Thursday, 12 October 2017

I Know It Sounds Bad But...

So often I see the words ‘I know this sounds bad but…’ when reading a casting call. Often it’s followed by a request for an actress to get naked or wear revealing clothes or be painted silver, wear an elephant mask and be coated in gravy (true). Still, they obviously don’t feel that bad. To them, it’s the level of bad we feel eating something off the floor that’s gone beyond the 5-second rule or the bad we feel when Netflix pops up to ask if we’re really still watching Drag Race. We know we shouldn’t be we do it anyway because it makes us feel good, good enough to erase that little bit of guilt. Sure, we might have mice and we can’t remember the last time we hoovered but that bit of cheese is fine, right? I can only imagine that’s how these people behind the casting calls feel, they know it sounds bad but…

The problem is that this is how much of the acting industry is run, from the people making a 2-minute short with their iPhone up to the very, very top, as was revealed in the news this week. By all accounts, Weinstein knew he was doing wrong but he still did it. Women have been his hit of cheese cascading onto the floor and he’s eaten them up even though he knows he really shouldn’t.

Hearing women calling this out is phenomenal and amidst this horror and shock despite this hugely inevitable news, it’s felt like a small ray of light, a little glimmer of hope that maybe this will be the catalyst for change. But there has been much criticism regarding women not coming forward at all and that needs to stop. As I should think has become horrifically aware to those who haven’t experienced this industry first hand, it’s not particularly supportive. Competition is rife, jobs are hard won and fear is worn daily.

‘I know it sounds bad but…’ Yes, we all know it sounds bad but you still want it and I still want a job. Emma from drama school just landed a Hollywood role and Roberto from the first play I did is now at the National and Helena from my improv class has just been made a regular in Corrie. Everyone seems to be getting work and the pressure mounts and you don’t want to be that actress who clearly just doesn’t want it enough. Success is so often measured on what you’re willing to sacrifice, from having an healthy social life to your self-esteem, and not giving up enough is seen as a lack of commitment, that you can’t be that motivated, that your drive isn’t as fierce as the next woman who will do that.

I’m thankful I haven’t found myself in a situation where I’ve felt unsafe but I have felt pressure to do things I don’t want to do. While still at drama school, only months before graduating, we were making short films and I was playing the lead, a character who loses her virginity by the end of the film. One day, the director takes me to one side and tells me that he expected me to be topless, minimum, for the role. I was 20, I was just about to go into the real world and this was someone who had worked for many years within the industry. Although it was absolutely the last thing I wanted to do, I did it.  I wanted to show willing, to prove that I really wanted this. So I went through what I still hold as the worst day of my acting career, feeling uncomfortable in a room full of men doing something I didn’t want to do but felt powerless to do anything about. And this was for a role I had already secured in something that no one would ever see.

This is happening at every stage of the acting industry and we need to stop putting the responsibility on actors to call it out. It’s amazing that actors feel they can but the industry needs better regulations, better support, better education to stop this from happening, and we mustn't assume that just because some actors can then they all are able to. The idea of the casting couch has become so ingrained in our culture that we almost laugh about it like it’s some old Hollywood myth but we know it happens and we need to make it stop because what starts as, ‘I know this sounds bad but…’ becomes something stronger each time they get away with it. 

We should not be making actors feel guilty for not calling things out sooner, we should be shaming the industry that allows this to happen in the first place. Actors are made to feel grateful for their work, constantly reminded that if they won’t do it, someone else will, and what we now need to make sure is not to stop that person from doing what no one else will but to stop those asking them do it.  I know this sounds bad but…

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