Struggling Actors Are Paying a Lot of Money to Be Told What They Look Like


While there are approximately 1 billion jobs that are more difficult than being a struggling actor, there are few that seem as depressing and demoralizing. Not only are actors constantly forced to put on a smile and head out to auditions where they will face near-certain rejection, but they’re also always being told exactly why they were rejected — because they’re too old, too fat, too ugly, too brunette, etc. It’s weird line of criticism to willingly put yourself in and, stranger still, the newest trend with actors out in L.A. is to pay a shit-ton of money to go to class where an instructor and your classmates will hone in your particularities for you. Think of it like a sorority rush where your fellow sorority sisters circle all of your worst parts with a marker, only in this case the goal is less humiliation and “improvement” and more about exploiting whatever it is that makes you stand out to other people.

Typecasting classes have recently grown in popularity with actors paying upwards of $500 for 5-week sessions so that they can learn their specific “brand.” In one class, instructor Keith Johnson tells his students to study the person next to them and write down whatever comes to mind.

“If somebody is ugly, write ‘ugly,'” he says. “You do not do anybody a favor if you are kind. If I look like a buttered popcorn-eating child molester, you know what? Cop shows need them every week!”

Can someone please confirm with me what a buttered popcorn-eating child molester looks like? I want to know if I’ve “got the look.”

The purpose of the exercise is so that actors can identify what the class founder Bonnie Gillespie calls their “bullseye,” or whatever it is that makes them appealing to casting directors.

One of the class’ many students classifies herself thusly: “I’m a tempestuous tomboy, fiery and wild. Hanging out with me is like getting blackout drunk…. I put the hot in hot mess.”

(She would be typecast as “The Worst.”)

Gillespie and other trainers of her ilk instruct their students to constantly be “living on brand,” which means that they dress and play into their stereotypes whenever they’re in public lest they be perceived as anything more or less than a buttered popcorn-eating child molester (“because, man, you cannot pull off milkshake-swilling child molester”) or a dangerous sign of alcoholism.

While some argue that the typecasting classes are helpful (the second half of the word “typecast,” as Gillespie so helpfully points out, is “cast”), others worry that it only perpetuates dangerous — and often racially charged stereotypes.

From the LA Times:

Branding can also raise fears of playing into harmful stereotypes. J. Blakemore, a black actor who did a typing exercise run by someone else, felt troubled by getting back words such as “urban” and “scary.” He was typed as a likely gang leader, drug dealer or police officer.
It’s a hazard that [Sam] Christensen [a Hollywood casting director-turned-consultant] is candid about.
“Some actors who come to me are PhD students, yet because they happen to be Latino, they get called in as gangbangers,” he says. “One Asian American actor tells me, ‘I cannot add two and two. But everybody wants to make me the math professor.’
But knowing what makes you distinct, he says, can actually be a way out of thin, stereotyped roles. Since the jobs are there, “you show them what kind of math professor would you be,” by bringing something authentic about yourself to that type, Christensen says. “That’s the best way to crack the box. We’re not going to crack it by holding up signs.”

Yes, you are the type of Asian math professor that cannot do math. What an interesting choice.

Other casting directors think that Gillespie’s system is flawed. As Sharon Bialy, who casts Breaking Bad, points out, “Anything that gives an actor confidence can be worthwhile, but my concern is that the industry tends to typecast people so much. If I was ‘branding’ actors all the time, I would never cast the dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ as Walter White.”

Right? Going against type often works for the best. Case in point, Walter White is good with math and he’s not even Asian.

Playing to type to make it in Hollywood [LA Times]

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