I met two female actors this week, at my writing group. They had come along to talk about what they did when they were given scripts. Naively, I thought they just learnt the lines and imagined themselves as the character. But I was wrong. Instead, they analysed each line to look for the sub-text and scribbled all over it lest they forget. Actually, it is not unlike what I did with my ‘A’ Level English Literature course books.
Then, one of them dropped a bomb-shell. She said that she had been to Drama School in London and, on graduating, had been told the only parts she would play would be “a nurse, an inexperienced primary school teacher, an inexperienced lawyer or a victim.” “I must have a victim face!” she laughed. Now, this may not come as a shock to you but it did to us. “How can that be in this day and age?” asked one of my fellow writers. The actor just shrugged and said, “It’s just the way it is. There are so many actors in London that casters can be that picky. That’s why I joined a Theatre Group,” she added. “I knew it was the only way I’d get to play a wide range of parts.”
I may be naive but I’m not naive enough to think that a person’s looks don’t come into it when actors or dancers or singers are being considered in the entertainment industry. But to spend three or four years at Drama School perfecting your craft to be then given a very narrow and finite number of roles that you would get to play must be very depressing. You must think, why the hell did I bother? Either that or you develop a thick skin very quickly.
And then I remembered an article I had read recently about the problems women were experiencing when going for job interviews. It said that because of the economic crisis and the number of people chasing one job, employers were now unofficially judging candidates on their looks. The more attractive you were to the interviewer, the more likely you were to get the job. Which is all well and good if you are one of the beautiful ones but what about the rest of us mere mortals?
I had also watched a TV documentary a couple of weeks ago about the rise of cosmetic surgery in Brazil. The cost of surgery there is relatively cheap and the country’s booming economy has seen a huge rise in woman spending their hard-earned cash on new noses, boobs and bums. Women of all ages are literally whacking the cost onto their credit-cards. When asked why, as well as saying to boost their self-esteem, many women said it was to improve their job prospects. “I’ll be able to get a better job if I have a tummy tuck,” one woman said. In Brazil it seems how you look really does dictate the kind of jobs you get.
For a minute or two, I forgot we live in the twenty-first century. I thought about how things had changed over the preceding one and the social changes that had taken place. How people had protested, fought and even died for changes in attitudes and in the law to gender, class, race, ethnicity and sexuality. I am not a fool. I know there is a long way to go before we reach anything like a meritocracy. But it seems that there is a lot further to go then I realised.