The Issue With Ink and Your Acting Career

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

Do you remember “The Hangover Part II”? It’s not exactly a classic like “Casablanca” or “Citizen Kane,” but every agent in town knows that film because of the litigation that took place after it was released. And that lawsuit was all about ink.

In the story, Ed Helms ends up with a facial tattoo that is exactly like the one Mike Tyson, who appeared in the first film, has in real life. The only problem is that the tattoo’s design is copyrighted material, and Warner Bros. failed to clear it. So the Missouri artist who created the design and registered a copyright for it filed an infringement suit against the studio.

Stupid, right? Nope. From a legal perspective, the artist was right. A copyright is a copyright. It doesn’t matter if the work in question is on a piece of paper or a boxer’s face. The case was settled out of court and I’m sure the guy scored a nice payday.

Now, every time an actor with a tattoo is hired for a project, it creates a new set of problems, which is just fine with me because there aren’t enough problems in my world.

A production company has three options when it wants to hire a performer with visible tattoos:

  1. Don’t hire the actor. Get someone just as good who isn’t covered in ink.
  2. Cover the tattoo with makeup. This is a drag because that makeup will have to be touched up constantly, especially if the actor is working under hot lights.
  3. Make sure the actor has clearance from the artist. This is a written statement that grants the actor the right to appear on camera with the tattoo. So, if you’re thinking about getting one, make sure you discuss this with the artist before he or she starts injecting ink into your body.

Naturally, there are exceptions. If the tattoo is something innocuous like a little butterfly or the name of a former lover, you don’t have to worry about legal clearance. And if it’s on a part of your body that only a lover or medical professional will see, there’s no need to even mention it.

In addition to all this legal nonsense, tattoos also create casting issues. They limit you. If you’re seriously thinking about getting some ink, you have to consider how doing so will affect your career.

On the plus side, tattoos turn you into a type. That’s a limitation that makes you right for a select group of parts. And if you’re okay with that, a little ink might serve you well. Hell, Danny Trejo seems to be making a decent living, right?

I know this is an artistic cliché, but your body is an instrument. It’s the tool you use to express yourself as an artist and to bring characters to life. That means everything you do to your body will have an effect on your ability to perform. And I’m not just talking about tattoos. I’m talking about piercings, facial hair, weird haircuts, weight gain or loss, plastic surgery…the list goes on and on.

So keep this in mind the next time you have one beer too many and start thinking those Viking war symbols will look amazing running up and down your arms.


Looking to get cast? Apply to casting calls on Backstage.

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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