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Red Scare

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Two years ago I submitted my headshot and résumé for an audition. The casting notice described the character as the sarcastic, cynical, wisecracking friend of the lead. I went to the audition and felt pretty good about it. The casting people thanked me, I walked out of the room, and when they thought I'd walked far enough away I heard, "I don't know, the whole ginger thing?" I never heard back.

I have bright, glowing, fabulous red hair. When I decided I was going to pursue acting as a career, I knew I'd have my challenges, but I hadn't anticipated hair color as a factor holding me back. But it makes sense, I guess. How many redheaded actors are there? Yes, there's Philip Seymour Hoffman and Conan O'Brien, but we're a ridiculously underrepresented minority.

And for that matter, how many people do you see in general with red hair? Personally, when I see more than two of us in a room, I feel like I'm in a scene from a bad sci-fi clone movie about redheaded pod-people. When I meet someone for the first time, it's guaranteed to be one of the first things they notice. "Wow, your hair is so red, like, really red." "You have such beautiful hair. I want it."

What happens when I submit my headshot? If I don't already know those involved with the production, my headshot must speak for me first. And when the casting call reads, "Male, early to mid-20s, Caucasian," and they see my headshot, I think they toss it. I never set foot in the audition room.

I understand the hesitance: Casting redheads may feel like a specific choice. Ideally, directors want control over everything audiences see, so they may envision them distracted by my Day-Glo head, not absorbed in the story. It'll be a while before I'm in such high demand that a director will let me play Iago in an Othello set in Ireland.

I see how this sounds like an "I would act if people would let me" argument. And yes, I've invested lots of hours in self-pity—from "If I looked 'normal' I could at least audition" to "No one wants to cast a redhead." It's a challenge to stay positive, especially when those close to you spoon-feed negativity. In college, I didn't worry too much about my hair color because I often had roles. My girlfriend then was the first to voice what was previously a well-suppressed thought: "But honey, how many actors do you see with red hair?" We're not dating anymore.

As for the roles I go for, people say I look the nerdy, harmless, awkward, doofus type. But I like going for roles that are dark in some way—snarky, jaded, maybe a little evil. I don't mind playing a cornball, and I'm not about to turn away roles, so if playing Jiminy Cricket will get me that Equity contract, bring it on.

Nor do I think the future is desperate or bleak for me and my kind. I've had decent luck with Irish plays. Scotland and Ireland have the highest percentage of gingers in the world, so I stock up on dialect CDs.

Another type I've had some success with is the "really white guy." Recently, I acted in a production called Men Are Real as the only white character among Latino men. I'll revisit my role this summer. Could a nonredhead play this part? Yes. But if they want someone who really stands out, that ginger beacon is undeniable. According to some actors and casting directors I've asked, redheads are great for extra work and commercials because they add diversity to the mix. Once in a long while, there are casting calls just for us.

Some suggest I dye my hair, but being a redhead is part of who I am. If someone asked me to dye my hair for a role, I'd gladly do so, but I won't change my hair color indefinitely. I have faith that when I'm invited to my dream audition, my talent will outshine my fiery hues.

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