Can Actors Have Tattoos?

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Photo Source: Courtesy Universal Pictures

What do Zoë Kravitz, Ben Affleck, Colin Farrell, and Tom Hardy have in common? Yes, they’re all famous movie stars and they’ve all appeared in Batman films. But there’s something else: They all have tattoos. Getting inked has become common in Hollywood, but whether to get a tattoo (or several!) remains a question for many young actors. Here’s what to know before getting tattooed, and whether your acting career will feel any sting.

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What Should Actors Consider Before Getting a Tattoo?

We’ve all heard cautionary tales about the partiers who got regrettable ink while drunk during spring break, or the people who are stuck with an ex-partner’s name on their arm. Thankfully, most reputable tattoo artists are professionals and will not work on someone who is noticeably impaired. Hopefully, if you’ve decided to get a tattoo, you’ll have already thought about the image in question, its placement on your body, and how you might feel about it in the years to come. Ask yourself: Does the image convey what you think it does? Could it be misconstrued by others in problematic ways? Will it be easy to conceal when necessary for work? 

Can You Be an Actor With Tattoos?

Tattooed woman in a truck windowJacob Lund/Shutterstock

The simple answer is yes, you can be an actor if you have tattoos. Just ask Pete Davidson, Angelina Jolie, Idris Elba, or Danny Trejo. They’ve all managed to achieve great success in their craft with multiple tattoos.

Of course, there is a difference between celebrities and working actors. Unless you’re at a point in your career where you’re a household name or are being nominated for awards, you should think very carefully before getting inked.

Actors may worry that when casting directors see their tattoos, they will end up being denied certain types of roles or get typecast into others. They assume that they’re more appealing for a wider range of roles if they don’t have tattoos. 

It’s true that talent and charisma count for a lot when talking about an actor’s profile. But in such a competitive industry, casting directors are often looking for ways to narrow the field of potential talent and have actors seamlessly fit the role. As one casting professional said, “Why give anyone a reason not to cast you?

Do Tattoos Affect Acting Careers?

When you’re starting out in your career, it’s possible your visible tattoos may present obstacles. Casting directors may not want to hire you for certain roles because of production concerns. They may worry that your tattoos will distract the audience. Your tattoos might not fit the character breakdown, and a project may not have the time or budget required to hide your tattoos with makeup. In short, without the prestige of a successful acting career, having visible tattoos is not a deal breaker, but it could limit the roles for which you will be considered.

While more and more people seem to be getting tattoos, their presence and placement on the body can send certain messages. Casting directors may assume that audiences will associate facial tattoos or lower back tattoos with stereotypes. Visual media like film, television, and theater are meant to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, so producers and directors will always consider how a mainstream audience will react

Woman getting tattooedMicrogen/Shutterstock

What Type of Acting Career Do You Want to Have?

Most actors want to have range—the ability to play as many different types of characters as possible. After all, more potential roles mean more potential work. Any factor that possibly limits the types of roles you can play can have an enormous impact on the life and longevity of your career.

Of course, limited roles isn’t the same as “no roles” or “boring roles.” It’s possible that your tattoos could be an asset in the pursuit of specific characters. You can have a thriving, stimulating career as a tattooed character actor playing smaller, though no less challenging, roles. Even similar types of characters can vary from project to project, providing the opportunity to flex different acting muscles and explore different aspects of the human condition. 

What Do Casting Directors Say About Actors With Tattoos?

Man showing tattoos on his chest and neckFXQuadro/Shutterstock

Seth Yanklewitz, former vice president of network casting for Fox Broadcasting Company, says that he has no issue with tattooed actors. “If you can act, that’s what I and all [casting directors] need to see—bottom line,” he says. “The rest can be fixed in the hair, makeup, or wardrobe trailer.” Still, he does say some “sexism and classism associated with [tattoos]” exists within the industry.

Sydney-based casting director Greg Apps says that tattooed actors should approach certain auditions differently. “The ink should connect the casting director to your niche,” he says. “The goal is to make sure the tattoo contributes to your distinctiveness. Do tattoos limit the range of roles? Of course. But when applied selectively, they can target your niche. They can make you the first person considered for a particular role. And that is your goal in everything you do: to be an individual, not a conformist.”

How Do Actors Hide Tattoos?

Your ability to hide your tattoos depends, of course, on how extensive they are. The easiest solution if you have one or two inconspicuous tattoos is to wear clothing that covers them. But there’s no guarantee that the wardrobe for a given role will always cover your body art. 

Worried about your extensive ink? Makeup professionals have sophisticated, long-lasting techniques to cover up tattoos. However, depending on how many tattoos they have to conceal, the process can take a while, adding another factor that can potentially slow down filming.  There is some question as to how effective tattoo concealing makeup may be in HD and 4K resolution. Unless you’re an A-list star, chances are producers will opt to cast an actor for whom the extra work and uncertainty is unnecessary.

Can a Film Studio Be Sued Over an Actor’s Tattoo?

It’s rare—but it has happened. In 2011, tattoo artist S. Victor Whitmill sued Warner Bros. to stop the release of “The Hangover Part II,” claiming that a scene in which a character has a copy of one of Mike Tyson’s tattoos violated Whitmill’s copyright for the original. Warner Bros. ultimately settled with Whitmill, but the case raised real questions about the rights tattoo artists have to their work when it appears in film.