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October 18, 2006

Lessons from Star Magazine

Okay, so less than two weeks ago, I was contacted by a reporter from Star who wanted to use me as an attributed source for a story about actors who get too thin to be realistically considered for leading lady roles. I had her email me the photos she wanted me to review, I spent hours writing up my way diplomatically-worded and impossibly-taken-out-of-context thoughts on the issue (having been a columnist for nearly a decade will make you a bit cautious, your first time out with any reporter) and sent the reporter my interview and bio, as requested.


She called me back the next day to revisit a couple of quotes, get a little more context on some of my comments, and hopefully find something a little dishy in my words (and that just didn't happen. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and I said it, dammit). Again, she thanked me for being willing to go on the record with my words, as that would carry much more weight for this piece (no pun intended), and told me it would run in a week or so.

It ran today. My source alerted me to the fact that the piece was in this week's issue, so Keith ran to the store to buy a copy of the rag. Um. Wow. Where do I begin?

Was I misquoted? No.
Were my words taken out of context? No.

Here's what happened instead: Approximately two dozen of my words made it into the piece and I was credited as "a casting agent."

Dude. There is NO SUCH THING as a casting agent. Normally, I'd let that go, but when a REPORTER uses BOTH "casting director" and "casting agent" interchangeably in the piece, something's wrong. And I can guarantee you, on those little bits of quotes from "another casting agent", no casting director EVER would refer to herself as a casting agent, which has happened in this piece.


Since I worked so hard on my contribution and was actually a little proud of it, I'm going to share it here. And consider the rest as LESSON LEARNED. When you're asked to go on record for Star Magazine as a casting director, be ready to come off as an unnamed "casting agent" in the final product... and have a fraction of your contribution used. Fair enough.


Since I wrote all that stuff up and Star ain't gonna use it... here it is for your reading pleasure.

Here are my thoughts on your piece about actresses and their weight.

In general:

If I have learned anything in casting, it's that CONFIDENCE is what's castable. What is sexy is confidence. What is castable is that X-factor--and it usually has less to do with body type and more to do with self-assurance. As far as the conversations between producers and casting directors go... believe me, no actor should ever want to hear those discussions. The conversations that take place about an actor's box office draw (based on arbitrary things like the size of her butt or her nose or her left elbow) MUST remain confidential. The sad part is, most actors feel they need to adjust their body weight down without ever knowing that perhaps the reason they didn't get cast had everything to do with their accent or hair color or the fact that they look just like the producer's ex-girlfriend (and that had nothing to do with their weight).

Comments about the specific photos you sent:

Re: Victoria Beckham

Here's what I love about Victoria Beckham's body: It's healthy. It's athletic. Sure, she's thin, but her muscles are toned and she doesn't look hungry. She's got the build of an action hero. Ain't nothing wrong with that!

Re: Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson has a rockin' body and she pretty much always has. What I respect most about her--aside from her acting, which is outstanding--is that she hasn't let Hollywood change her body. She's healthy, she's strong, she's slim, she's sexy. This is pleasing to producers, filmgoers, and probably also tolerable for her! She's not torturing herself with some insane fad diet.

Re: Nicole Richie

The concern most producers have with someone who appears unhealthy or overly skinny (or, heck, extreme in either direction) is the insurance issue. A film shoot is not a small investment of time or money. The thought of losing a week or two on a shoot because an actress is dehydrated or suffering from exhaustion isn't just about the issue of a performer's health. It's about liability. And we're talking about blockbusters. Not reality TV. As a casting director, my job is risk assessment. If I see an actress I'm worried about, I'm going to recommend the next person on the list, just so the film gets made on time, and within its budget.

Re: Mariah Carey

Recording artists have different standards than feature film stars. The average consumer will watch a music video star for minutes at a time, whereas they'll see a film star on screen for two hours at a time. Apples and oranges.

Re: Nicole Kidman

Consistently healthy. Consistently castable. She has staying power and doesn't bend to body-image trends.

Re: Jessica Biel

Jessica got a following when she was young and that fan base will remain loyal. She has a very "normal" body. Her path is similar to that of Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, whose fanbase developed when she was a teen and sustained through adulthood.

Re: Jennifer Lopez

Confidence is castable. Jennifer Lopez has always been confident. She enjoys living in her own skin. That's huge in Hollywood. Just the FEELING that she's going to be incredible to watch on screen is a safer investment for producers. Sure, she may have body-confidence issues, but the viewing public would never know it. And THAT'S the illusion that really sells in Hollywood.

Re: Kate Bosworth

The unfortunate thing about young actors choosing to lose so much weight is that their success as actors--which may have nothing to do with their body size and may instead have everything to do with their talent or industry connections--is somehow seen as a result of their weight loss, and that sends a really scary message to young women who already have a tendency toward obsessive body issues.

Final thoughts:

Even "normal" girls growing up in small towns are going to worry that they aren't thin enough. When an actress who earns millions of dollars a year endorses and embraces that worry, it's just a reinforcement for something that exists on its own. When--instead--there are actresses who enjoy their bodies and embrace the work, they are providing a service to the world.

Posted by bonnie at October 18, 2006 7:50 PM


Your answers are right on the money (and honestly I'm sure this disappointed STAR). I really wish society would stand up and put more emphasis on the things you are saying instead of the focus always being on walking skeletons and the demand that skinny is beautiful or skinny is power. There is more to life...eat a doughtnut!

Jonathan recently found this short film by DOVE, and I am sooooo proud of them and their new ad campaign. If more people would take their approach perhaps we could change pressured, nonsense, and unattainable body image of so many females.

Here's the link:


Posted by: Shea at October 18, 2006 9:56 PM

FANTABULOUS Bonnie ans so well said! Self assurance and confidence. I had a casting director tell me two years ago that I would be perfect for the spot if I lost about fifteen lbs. I was in shock at first with my mouth hanging open and with some silence between us she asked me if I thought I could pull that off in a week! I laughed on the spot and pretty much just walked out............INSANITY!! I don't get this,so I would be stressed,alter my diet to almost nothing and take all my focus away from the script and what I can bring to the character all because I'm obsessed about this insane request? Why would you want your actors focus so jadded they don't give their best? This makes no sense!
Your so right you want to make sure the actor is grounded and comfortable in their skin.

Posted by: Mary Carlisle at October 19, 2006 8:59 AM

This is actually a very good time to bring this up. Please visit my blog for a post on a friend who has a amazing company that focuses on issues like this and women empowerment. She has apparell and jewlery that give women positive self image messages,like t shirts that read "Love yourself" Never settle" Trust yourself" backwards so whe you look in the mirror the message is for you. Hit my link and when you go to her site watch the ABC video clips of her self esteem apparel. This is greatgifts for Christmas and especially for us actors who may face this sort of thing in out here. She has some really amazing stuff and very CUTE!!!

Posted by: Mary Carlisle at October 19, 2006 9:10 AM

We see a lot more of Victora Beckham over here in the UK than I assume America does - and she looks very gaunt over here. There is not an ounce of fat on her, and her legs are pencil thing, her cheks so chiselled you could chop wood with them. And as for vanity - thy name is Victoria Beckham. For the World Cup, she reportedly took three sizes of each pair of jeans over, in case her weight changed.

A few pounds, maybe, but you seriously envisage losing an entire dress size in 2 weeks, abroad?

Who was the other person... oh, Nicole Kidman. Another skinny whippet. Over the last year or so, she's gone thinner too, and to the point where in some photos, she looked very very gaunt, and not at all healthy, I worried about her in those pictures.

I have two internet friends in LA, both are slim (even the new mother), one is about 5'2, the other about 5'6. The 5'2 new mum used to wear some size 0 stuff. The 5'6 is a serious runner and has a very lean body. I know that if I went to visit them and hung out by the pool, I would look like a heffalump next to them.

I'm 5'8, and about 146lbs. Or 10st 6lbs if you prefer. I'm not overweight, my BMI is in the healthy range. I don't even look as heavy as I actually am (I apparently hide it well, I think my bones are super heavy or something).

I have to remind myself that if I do visit the US - whether LA or somewhere else - that I am a healthy weight for my body shape and height. I am curvy, and healthy.

But you see the number of whippets on TV sometimes, and think "Must remember I look good as I am, damnit!".

But seriously, she couldn't treat your input for her article with more courtesy? Her loss!

And re: Shea's comment. Dove did a campaign for natural beauty of something. They had an advert - possibly the one Shea linked to - where there was a woman with big thighs,another with love handles, one with a big bum, etc. They all looked happy and sexy and something for people to want to emulate. Good on Dove!

Posted by: Helen at October 19, 2006 12:49 PM

Bonnie! You're a journalism major, right? Master's level, right?
You KNOW what a journalist does , none better.
And you know that no self-respecting journalist would work for the Star;)

Posted by: Ed R at October 19, 2006 10:08 PM

I LOVE what you had to say, Bonnie! LOVE IT. I need to save the permanent URL and refer to it often as I struggle with confidence vs. being thin in my performing career. *BRAVA*

Posted by: NiNi at October 20, 2006 9:25 AM

I like what you had to say for the most part, but some of the actresses you said you "normal" i just don't get. I've worked with Nicole Kidman briefly and he was scarey skinny.And Victoria Beckham is in NO way normal looking.She's tone but there's practically no meat on her legs left.
I'm a "normal size" 7/8 at 5'9 but unfortunately in hollywood that's considered plus size. Even if i get down to a 4/6, I would be considered curvy.
I'm looking forward to tv and film going back to the way it was in the 1970s with typical, healthy looks that are hired.Everything comes in phases.

Posted by: Jennifer at December 8, 2006 10:39 AM