Answer: The actor is not appropriate to the role.
Not so for far too many actors who believe that they can cross racial and gender borders because somewhere, some (or far too many an) ass ignorantly instruct actors, “Submit and audition for anything and everything even if you’re not right for the role.”
But sadly, there remain instances where wrong is foolishly practiced as right and invariably consequences occur.
La Jolla Playhouse and more recently the film Cloud Atlas were lambasted for casting non-Asian actors in Asian roles. I wonder how many non-Asian actors who believe they can play any role were a part of the disparaging chorus against the Caucasian casting discord? Were they within the Caucasian collective that recently self-submitted to me for roles listed as ‘Young Asian Actress’ and ‘Mature Asian Actress’?
Of the 235 self-submissions my office received for the two Asian roles, how many were from non-Asian actresses? 141! More than half! Did the erroneous self-submitted non-Asians believe that if cast, heavy eye-liner drawn back at their eye creases would make them ‘Asian Orientated’?
This is not a question of political correctness in casting but of casting appropriately to the ethnic parameters of a role. And more importantly; how YOU as an actor are perceived as either smartly knowing who you can portray, or if you’re viewed as a moron completely ignorant of logical limitations for appropriately portraying race, gender and/or color which match your genetics. (Please, don’t delve into a foolhardy argument citing cross-dressing, gender bending of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES or KINKY BOOTS, or the male chauvinist men of the antiquated days of when women were barred from the stage and men played female roles. Click your heels three times and repeat out-loud, “There’s no place like reality.”)
Asian roles are not the only characters assaulted for appointments by inappropriate portrayal believing actors. I’ve had whites self-submit themselves for black roles and blacks self-submit for white roles. Yes, there can be color blind casting. But when a role is a black slave of 1801 America or an Alabama Klan member of 1964, color blind casting flies in the face of logic and history. At my level of casting we are not in the fantasy world of community or academic theater casting or 1950s THE KING AND I eye liner and pancake casting.
My office was so frustrated by the bounty of Scandinavian-looking blondes pushing themselves for an Asian role that we contacted those actresses with the following email:
“The role you submitted for is Asian.
If you are of Asian heritage which is noticeably discernible you will be of course considered for the project.
Below is the breakdown as it appears in our outreach:
[YOUNG ASIAN ACTRESS] Early 20s. Plays Mya in HALF A WORLD AWAY. 17 years old. Burmese.”
The silence of shame in return by actresses was deafening… almost. There were several replies from non-Asian actresses similar to the following, actual replies:
“I am not of Asian heritage. If it is possible I would still like to audition, though I leave it to your discretion as to whether or not I could ‘believably pass’ as Burmese.”
One Caucasian woman (of a mature-certain-age, re: wrinkle city) wrote:
“I’m a great character actress able to play many roles and ages.”
(Yes, luv… and I’d make for a fabulous Beyonce.)
Now if you’re of the thinking, “But Paul, white actors were cast as Asians in highly visible projects, so it must be right” I answer; everyone involved in such casting was wrong to make implausible casting choices. (Yes, I’m arrogant enough to stand on my principle that entertainment cast color correct when a script, history or sensibilities dictate ethnic accuracy.)
To the actors who follow the misguided credo, “Submit and audition for anything and everything even if you’re not right for the role” know that the following is thought of you by the receiving casting personnel:
“Why is the actor wasting their time?”
“Why is the actor wasting my time?”
“How many dead brain cells does this moron possess?”
Yes, the last statement is immature but that is the inner monologue. And one that’ll kill an actor’s career. Because why would a director or casting director think of an actor for future casting when the prevailing perception of an actor is, “This actor hasn’t any self-awareness.”?
If actors do not know themselves, how then can an actor be expected to know and portray any entity?
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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 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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