A reader recently reached out to me asking for guidance on a taboo subject that I idealistically would like to believe had perished coitus interruptus long ago. Banished to the age of film noir. Relegated to the sovereignty of sex films. What is it? The casting couch. The practice of demanding sexual favors in return for casting a performer in a theatrical, film, TV production, etc. A coy colloquialism in reference to the office couch of a casting director, director, producer talent rep. or any entertainment industry gate-keeper. (You won’t find this at your local Ikea.)
The reader’s detailing of requested debauchery from a professional began:
“I’m an actor and model based in NY. I find myself on the casting couch being propositioned over and over again. I recently made a friend request [on Facebook] to a manager with, ‘How r u? I’m [name withheld].’ That led them to believe that I was interested in them sexually and when I turned down their advances (because this is not what I am about) they got mad and said that I was leading them on.”
O.K. let’s stop here first.
Not knowing either individual I cannot make a fully informed response. I have no idea if the manager is reputable or one of the many cockroach-like “I’m a play-ah in da game” shysters with a tiny cell phone and an enormous ego. (Far too many of these in our business.) I also don’t know if the reader has in his Facebook profile; pictures and information that would cause a visitor to his page to make assumptions of amorous availability. But there are some red flags in the actor’s accounting of unwanted accosting.
Mistakes were made. On both side of the accept/ignore button of Facebook friendship. The reader erred by not stating immediately his intent of the friend request. The manager fouled by assuming any contact is fair game for foreplay. First let’s address the actor; being that he initiated the dialogue between himself and the manager.
The actor stated “I find myself on the casting couch being propositioned over and over again.” If this history is true then he should have known one of two things. First; he’s going to have this happen to him (unfortunately) again if the past persists in repeating itself. We can not change the behavior of those around us. We can only prescribe our own choices and actions.
Second; if the actor’s professional history routinely replicates then maybe he should be looking at his own actions (or inactions) which may be inadvertently causing others to believe him to be a viable option for their romantic advances. I am not doing a blame-the-victim here. My viewpoint is far from that potential mistaken assumption of some who read this.
I question why this continues to happen in this man’s life. What are the influences apart from the people he encounters who know not professional and personal boundaries? Is he an affable guy with a killer smile? Does he possess an infectious, inviting charm that others mistake as a dinner bell being rung for random randiness? Or is he just too damn hot-n-sexy for the sidewalk that passers-by actually see him before crashing into while texting (a.k.a. crexting… you heard that one here first).
Whatever the case; his having knowledge of the past should have made him cautious of contacting a stranger (i.e. the manager) for a friend request. Also the person he was reaching out to did not know why the actor was making the connection. Reason of motivation should have been made clear from the start. But the actor erred and only after he got an inappropriate response did the actor inform the person he contacted with a friend request his true desire for doing so:
“I’m looking to further my career but not in this way. I asked [the manager], ‘If I was hitting on you then you would be interested but since I hit you up on professional business matters–now you’re not. Am I right?’”
“Professional business matters” that key phrase was missing from the actor’s earlier address to the manager; the “How r u? I’m [name withheld].” Had the actor first written, “Hello. I’m [name withheld]. I’m seeking representation….” then this treatise probably would never have been typed.
Now; the manager.
Again I do not know of this person’s position in our industry. The actor claimed the manager was “legit” but what may be viewed as “legit” by an actor may be from my side of the audition table someone with little credibility who is posing and pretending. If opposite of such — someone of experience with peer respectability — the allegation is deeply disturbing if the actor’s accounting is accurate. Either way – posing or legit — the manager should have checked him or herself by checking out the actor’s online profile before ignorantly responding to the friend request. If the word “actor” appeared anywhere on the actor’s page the manger had two choices. First; ignore. The friend request was unsolicited coming from a stranger (i.e. the actor). Second; inquire of the requester reason for the outreach.
I am not dismissing the actor’s claim. I do believe he has encountered unwanted requests for quid-pro-quo romantic entanglements during his career. Invitations to the antiquated and abusive casting couch, sadly, still exist. And it is sexual harassment. Plain and simple. Having been sexually harassed myself by a casting director I worked for long ago (the story is in ACTING: Make It Your Business) I know what it is like to be a passing interest of passion by someone who is focused more on seeking an immediate conquest than a establishing a long-term commitment.
Uninvited, continual flirtation by any auditor to an actor in any setting is understandably verboten. That same rules applies in reverse. I once received repeated letters of libidinous intent from an actor asking me for a more “personal relationship”. I answered suggesting that I would correspond with him regarding advice pertaining to business only. Dinner, movies and romance were not on my agenda. He pushed back harder his desire for passion. That left me with a residue of creepiness.
If you encounter unwanted solicitations for sex for professional advancement in return do not be shy about bringing to light the unprofessional behavior encountered. To avoid a situation similar to that which sparked this story communicate clearly your intent of outreach. Whether that contact is to network, get a job, or to be friends and nothing more.
The casting couch has no place in our industry except as a comfortable reception divan for anxious actors patiently awaiting their legitimate audition. Those who wish to exploit sexual favor for career progression often develop an unseemly reputation that trumps professionalism and outlasts the momentary passionate conquest.
Read advice from legendary talent agents,
plus Hollywood & Broadway actors in Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.
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