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Interpretative Character
The Cheshire Cat, from surreal to spooky to GAH!

"Batman's rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways. To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but it's certainly no less valid and true to the character's roots than the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy."

People in Real Life are unique, irreplaceable, with their own specific background and personality.

Not so in fiction. Some characters are better known as symbols than as people. Consequently, as long as you keep the basic elements of a character (their essence) you can have infinite variations of the same character. Without those elements, you would have a completely different character rather than a new version.

Any character can undergo some variations Depending on the Writer. But not every character can have major reinterpretations and remain the same character.

For example take Batman. He has numerous different interpretations. Some are campy, some are realistic but gritty, some are darker, cartoony etc. But all share the basic elements of a man named Bruce Wayne who dons a bat costume and fights crime. If we saw another character named Batman who stayed at home and argued eloquently on the Internet, we'd have a totally different character, despite the name.

On the other hand Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean isn't as interpretative. You can't just take any drunk pirate and call him "Jack Sparrow". Anyone who tries to emulate or parody him, would need to keep Johnny Depp's mold intact. This character's specific personal appearance, clothes, mannerisms, and manner of speech would need to be kept the same (or exaggerated in case of parody). Disney even admitted that without Johnny Depp the franchise would be "dead and buried". His characterization may change slightly Depending on the Writer, but there isn't really much room for variation.

Contrast Captain Ersatz, where a variation of an Interpretative Character is introduced as a new character, and Expy, where a new character is designed around the defining tropes of another non - Interpretative Character.

May overlap with Era-Specific Personality. Iconic Characters are the ones most likely to fall into this.

Not to be confused with Alternative Character Interpretation, Character Derailment, Depending on the Writer, or In Name Only.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • The aforementioned Batman. His interpretations range from the cartoony (Batman: The Brave and the Bold) to the farcical (the 1960s series) to the dark and artistic (the 1989 movie) to the gritty The Dark Knight.
  • Superman: He's Powerful and The Good Guy (tm). But how powerful is he? Is he a patriotic character, or does he transcend nationalism? Is he mostly alien, or mostly human?
  • The Incredible Hulk is all over this: is the Hulk an aspect of Banner's psyche brought to life? A completely separate individual? A psychological child (emotionally innocent but easily angered)? Really kind of dumb, of at least average intelligence using Hulk Speak as a verbal tic, or using it to deliberately downplay his intelligence? All of these have been used.

    Films 
  • Godzilla over the years has been portrayed as a villain hell-bent on destroying all of humanity, an Anti-Hero force of nature, and as a heroic Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • James Bond. At heart, he's The Casanova super spy who drops a good Bond One-Liner. Anything else is up for interpretation.
  • Zorro has been variously portrayed as lighthearted, vengeful, political, campy, or romanticized, depending on the filmmaker and era.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Doctor himself on Doctor Who. At his core he is an eccentric but heroic old man with a time machine. However, every Doctor will be different from his/their other incarnations. Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor, often says that the premise is so open to interpretation that no-one has ever 'failed' as the Doctor and no-one ever can.

    Literature 
  • Alice in Wonderland : At her core, she is the Only Sane Man; an Every Girl in a Cloud Cuckoo Land. But is she an innocent yet somewhat typical little girl among fuzzies, a mad girl exploring the dark recesses of her own psyche, or an unconventional woman who's actually stumbled into another plane?
  • The Wizard of Oz has thousands of different interpretations for all the characters. They all have their cores; Dorothy wants to get back to normalcy, the Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Man wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion wants courage. There is a Good Witch and a Wicked Witch who approaches Dorothy when she arrives in Munchkinland. The Wizard of Oz is a scary illusionist and big fat liar. The things they do and how they accomplish them vary quite a bit with each interpretation.
  • Sherlock Holmes. His interpretations on screen have ranged from Basil Rathbone's mildly eccentric English gentleman, Jeremy Brett's bipolar genius, Robert Downey Junior's intellectual Badass Bookworm and Benedict Cumberbatch's borderline autistic savant; all of which can be totally justified from the original texts.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has Willy Wonka: At his core, he is a brilliant, reclusive, lively Mad Scientist of candymaking who has highly Skewed Priorities when it comes to the fates of those who enter his world and don't heed his warnings, owing to his unique way of thinking, and is very much a Trickster Mentor in his effort to find a successor. Adaptations and their respective actors have built on this in a variety of ways: Gene Wilder plays up the Trickster aspect to the hilt, even deliberately scaring the Golden Ticket tour group for fun. Johnny Depp plays him as a Man Child whose years of isolation from the rest of the world result in him having trouble just speaking to, much less interacting with, his visitors in ways they would regard as "normal". In the 2002 audiobook version, Eric Idle plays up the character's boundless energy, which makes him something of a mad optimist even in the darkest moments. In the 2013 stage musical, Douglas Hodge plays him as a Mad Artist / Mad Scientist hybrid with a Sugar and Ice Personality: Much of the time he's frosty towards the tour group, focusing on the business at hand rather than getting to know them, and to the bad seeds of the group he shows stealthy contempt and, when they meet their (sometimes deadly) fates, truly blithe indifference. But he's also sensitive to creativity and beauty and capable of showing great kindness and warmth to those who can appreciate and understand his way of thinking.

    Video Games 
  • From the Halo videogame series, John-117/Master Chief. Psychopathic super soldier? Traumatized, bitter warrior? A victim of the UNSC's ruthlessness? A badass antihero? A morally upright, heroic and compassionate figure? While the books usually portray him negatively or as a victim (with the exception of his infamous action hero personality in The Flood), the games are generally more ambigious.
  • The various reincarnations of Link and Zelda in The Legend of Zelda series. Though this has an in-universe justification for the various interpretations.
  • Carmen Sandiego. She's the red-coated nemesis of the ACME Detective Agency and the ringleader of V.I.L.E. Since the early '90s, her Back Story always involves her being a former ACME detective. Within those parameters, pretty much anything can be changed, including how much (if any) goodness is left in her.

    Web Comics 
  • Jenny Everywhere, a character who was made for the sole purpose of being inserted into any continuity through any interpretation.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony is a big example. Take Rainbow Dash for instance; Rainbow Dash at her core is a female pony with a rainbow colored mane. However, her G3 incarnation is a girly girl fashionista who only cares about clothes. Rainbow Dash from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on the opposite is an athletic girl who is well known for her awesome physical feats and couldn't care less about fashion. The reason why 'My Little Pony'' characters are such good examples of interpretative characters is because they are all, in the end, defined only by their name, color scheme and hip-symbol (at least in FiM, it's called a cutie mark). That is why a character like Rainbow Dash can have one personality in one version and a completely different personality in another version while these radically different interpretations are still considered variations of the same character.
  • Transformers is the same. And then, you have to differentiate between "new version of character X" and "new character with a name we've heard before slapped on it." The Powers That Be aren't too particular about how smaller names are used (Starscream's never not gonna be The Starscream, but minor characters may never get the same portrayal twice. And there've been so many that the writers may truly be unaware that waaaaaay back in 1987 there was a guy in one issue in one comic by that name.) A couple big names:
    • Megatron. For any kind of villain you've ever seen, there's a Megatron for that. He's been a brute, a brilliant manipulator and chessmaster, a one-bot army and far-thinking master planner, an energy vampire, and an extremely 80s cartoon villain with a high-pitched voice and schemes like "I know how we can get more energy! Let's build this giant cannon to knock the Moon out of orbit, build a device to control the tides in the Moon's absence, and then use all that power to flood a canyon that contains a hydroelectric generator that we built." He's also tried Omnicidal Maniac on for size once (in Transformers Cybertron, his true plan proves to be to use the black hole to eradicate the whole universe, then rebuild it in his image. He is always The Determinator, though.
    • Starscream is always going to try and screw Megatron over, but why? Does he just want power for himself? Does he want the best for the Decepticons and honestly believe it's not Megs? Is he right about that? Was he loyal until Megs screwed him? Does he stay with the 'cons, or does he become a third faction? When he does get some power, is he any good at using it?
    • On the good guys' side, Optimus. He's similar to the Batman example. He'll always be The Hero, always the leader, always serious but with the occasional sign of a sense of humor and A Father to His Men. The exact flavor depends on the tone of the series, though. In the film series he's The Berserker in battle, and in Beast Wars and Animated, he's the leader of the team but not the Autobots altogether. (A big brother to his men?) In a darker series, he won't hesitate to kill; in a lighter one, he's always willing to forgive. Sometimes he's willing to say I Did What I Had to Do, and sometimes it's "showing mercy even if it's probably gonna bite us down the road is what makes us better than the 'cons."
    • Ironhide's been an old and Southern minivan, stealthy and Southern truck, a young and not Southern truck, a truck who really loves his guns (fitting an American Deep South stereotype despite not having the accent), and most recently young, Southern, and... a vehicle that's trying really hard not to look like a repaint of Ratchet's pre-Earth alien-ified ambulance mode who probably would have traded that alt-mode in a truck.
    • For a minor-name case that may not be intended as a new version of an existing character, there's Blackout. We've got Demolishor's ground-vehicle Robot Buddy in Transformers Armada, the toy name of an unnamed Bruticus Maximus component in Transformers Energon, a bird Terrorcon drone in the show proper, and a helicopter-bot who all but wiped out a whole military base in the first live movie. Animated Blackout is basically movie Blackout in the show's animation style, though. Movie Blackout may be a reference to fellow helicopter Bruticus component Blackout, but that's a stretch - Energon combiners are single characters who split, not teams who combine. Energon Bruticus' leg having a name is obscure trivia.
    • Rampage: big cat, Hannibal Lecter in the form of a giant crab, or a construction vehicle? Like Blackout, being a 'con is all the uses of the name have in common.
    • Scorponok is borderline. As a Decepticon scorpion, he feels more like a recurring character than an oft-reused name. However, the name "Scorponok" pretty much has to be used for a scorpion, and a scorpion pretty much has to be bad. Beyond this, nothing is the same twice - he's been a non-sentient, crazy enormous base-turned-robot used by an alien warlord, a leader of the Decepticons in Megatron's absence, an unremarkable button-man, and a conflicted Anti-Villain.
    • Wheeljack has his share of changes per continuity. In G1 he's a Gadgeteer Genius whose inventions have a varying degree of success. In Transformers Armada, he is an Autobot turncoat who sides with the Decepticons. In Transformers Prime he's a member of the Wreckers, a Badass One Bot Army who can take on multiple 'cons all at once.
    • Ultra Magnus tends to be a high-ranking, powerful soldier connected to Optimus Prime in some way, sometimes being his brother. His characterization primarily comes from the rank of Supreme Autobot Leader somehow. In G1 he feared and avoided such responsibility despite being well cut out for it, in Transformers: Robots In Disguise he was jealous of Prime for being chosen to be leader, and in Animated he already was a responsible leader who saw potential in the young rookie known as Optimus Prime.
    • Sentinel Prime is far more vague, not even having a concrete basic visual design unlike most of the above, but somehow relates to being Optimus Prime's superior somehow. In G1 he doesn't have much of a characterization beyond dying and passing the Autobot Matrix of Leadership to Optimus, but was brought back for Animated as a complete and utter Jerkass who keeps rubbing it in Optimus' face that he is in the Elite Guard whereas Optimus is just a maintenance bot despite the fact the Optimus sacrificed his chances for the Elite Guard for him. note  In Transformers: Dark of the Moon however, he is Optimus' highly respected predecessor and mentor whom he brought Back from the Dead in hopes of ending the war only to find out that he is a Well-Intentioned Extremist with A God Am I tendencies who allied with Megatron long ago in a plan to send Cybertron to Earth and restore it using Earth's resources and Puny Earthlings. Notably, the two recent depictions of Sentinel Prime tend to play Actor Allusion/Ink-Suit Actor. Animated Sentinel was voiced by Townsend Coleman and is basically The Tick in Transformer form, whereas DOTM Sentinel is modeled after his voice actor Leonard Nimoy, and even shares a line with Spock.


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alternative title(s): Phoenix Character
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