the leading lady who seems to connect with him and who becomes his love interest. With her, he explores different sides of his character, sometimes cruel and abrasive, and other times charming and attentive, wooing her and luring her into his fantasies, which culminate in him killing her in the final scene. This is quite unlike any part he has played before, in fact, the whole play is much darker than anything the company has attempted previously, and he finds himself quite on edge at the prospect of entering such a bleak mind.
Russel looks at the calendar and sees that he has a couple of weeks before rehearsals begin, so he starts his homework in earnest. His first port of call is the internet, searching for anything he can find on sociopathic personalities, and the first thing he learns is that the term sociopath has been replaced by Antisocial Personality Disorder. The more he reads, the greater the chill inside him grows.
“Would you like a cup of tea dear?” His wife pops her head around the door, interrupting his research.
“No, thank… Erm, no, leave me alone!” Russel says tentatively. He starts to doubt whether he will be able to pull this off, but his wife winks to encourage him. She seems to be unphased by his shift to the dark side of the cast, in fact if anything, she seems quite excited at the prospect of living with a villain. He is quite sure that he will never understand women.
The next morning, Russel goes for a walk. He doesn’t take his usual interest in the buds forming in the neatly trimmed gardens that he passes, and he ignores the melodious chirping of the blackbirds in the hedgerows. He keeps his head down, his mind mulling over everything he has read so far. He reaches into his pocket to fetch his handkerchief, and an old bus ticket and a sweet wrapper fall out onto the pavement. He starts to bend down to pick them up without thinking about it, and has to stop himself. Leave it! He wouldn’t pick it up. He grits his teeth and walks on.
By the time rehearsals start, Russel’s transformation is well underway. He has no problem walking away from conversations he doesn’t want to have, or refusing to make the tea. His behaviour causes ripples in the cast.
“He’s always been such a well-mannered gentleman,” Rose says. “I don’t know what’s got into him.”
“Perhaps this part he is playing has gone to his head,” someone else suggests, and they shrug their shoulders and carry on with what they were doing.
The first few weeks of rehearsals go well. Russel can feel his character forming inside of him. His facial expressions and tone of voice are no longer those of Russel Smith, but they are perfect for the part. By the time they have got through the first act, pretty much everyone in the cast steers clear of him off-stage.
“You know, I wasn’t sure about casting you in this part,” Stuart says to him when they finish rehearsing the last scene in the first act. “I thought you might be a bit too nice to pull it off, but I have to hand it to you, you’re absolutely nailing it. I think we’ve all seen a different side of you these last few weeks, which is fabulous for the play, but some of the cast are getting a bit concerned that you might be taking it a little too far off stage, if you know what I mean?”
“No, I don’t actually.” Russel says, and he can see Stuart squirm under his intense stare. “Acting isn’t pretending. Acting is doing. You know the method and you gave me this part, so deal with it!” And he strides out of the theatre.
When they come to the second act, things don’t go quite so well. The play finishes with the villain killing his love interest, and for some reason Russel is struggling to pull that scene off. At home, he practices each scene with his wife playing the part of his love interest. She is no actress, but she does her best, and with his direction she is getting better at slipping into role, but no matter how he tries to mimic the murder scene, it never feels quite right.
On the day of the dress rehearsal, Russel is so deep into character that he no longer responds to his own name. In costume and with his make-up on, he is the villain and he lives the part. His lines and actions come to him as naturally as breathing and he glides through the rehearsal without having to think about it, until it comes to that last scene. At that point, he is ripped out of character and experiences an identity shock that is as powerful as a physical assault. That’s when it comes to him. He is struggling with this scene because he doesn’t actually know what it is like to kill someone. He doesn’t know what the knife feels like when it enters a living, breathing body, and he doesn’t know how watching the soul disappear from the eyes of someone you love would affect him. Everything else in the play comes naturally to him because he has been immersed in it for months. He has lived every line of the play until it is part of his core fabric, but he is pretending the last scene because he genuinely doesn’t know how to act it.
“Brilliant!” Stuart says after the rehearsal. “That was exquisite!” Russel doesn’t reply. That might have been true of the rest of his performance, but not the last scene. There was nothing brilliant about that, because it wasn’t authentic.
These people don’t know the difference between acting and pretending, but I do! He walks home slowly, turning the dilemma over and over in his mind. He passes a butcher’s shop and gets an idea. Russel Smith wouldn’t enter the shop, because the smell of death that hangs around the meat has always repulsed him, but he barely notices it. He buys a slab of meat and quickens his pace, eager to see if his plan will work. When he gets in, he unwraps the meat and puts it onto a chopping board, then he takes a knife and plunges it into the lump of raw flesh, trying to savour the feeling of resistance against the blade.  He closes his eyes, imagining that the meat is his lover, but it doesn’t feel real.
“What are you doing, dear?” His wife asks as she hovers at the kitchen door, looking at him with a furrowed brow. He rarely ventures into the kitchen, so he isn’t really surprised at her curiosity.
“Just trying something out… Actually...” He turns to her and smiles, but these days his smile doesn’t venture much past his lips, and he knows it stops short of his eyes. “Can we practice the last scene just one more time?”
His wife returns his fake smile with a genuine one. He can see the excitement in her face, and she is so eager to please. She knows all the lines now, like a good understudy. “Of course, dear. Where would you like me?”
Russel hides his irritation, just like his character does at this stage in the play. She knows the final scene is a bedroom scene, so where does she think he would like her? He looks past her to the stairs, which are visible through the kitchen door, and she takes the hint.
The next night is opening night, and there’s a buzz around the theatre as the curtain raises. Just like the day before, Russel melts into his character and his performance is flawless. The final scene approaches, and this time as he lifts the knife, he stays in character as authenticity oozes out of every pore. There’s a collective gasp in the audience as his portrayal takes them to the darkest places of the human mind, and he knows the reviews are going to be outstanding.

Judges Comments

As you'd hope in a story with such a dark theme, here's a perfect control of tension in Wendy Hood's 'The Method', the winner of WM's Villain competition.

It's a character-based story that moves from situational comedy – an actor taking an out-of character role - to something much darker as Russel immerses himself in his role. The element of humour, still present, takes on an ever-darker hue as the story builds, beat by well-paced beat, to its climax. Method acting is famously a process whereby an actor draws on personal experience to create authentic characters – Wendy has taken one of the most fruitful questions for writers – 'what it? – and applied it to Russel's situation with chillingly effective results.

The devil being in the detail, look at how Wendy reveals Russel's gradual but irrevocable slide to the dark side. There are no grand gestures or overblown speeches, just the very plausible shift in the way he interacts with the world around him; communicates tersely; creates an unapproachable forcefield around him. It's really effectively done.

Perhaps best of all in this carefully controlled and beautifully crafted story, Wendy builds up her story to its horrible and inevitable climax – and keeps the action offstage. The reader already knows why the reviews would be so effective because Wendy has led them carefully through the path Russel has followed with his method acting. Sometimes what happens offstage is 100 times more effective that what happens on it, and 'The Method' is a case in point.


Runner up and shortlisted

The runner up in WM’s Villain Short Story Competition is Dominic Bell, Hull.  You can read his story at

Also shortlisted were: Joan El Faghloumi, Seaford, East Sussex; Katie Kent, Bicester, Oxfordshire; Chloe Gambell, Burwash, East Sussex; Phil Gilvin, Swindon; Barb Hawryluk, Winnipeg, Canada; Christine Michael, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire; Sally Miles, Leamington Spa; Gillian Sharp, Barnes, London; Richard Smith, Bedford