So the other day I was watching Public Enemies, with Johnny Depp among others (also Christian Bale!) and there was a scene in which Dillinger (Depp) is behind bars and Bale is kind of lording over him and telling him how it is now and Dillinger listens, while chewing a small piece of gum and smiling. The gum chewing gave Dillinger this sense of eff you insouciance.
I don’t know if the gum was in the script or a smart move on Depp’s part in the moment.
But the other day I had to make a phone call and tell someone something difficult. I was nervous. So I tried the gum. I made the call and I was like a different person – I felt – INSOUCIANT! (Nonchalant, indifferent). The phone call that I had dreaded went down easily and quickly because I gave myself the prop of gum.
Now I realize this sounds totally silly but I thought it was kind of fun to think about. Can you think of movie scenes in which a character chews gum in a key moment? What does gum chewing really mean in that scene? Of course – who can forget Violet Beauregarde from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?!
I was brought up to consider chewing gum a bit rude, a bit declasse. It is something you do, in other words, MAYBE while you are alone and you are vacuuming but you wouldn’t do it in public.
I thought it all quite interesting, especially since I live in the Middle East and there are so many small habits that Americans would consider rude but are not at all rude here and vice versa. It’s interesting what we classify as rude, or classy, or confident or insecure. It just depends on which part of the marble you live on, right?
So three things for you in this seemingly silly post:
1) Send me other examples of movie scenes where gum played a small role in setting up the character’s attitude in the moment.
2) Remember – many props – a toothpick, styling one’s hair, glancing at one’s nails – so many little things your characters can be doing that shed a ton of light and that are showing not telling.
3) Next time you need to feel a bit indifferent and confident, a bit insouciant – put a piece of gum in your mouth. I swear you’ll feel a bit brassier, a bit more sassy.
Treat yourself to Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas