The student came to me in a tizzy. A guest director had suggested she lose weight for a role—that the character might be better served were she to get in “better shape.” How dare he. Her peers agreed this was horrifyingly evil and that she was beautiful just as she was. She wanted confirmation and reassurance: The director was out of line…wasn’t he?
That the conversation took place in an educational setting makes it inappropriate from go. But after graduation in a few short weeks, this young woman and her peers will find the answer is more complex than they think.
Yes, the director went off the rails when he asked for the change only after finalizing casting. If he wanted a skinnier lead, he should have talked to the actor beforehand, just as if he’d wanted to ask, “Will you cut your hair?” If she’d said no, he’d have been able to decide up-front whether to find a performer more in line with his “vision.”
However. (Here’s where I prepare myself for hate mail.) As actors constantly on the hunt for work, we’d be wise to remember that we are selling not only our talent and abilities but an entire package—teeth, skin, cellulite, et al. Directors may want us to bulk up, learn to ride a horse, or even lose weight. It’s not sinister, malicious, or even surprising. Actors like Renée Zellweger and Russell Crowe famously alter their bodies for roles, and while their paychecks may eclipse ours, aren’t we practicing the same craft? Directors want to control the art they present. We are, for better or for worse, part of that art.
Jackie Apodaca is an associate professor and the head of performance at Southern Oregon University.