Charisma isn’t always showy. And it’s often deeper and better when it isn’t.
It’s no particularly astonishing magic trick to vanish behind a wall of CGI and special effects, to be sure. But Ciarán Hinds can disappear in plain sight. Which seems on the surface like the opposite of “charisma,” perhaps—a kind of self-effacing humility, or an essential quietness. Well, even in an actor, sometimes “surface” is the wrong place to look. Every time Hinds appears on screen (even as a comic book monster), he gives off a sense of … well, depth, yes, but depth in the sense of an underground hot spring or a cenote or some kind of thermal fissure: Something in there is bubbling. The solid, serenely confident surface is a total smokescreen.
Hinds is 66, but totally ageless. He’s from Belfast, but he could pretty much be from anywhere. He’s class-ambiguous—try being everyone from Caesar to Mance Rayder if you’re Benedict Cumberbatch or Hugh Grant. His characters tend to radiate intelligence, often of a canny, born-of-experience stripe. Emperor, folk hero, professor, priest, military officer, spy. If there is a through line to his characters it might be an ineffable “old soul” vibe. This is different from “intelligence,” even if they often appear to travel together; the old soul thing isn’t about IQ so much as a kind of experiential, been-there-done-that acceptance of things as they are. Which is not to say an old soul can’t be an agitator—Caesar certainly was one—or a fighter—how many times has Hinds been one sort of soldier or another?
And let’s face it, there’s just something about that huge mouth of his, the wry twist of it, the way words almost seem like solid objects when he talks.
I suppose what Ciarán Hinds isn’t is comic relief. You wouldn’t cast him if you were looking for a clown (Phantom of the Opera notwithstanding). He’s not your man if you’re looking for superficial or insubstantial or fey. But if you need someone with some serious incantatory prowess? A priest, say. Or a professor. Or a revolutionary, or Albus Dumbledore’s disaffected bartender brother for that matter. Or a brooding romantic hero (Captain Wentworth in Persuasion or Rochester in Jane Eyre? (Hell, in his mid-sixties I’d still cast him as Mr. Darcy). If you need someone for whom pregnant silences are important—the words unsaid more powerful than those spoken—you want Ciarán Hinds for that.
Charisma is easy to define but hard to quantify. It means you have a presence or a presentation that tends to inspire, beguile or influence the people around you. It is sometimes defined as a divinely given power or talent, which indicates our poor understanding of it. It’s an elusive quality (or set of qualities) that might have to do with intuitiveness, or intelligence, or social adroitness, or whatever “charm” is. Things like “resilience” and “passion” and “confidence” might enter into it, but you can be any or all of those things and not be charismatic. If you want a more precise definition of charisma, read a dictionary. If you want to see charisma in action? Watch Ciarán Hinds.
Amy Glynn appreciates for Paste.