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Casting directors shouldn't punish actors with tattoos, piercings

February 05, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are seen arriving at the Golden Globe Awards in 2007. "My mom, before she passed away, said [my tattoos were] like a totem pole of my history," says Jolie.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are seen arriving at the Golden Globe Awards… (Los Angeles Times )

Were you bothered by Daniel Day Lewis’ pierced ears in “Lincoln” because it threw off the film’s historical accuracy?

Never mind all of the praise Lewis has received for transforming into the 16th president in mind and body. The minuscule holes in the actor’s earring-less ears were enough to distract some history buffs, writes The Times’ Rebecca Keegan.

Seriously.

That reaction probably didn’t come as much of a surprise to Hollywood casting directors who’ve been tasked more than ever with finding actors whose natural looks fit in seamlessly in period pieces.

“Historical movies such as Steven Spielberg's ‘Lincoln’ have placed a greater premium on authenticity in recent years, with on-set researchers ensuring that costumes, production design and language accurately reflect the age,” writes Keegan. “Filmmakers, however, have a more difficult time making sure the contemporary appearance of their casts doesn't strain a movie's credibility.”

Discussing the topic on Monday’s episode of KPCC’s radio program “Take Two,” Keegan said casting directors are now looking outside of L.A.’s pool of actors to find players whose contemporary looks -- whitened teeth, toned yoga bodies and the like -- won’t stick out in historical films.

I get that, and I’m glad people with less-than-perfect teeth now have a better chance at landing on the big screen. And there is something oddly satisfying about L.A.’s population of perfect 10s getting remanded back to the casting couch. (Sorry, short person insecurity.)

On the other hand, I am troubled by the directive to pass over actors with tattoos and piercings. Can you imagine if Lewis had been skipped over for the role of Abraham Lincoln because of his tattoos -- of which he was many -- and piercings? If he weren’t an established and well-respected actor, he may have been, to the detriment of the film. Instead, his tats were covered by makeup and long sleeves. And let’s be honest: His ear piercings weren’t so jarring that they took away from the movie. In fact, until I read Keegan’s story, I didn’t realize Lewis had piercings.      

Actors are artists. Yeah, there are some aesthetic standards that most must abide by. But it doesn’t make sense for Hollywood to punish its actors for expressing themselves creatively -- in whichever way that may manifest itself. To take that away from them might dampen their passion and make them lousy actors.

In a 2012 interview on “Studio 360,” Angelina Jolie described her tattoos as a form of empowerment. “I think as an actor you remain this blank canvas and you transform for the different character,” Jolie told host Kurt Andersen. “[T]here was a part of me that felt that I wanted to claim my own body […] so the character’s second to me.” She went on to explain: “A lot of my tattoos were done in different countries, they’re done tribally, in Asia for my children, a lot of the coordinates of where I met my kids, so they’re all symbolic of my family. My mom, before she passed away, said it was like a totem pole of my history.”

The best actors disappear into their roles; some, like Lewis, stay in character even after the cameras have stopped rolling for the day. But they shouldn’t have to lose themselves completely to pursue their craft.

If that bothers moviegoers, they should get a grip and remember that the first rule of watching a movie is suspending your disbelief.

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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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