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The Stir’s recent article “What 10 Dowdy Actresses Look Like in Real Life” made me angry.
Many things about this article upset me — don’t get me started on the word “dowdy” — but here’s what riled me up the most:
The article compared photos of actresses dressed up as their so-called “Dowdy” TV characters against photos of how those actresses — according to the article — look in “real life.”
What photos were used to depict the actresses in “real life”?? Pictures from PREMIERES and RED CARPET EVENTS — which are as far from REAL LIFE as any TV show.
I’m a talk show producer — which means, every day, famous people come to my shows to do interviews. I see them when they arrive — fresh from the airport or maybe the gym. I talk to them as a team of hair, make-up, and wardrobe stylists make them pretty enough for television. This process can take anywhere between twenty minutes (for someone who just came from another set and is, therefore, already “camera-ready”) to hours. Then, I walk them to the set and watch as their stylists make final adjustments depending upon lighting and camera angles.
Most actors would agree with me — what they look like at a premiere or an interview is not THEM. It’s as much of a Hollywood creation as any TV character. (In fact, many say they show more of themselves when in character than when strutting down a red carpet)
I’ve met thousands of actors. Do you know what they are — in real life?
Actors are artists.
They are the people who chose to forgo a steady, “normal” job in order to PRETEND TO BE SOMEONE ELSE for a living. They are creative people who spend a lot of time in their imaginations — dreaming up how another person walks, talks, or survives for days alone in space. They are artists who have an amazing ability to become another person.
And through their art, we — the audience — get to go on that journey, too. Through them, we experience war and death and love. If that isn’t art, nothing is.
And yet, articles like this one reduce these artists to Barbie dolls.
When I met Carey Mulligan, do you think we talked about her shade of lipstick? No. We discussed our mutual love of The Great Gatsby and how nervous she was to bring Daisy Buchanan to life.
Do you think I talked to Kristen Stewart about what top she was wearing? I don’t remember her shirt because we were too busy talking about how her parents supported her and helped her follow her passion.
And do you think I talked to Hilary Swank about her skin care regimen or about how working with Clint Eastwood gave her the confidence to follow her instincts in digging into the soul of that million dollar baby? I assure you it was the later.
Angelina Jolie is a caring mom and passionate director focused on making important films. Sandra Bullock? One of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet and just as nervous about how she looks as you and me — plus, she’s profoundly thoughtful about finding the truth in her characters. Halle Berry is so beautiful in person — even without make up — that it’s almost blinding, and yet, if you ask her about the craft of acting, she becomes a girl talking about her favorite toy. (Not that these women are necessarily being “real” around me either; I am, after all, a representative of a media outlet, but at least I talk to them in private, when the cameras are off).
REAL LIFE for an actor isn’t on a red carpet. Real life for an actor is tucking away into the story unfolding inside their imaginations. They are artists, working their craft — no different from any writer, painter, or sculptor. All that other crap just gets in the way.
As a female artist in my own right (my art happens to be novelling), I don’t want to reduce these brilliant female artists to how pretty they are — and I don’t want any other artist to think of themselves that way, either. First of all, saying those red carpet images are “real life” gives the rest of us a complex about how ugly WE are in real life. I mean, I don’t look anything like Sandra Bullock or Angelina Jolie, do you? (I’ll tell you a secret, neither do THEY without their team of artists around them! If I had a team of stylists around me, I still wouldn’t be as pretty as Hilary Swank, but I’d certainly be a prettier version of ME).
But articles like this also denigrate the work actors do every day. It reduces these brilliant, talented women to LOOKS — instead of focusing on their art.
When I was a kid, I equated acting with celebrity and glamour. I thought that’s what it was about.
I wish I had understood that acting isn’t about that at all. It’s about artistic expression, creativity, and being able to play pretend for the rest of your life. Imagine the talent Hollywood might attract if we — as a culture — focused on the ART instead of the glamour.
One of my favorite guests — of all time — was Philip Seymour Hoffman. I had the honor of producing him four different times before he died last year, and I always looked forward to the days when he would come to my set. He would pace in his green room — his too short pants flicking up to show off his awkward white socks under black shoes — and we would discuss the theater, the importance of good research in bringing any character to life, and the pros and cons of living in LA versus New York for artists… Those conversations were always filled with awkward pauses, searching, and a bit of mumbling — interspersed by sparks of brilliance.
I think of EVERY actor like Philip. EVERY actor is just an awkward but brilliant artist kid, desperate to express themselves and find a truth in the human experience.
So the next time you are wondering what some celebrity looks like in “real life” don’t look at a red carpet event to find the answer. You won’t find the truth there. Put those pictures away and instead go into your imagination — picture any passionate, focused artist, perhaps unwashed and a little unhinged from days of unrelenting work… Picture dirty fingernails and a face splattered with paint and perhaps an awkward pair of white socks with black shoes… NOW you are closer to the real life of any actor than you ever will be by looking at any red carpet.
THAT is the “real life” of an actress.
Angelina Jolie Photo from Bigstock.com