On Hamilton and Casting

Ever since I saw this floating around the interwebs, I’ve been stewing on what exactly I want to say about it.
I’m a white actress and writer, and I’ve been auditioning for theatre, film, and TV for over 20 years. The majority of the casting calls I see and receive include specifications about race. We’re talking at least 90%, probably more. They also always specify gender, frequently include age ranges, physical descriptors, and often absurd “qualifications” (especially for women). Casting is a world that operates very differently from your typical employer/employee relationship. I’m not here to argue the legality or moral implications of these facts. I’m telling you that when it comes to casting, this is the current reality.
Hamilton is a revelation. It’s a brilliant and captivating piece of theatre like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It’s “not a moment it’s a movement.” Whether you know it or see it or like it, Hamilton reflects the world that we live in. As creator Lin Manuel Miranda said, Hamilton is
If you’re a white actor feeling left out of this opportunity because of your race, well… take a minute to imagine feeling that way every single day, in damn near everything that you do. Then take another minute to acknowledge the privilege of a life where you almost never, ever, ever have to think about that. 

No Surprises Here

Would we really call this a Reveal? I suppose the fact that it’s a casting director doing the talking sort of makes it news. Sort of. But are any of you surprised that this is the state of things for actresses in Hollywood? If you pay any attention to Hollywood, you probably aren’t surprised. If you’re an actress, I’d say you’re not the least bit surprised.

For our purposes, let’s define Hollywood Unconventional as not thin and/or not crazy gorgeous. For men we’ll call it not built and/or not crazy handsome.

Watch me name some “unconventional” famous actresses off the top of my head: Melissa McCarthy, Rebel Wilson, Frances McDormand… is Rachel Dratch still famous? Um… Octavia Spencer.

For los hombres we have Jonah Hill, Seth Rogan, Hank Azaria, Michael Cera, Woody Harrelson, Barkhad Abdi (newly famous, but he counts), Danny DeVito, Bill Murray, Tom Hanks, Steve Carrell, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Allen, Ben Stiller, Sean Penn, Owen Wilson, John Goodman, Adam Sandler, Hugh Grant…

So this isn’t a scientific test, and you have no way of knowing how long I sat here considering each list. The point is I fizzled out pretty quickly when trying to come up with lady celebs, and each male celeb I thought of reminded me of another.

If you do a Google image search for Actor, sure there are a lot of handsome faces, but there are lots of different types of faces as well (focusing on the men – women pop up under “actor” now and then).

For some curious reason, a Google image search for Actress turns up a lot (A LOT) of Bollywood actresses. I would love to know the analytics for why this happens. So I went with a Google image search for Hollywood Actress. Seriously, I might as well be googling Lingerie-Bikini Model, or quite simply Boobs. Aha! There, waaaaaay toward the bottom of the first page: Meryl Streep. You know what’s unfortunate about that joke Tina told at the Golden Globes? That sh*t is funny because it’s True. The producers of the film ‘Nebraska’ probably cast June Squibb because they couldn’t afford Meryl Streep.

Tina Fey, on Meryl Streep: “(She’s) so brilliant in ‘August: Osage County,’ proving that there are still great roles in Hollywood for Meryl Streeps over 60.”

So, what’s a struggling actress to do? Take a cue from our friends of color – plan to work twice as hard for half as much. If you’re an actress and also a woman of color, I’m afraid you may have to work three times as hard for that half. (Gabourey Sidibe! There’s one more. Lily Tomlin! She isn’t of color but I just thought of her. Two more!)

Essentially every working actor I know will tell you this is part of their career mantra: audition, audition, audition. Like the casting director Ms. Jones contends, if you’re an actress you’ll have to make that mantra: audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition, audition. And as an “unconventional” actress who traversed the Tinsel Town Jungle, I can attest that you will find those people who want to hire you because you are talented and you work your ass off, regardless of how you look in lingerie.

OR pull a Mindy Kaling (three more!) and write a hit play that gets enough attention to lead to a job for you on a new TV show that also turns out to be a hit, write a role for yourself on that show, and be so utterly charming and successful that you eventually pitch and sell and star in your own show that only gets funnier with each new episode.

We here at RLB, we believe in you. Break a leg!

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