Most of us who have worked professionally in the TV and film industry know that there are a lot of dirty little secrets in our profession. These secrets are diligently protected by all of us in the know out of fear of not working, of being labeled a ‘big mouth’, or because we know that the rest of the world would think us insane if ever they were to learn what really goes on. But I’m here today to spill the beans. That’s because I lived in Greece and it turned me into an anarchist and because I’ve spent enough years in the ‘biz’ to be jaded just enough that I receive great joy and satisfaction telling all of you what really goes on.
In today’s American film industry one of the biggest challenges any actor faces is their body; how much of it they’re willing to show, that is. For any of you who have ever clicked your way through one of the numerous online casting facilities in LA you’ve already been shocked by the sheer number of roles that require nudity. If you’re a woman, you can expect to be asked to do nudity ten times more than a man. If you’re a woman who doesn’t look like a boot or have a beard, up that number to twenty.
Now, I admit that I’ve been known to do a little frolicking on the beaches of Greece wearing very little. I may have even taken a dip once or twice wearing nothing but my birthday suit, yet somehow being naked in front of a school of fish and your best friend and being naked on a movie screen in front of hundreds of people seems a little different to me.
Years ago, if someone had asked me (and they did, quite a few times) how I felt about doing nudity my answer was always the same – no way! It was my contention that somehow only mediocre actresses resorted to nudity onscreen. At the time I looked to actresses whose careers I admired and respected – Angelica Houston, Jessica Lange, Jodie Foster and Glenn Close – saying to myself ‘they never took off their clothes, so why should I?’ At least that was my reasoning then. Then I began to watch more and more European films and my opinion began to shift. Nudity in most European cinema is not taboo – at most people might call it sexy. And unlike American cinema, it doesn’t appear as often alongside violence.
What changed my mind for good however, was an interview I saw a few years back with Jodie Foster, an artist whom I greatly admire. She was talking about her work on a particular film that called for nudity and at the time she told the director she was uncomfortable with it. His response?
“Come back and talk to me when you’re ready to be a real actor.”
I thought about his statement a great deal, asking myself whether or not he was right? Is that what being an actor is – going to places we’re scared of and uncomfortable with, using all of our bodies as our instrument, never saying ‘no’ to anything? In the end, providing the material is good enough, I decided he was right. Real actors takes chances. Real actors risk it all.
Then one day, many years later a Hollywood director came knocking on my agent’s door and I had the chance to prove that I too, was fearless.
I was working in Greece at the time and had just finished what seemed like my fiftieth commercial playing (as usual) the young, fresh-faced mom. I had been cast a thousand times in Greece as the mother and boy oh boy was I tired of it. I would have jumped at the chance to play anything else – a serial killer, a madwoman, a homeless person – before I pushed another baby carriage across the screen. Then I got a call from my agent one day saying that a director in LA I’d sent a tape to loved me. It was for a part in a feature film and some big names were attached. My agent reeled me in just enough with all the juicy details that by the time he got around to “the role requires nudity” I was barely listening.
“How much nudity?” I asked.
“Just think of it like taking a shower, only the whole world gets to watch.”
Oh my God.
The next thing I know I’m hugging my best friend goodbye and hopping on a plane to LA to audition for the part. She looked at me earnestly after our embrace and said to me “don’t you dare come back without showing at least half a –.” I’ll stop it there, this is the internet.
So there I was a couple days later reading for the part. My audition went so well that the director immediately announced I was one of his top three choices. I thought that was a very good sign. It also, much to my horror as I found out that day, meant that I had to do something called a ‘body check’. A body check…? Good lord, I thought, that doesn’t sound very good?
Now here’s a little nugget of gold for all of you in the biz that not many people will ever tell you about. Body check’s are one of Hollywood’s biggest secrets – like an urban legend one will hear rumors of them whispered by those in the business although you can never seem to meet anyone who will actually admit to having done one. I’m here however, to tell you that they are a very real reality here in Hollywood.
The whole point of any body check is just that, to check the body of the actor for visible scars, tattoo’s and body piercings, and to ensure the actor hasn’t lied about having any of these things. Clothes can after all hide some incredible things. The last thing a director wants is to cast an actor for a bathing suit scene and find out on the day of filming that she or he has a lion tattooed across their abdomen and needs ten hours of make-up. It sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it?
Reasonable as it may be I can’t say that when the moment came for me to show myself in (almost all) my glory that it was very comforting. With the director, casting director and camera all pointed in my direction I did what any risky actor would do. I sucked in my tummy, stood in the most flattering pose I could possibly think of and then, dropped my robe to the floor. Every second was an eternity. The clock didn’t seem to be moving. The camera was leering at me – every inch (or pretty darn close to every inch) of my body now forever embossed on film to be picked apart. Oh boy. Then, I had to do what no woman in the world wants to do underneath halogen lights on film. I had to turn around in a circle. I tried to think of how I could turn so that my poor backside would look its best but I looked up at the lights and realized it was useless, I was past the point of no return. So I just did it.
Now I have to say after all this that the director was extremely professional. And although it was a little weird to shake his hand after the audition (with my clothes back on, of course) I didn’t feel I had done something bad. I thou
ght about all the casting directors in Greece who had chosen me to play the mom and I felt vindicated. Maybe even a little like a bad girl.
I went back to Greece a few days later and within a week I had a job for a TV advertisement, playing the mother of course. I pushed my baby carriage wearing my boring “mom” clothes but noticed my walk had a little more swagger to it than usual.
When the director looked at me and said that he thought my V-neck was “not conservative enough” I laughed. If you only knew, I thought… If you only knew…