I recently had an interesting email conversation about stories with another writer . He theorized that there are two kinds of writers, those that write about things that go in in their own lives, more or less heavily fictionalized, and those that write about characters and situations different from themselves. The two kinds bleed into each other, of course. If I write a murderer, I'm drawing on my own past -- no, not of murder, but of being angry enough to want to kill somebody. My life feeds even the character most unlike me.
I was thinking about this when I finished watching Jodie Foster's performance in THE BRAVE ONE. I didn't think about it while I was watching because Foster was too riveting. She plays a woman whose lover is brutally and randomly murdered in Central Park. When most people lose a loved one, they grieve, become depressed, struggle to readjust. Foster does those things, but she also turns urban vigilante. What made the movie, despite a flawed ending, so mesmerizing is the complexity Foster puts into this woman. She's terrified of her own violence, yet goes on causing it. She's morally conflicted, gleeful, scared, furious, wily, and begging to be caught, all at once.
Shakespeare wrote that sort of character. Literary theorists refer to the ability of the author to subtract himself from his story, to create such a diverse range of characters that it's hard to glimpse the author's personality through his fiction, negative capability. Old Will had it in spades, which is one reason we can draw so few conclusions about him as a person. I think Jodie Foster has it, too.