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The Working Actor

Bathing Suits, Onscreen Looks

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Bathing Suits, Onscreen Looks

DEAR JACKIE:

I've never, ever had this happen before. Have you ever been asked to bring a bathing suit to change into at a first audition, since the role calls for it? Is this a scam?

Cami
via the Internet

DEAR CAMI:

I can imagine situations where this would be creepy and others where it would make perfect sense. Here are a couple of my experiences with bathing-suit auditions.

I used to produce and cast low-budget commercials and infomercials for weight-loss products and fitness equipment. (Yes, I know. I am sorry. It was my day job.) And we would always have people—mostly models—audition in bathing suits. Sometimes agents would send actors who were clearly not models, and they did appear to be uncomfortable. But the roles required people who looked superfabulous in skimpy outfits. Sometimes they had to talk; sometimes they just had to stand around a pool and show off the fabulous abs they'd ostensibly gotten with the product of the day. There was nothing scammy about it. It was nonunion, but it paid and we worked a standard production day, with good food and reasonable hours. There was no nudity. Even the hosts, who were dressed more conservatively, needed to be quite fit. We were selling thin, fit, and ripped. It would have been a big waste of everyone's time to call back people who didn't look good in a bathing suit—that was the most crucial criterion for the job.

On the acting side, my agent once sent me to a union commercial audition for a body wash. The auditors wanted me in short shorts and a tank top. This may sound nuts, but I actually owned not a single pair of shorts. (I am much too insecure about my incredibly pale skin; my legs are white as paper.) So I figured it would be fine if I wore knee-length capris. Well, the folks at this totally legitimate and well-respected casting office wouldn't see me. At the time, I thought they were lame for being so particular at a first audition—I'd buy the shorts for a callback but not a first call, for Pete's sake!—but looking back I realize they had every right to be specific. It was irritating, but it certainly wasn't a scam. And judging by the body-wash commercials I've seen since, they were right to want to rule out the white-skinned among us.

I also opted out of the one commercial audition I was supposed to attend in a bathing suit. It just felt too weird. Again, this was an audition, received through my agent, for a union gig. It was legitimate. But so was my choice not to go.

If you'd like, check further into the company or the casting office and take your cue from what you find. Or if the whole idea of auditioning in a bathing suit gives you the creeps, go ahead and sit this one out. It's not likely to pay off if you show up and sweat through the session.

DEAR JACKIE:

How much do looks really matter when it comes to TV and film? I know the industry is supposedly notorious for being nicer to guys with quirky looks or physical shortcomings than to ladies. I don't really care if I'm the next Julia Roberts leading-lady type. Truthfully, I'd rather be a character actress; I think they have a better chance at longevity.

Regardless of the answer, I know that I'll achieve success as a film and TV actress, because I happen to think it doesn't matter what you look like. I know I have talent, a great personality, and good personal magnetism. All it takes is that one big break. Still, I'd like to get a professional opinion on how much looks really matter.

B.B.
via the Internet

DEAR B.B.:

It sounds as if you've already assured yourself of your inevitable success and discounted the importance of looks in the equation. And yet you asked for my opinion, so here it is.

Looks do matter—a whole lot. No matter how much we may want to believe that our personal aura or shining talent will shield us from this reality, we can't escape the fact that film and TV are visual mediums in which what we look like becomes part of the story. Yes, we can on occasion transcend our appearance if given the chance by casting directors, producers, and directors—as well as viewers—but actors are generally cast based on how they fit a particular role, both internally and externally. We are all, in a sense, beneficiaries and victims of our type.

Fortunately, if you understand your type and use it smartly, you can make it work for you. I haven't seen your photo, so I have no idea whether your attraction to character roles is in line with how the world sees you, but it might do you good to take an informal poll. You can begin by asking actors, acting teachers, and industry folks you know. See whether there's a trend to their opinions. You might also do something as radical and silly as approach a large group of people—maybe waiting in line for a movie or in a nonacting class—and ask them to type you by checking off one of your possible types on a piece of paper. (To avoid funny looks, tell them it's a class assignment.) If their feedback is anonymous, you're more likely to get accurate results. Then, armed with this information, you can make your looks work for you.

There is no "right" look for working in television and film. But the more you know about which jobs others view you as right for, the easier your early acting years will be. You can, of course, work against type whenever the opportunity arises and after your career is established. I have a friend who consistently plays the big, sloppy, funny guy in his moneymaking work, while on his own time he explores myriad roles with his theater company and indie film projects.

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