A follower of mine on Twitter sent this email to me.
“As a casting director, how much of the decision on casting a role is based on looks? I don’t mean how the character is supposed to look, I mean in terms of beauty. It’s just something that’s always held me back. I don’t feel like I look the same as everyone else, because I have a few unique features that I’m not ashamed to say I’m proud of, i.e., dark red hair that can either look like fire in the sun or deep brown in the shade—and pale freckles. But having grown up being bullied I feel like all those traits are against me. I’m afraid that if I ever get my chance in a casting room, and hopefully my acting skills get me to a callback, it’d be my looks that stop me from getting the role. I was wondering if there was a certain look that’s popular at the moment. Does it help to have no freckles, and tanned skin, [and] brown hair? If so, would that affect things in an audition?”
First of all, I want to thank you for sharing this with me and being so candid. Of course, I had to reply.
No, there isn’t a certain look that’s popular at the moment. Sure, we’re looking for people who are “screen worthy”—but as you can see when you watch film and television, they come in all shapes and sizes. Take a look at Merritt Wever on “Nurse Jackie”—an amazingly funny character actor who’s also great with drama (check her out in “Michael Clayton” with George Clooney). I could continue to name 10 actors who are not what you’d think are “beautiful” and have huge and thriving careers. Look at Bryan Cranston from “Breaking Bad”—not a traditionally handsome man, but I can’t take my eyes off him because he’s so compelling to watch.
I’m so sorry that you were bullied when you were younger. I think it’s great you’re attempting to turn it around, and I love the way you describe your attributes. But you’ve got to carry that thought through (in the acting world) and “own” it and wear it proud—just like you’ve described yourself to me. It’s those features that make you unique and not like anyone else. Unique is what we want. There are a lot of “traditionally” beautiful people out there, and frankly, after a while, that becomes boring to watch. As viewers we crave people we can relate to, whom we can live through vicariously.
It’s interesting to me that the words you use to describe yourself are filled with such pride and so beautiful—yet you think that these things are holding you back in the acting world and seem somewhat ashamed of these attributes. If you truly embrace them, you’ll go far.
Known for her work in film and television, Casting Director Marci Liroff has worked with some of the most successful directors in the world such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Mark Waters, Christopher Nolan, Brad Bird, and Herbert Ross. While working at Fenton-Feinberg Casting, she, along with Mike Fenton, cast such films as “A Christmas Story," “Poltergeist," “E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial," “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," and “Blade Runner." After establishing her own casting company in 1983, Liroff cast “Footloose," “St. Elmo's Fire," “Pretty in Pink," “The Iron Giant," “The Spitfire Grill," “Untamed Heart," “Freaky Friday," “Mean Girls," “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and the upcoming “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which she produced as well.
Liroff is also an acting coach, and her three-night Audition Bootcamp has empowered actors to view the audition process in a new light. The class spawned a DVD, which features the highlights of the Audition Bootcamp classes.