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The Working Actor

Forever 21, Kissing Comfort

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Forever 21, Kissing Comfort
Dear Jackie:

I would like your advice on a topic that has been bothering me a lot recently. To be blunt, although I am in my early 30s, I look as though I am in my early 20s. If you were to meet me, you would never ever think that I am anywhere close to being in my 30s. It's really frustrating. Every now and then I'll even get mistaken for late teens! Looking young may sound like it is a good problem to have, but I'm not so sure, especially for men. Since I'm pretty sure that I would never be believable as a character written in his early 30s, such as a dad with kids, I make a point to only submit for characters in their 20s.

Recently, I had an audition for a short film, and it went really well! But then at the end the director asked, "How old are you?" I didn't want to lie, so I told him the truth. Somehow, I think that took me out of the running. I'm finding that casting directors ask me my age a lot. What should I do? On the one hand, it might benefit me to lie about my age and tell them the age that I look: mid-20s. On the other hand, if I don't tell the truth and I do book the job, I have now started off the relationship on a lie, and then it feels like all of the bonding amongst cast and crew that happens thereafter is insincere. Finally, if one does lie, doesn't everyone find out eventually once all of the payroll/W-4 paperwork gets completed? I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

Ageless in Los Angeles

Dear Ageless:

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits employers from awarding jobs or perks according to age criteria. (See www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/adea.cfm for the complete text of the act.) While the act doesn't specifically restrict employers from asking an applicant's age in an interview, most employers stay away from the question to avoid any possibility of appearing to violate the law. In the entertainment industry, the applicable question is not how old someone is but how old he or she plays—or looks. According to the Screen Actors Guild, casting directors should refrain from the question altogether. Most professionals stay away from the direct question "How old are you?," but when you are faced with it, you have a couple of options.

The simplest response is to answer the question honestly. However, this, as you've seen, can have negative consequences. Facts that don't line up with an auditor's preconceived notion about a character—or the specific facts of the script—may throw off the less experienced (or less principled). Ageism certainly exists in our industry, as evidenced by the uproar over actors' ages being listed on IMDb.com.

You could, instead, avoid the question. If you choose this route, parry the age question and follow up with the important issue at play: Do you relate to this character? Can you play him or her? Say you're auditioning for the role of John, a 25-year-old recent college grad with big dreams. Try something like "Well, I'm a little older than John, but I recently got out of college, and I can really relate to his struggle to establish himself." Or say "I'm about 25, so I get John's perspective on his future."

Or keep it simple but general. "I'm about 25." "I'm around 23." Words like "around" and "about" are great, as they're nonspecific and totally subjective. Who's to say 32 isn't "around" 25? You might also be able to laugh off the question, as in "Old enough to know better than to answer that question" or "How old is the character?" Some actors simply reply with the written or assumed age of the character, as if it's a fact. Many reply with their age range, as in "I usually play 25 to 30."

If you've tried one or more of the above tactics, it's likely the auditor will back off the question. If not, as a last resort you can refuse to answer. If you take this route, try to keep it light. "I've always heard I shouldn't answer that question. Sorry!" is better than "I'm not going to answer that, and you really shouldn't be asking."

None of these tactics—even using the character's age as if it's a fact—is likely to backfire when you book a gig, bond with your cast and crew, and fill out your paperwork. Most of the time the person doing payroll isn't discussing your age with the person who cast the show. And if they should speak about it? Well, you're in Hollywood, dahling! No one, except perhaps you, is all that worried about accuracy.

Dear Jackie:

I am attending college and have just started looking into auditions for nonunion film, TV, and commercials. My boyfriend of over a year is one of my main supporters, and he is definitely my soulmate in my eyes. The only problem is that it seems like every role out there includes kissing scenes or even sex scenes. My boyfriend is extremely uncomfortable when it comes to me taking on roles where I may need to kiss my co-star. Personally, I wouldn't really be comfortable kissing anyone else, because I've only ever kissed my boyfriend. But then again, if I'm in character, it shouldn't matter, right?

I'm really stumped, because I feel like not kissing is really limiting, and it's hard enough getting a job in general. Do you think directors will understand if I say no to kissing scenes? Or is my dream of becoming an actress now just completely hopeless?

Lips Off Limits

Dear Lips:

You've just begun to investigate acting opportunities, so don't throw in the towel yet. By the same token, your boyfriend is pretty new on the scene, and so, apparently, is your kissing experience. Don't be in a rush to figure out your entire life. Work on what feels comfortable to you right now.

Sure, there are lots of roles—especially for young women—that require physical displays of affection, but there are just as many that don't. Go for those. Directors won't "understand" your reluctance to kiss if you submit for roles that specifically require love scenes—don't expect scripts to be rewritten for you—so submit yourself accordingly. Yes, you're limiting your potential submission pool, but at this stage of the game your goal should be to test the waters. Although it may feel like a dream, until you've begun trying to make it work as a career, you can't be sure it's really for you. You'll have plenty of time to expand your job criteria if you decide to stick with acting—and the boyfriend.

As you mature as an actor and an individual, your physical boundaries will probably change. You may become more comfortable with the idea of love scenes. It's going to be your career, so it's always going to be your choice. Worry about that later. For now, focus on studying acting as a craft and landing roles you're comfortable playing.

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