2009 - %3, August

CAA and the Actress Over 35 Problem

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 4:36 PM EDT

Ageism in Hollywood is, groan, an age old problem. It's gotten a bit of attention in the last couple of days after the co-creator of HBO's Hung, Colette Burson, was quoted in the New York Times Magazine as saying:

“We auditioned a lot of people,” says Colette Burson, the co-creator of “Hung.” “It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35.”

Whoa! That's no way to treat the ladies. I ripped her. Jezebel ripped her. There was a Twitter storm. Upshot: Burson sought out blogger Melissa Silverstein of WomenandHollywood.com, who had interviewed her before, and gave a long impassioned clarification (you can read it and my original blog post here).

Jezebel, I think unfairly, chose to excerpt only the parts of the post which make Burson look like more of a jerk. And in so doing missed the juiciest part of what Burson had to say, namely how the all-powerful Creative Artists Agency (CAA) views actresses. Which is to say, useless unless young and famous (and in which order, unclear). In addition to repping the famous, agencies like CAA also represent work-a-day character actors. Unless they happen to be women over 40 who don't look like poster children for cosmetic surgery and extreme dieting. According to Burson:

Just to illustrate: Dmitry (Lipkin her husband and co-creator of Hung) and I went into CAA and we were talking about all the different roles and I said what we are really going to be looking for is an actress around age 40 who is talented and funny and yet can really act.  They seemed to not want to address my question so I brought it up again and they said what about x? (a well known 45 year old film actress)  I said no, we don’t want to cast celebrities.  We want to cast real women and this is a rare opportunity.  We don’t want you to send us your beautiful starlets.  Send us real women with real bodies who can act and who can be comedic.  And he looked sort of sheepish and said I’m really ashamed to tell you we don’t have anyone like that on our list. 

I said you mean to tell me that you this huge agency can’t send us a woman who is 40 and they said no. [emph. mine] And he said I know it’s horrible but it’s the state of the business that they really aren’t a lot of roles for them.

Surprising that Jezebel didn't make hay of this part of Burson's comments, since unrealistic portrayals of women by the entertainment biz are the bread and butter of that blog (which I happen to love). Maybe another Gawker enterprise, Defamer, will get on it (oops, that's just an aggregator now).

And I still want to think what CAA client Oprah says about this.

Update: Upon further reflection, perhaps the real story is how Burson, having pissed off actresses/women everywhere, clarified by alienating Hollywood's most powerful agency. Guessing HBO will assign flack to shadow her henceforth.

Clara Jeffery is Co-editor of Mother Jones and has fallen under the sway of Twitter's dark powers. You can read her tweets here.

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Does Beer Pong Need Scare Quotes?

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 4:20 PM EDT

Really, Associated Press? From a story about stickers that are attached to "nuisance" houses in Narraganset, Rhode Island:

The police, meanwhile, have continued to distribute the stickers while the court case continues, including one last month for an underage keg party involving a game of "beer pong."

Does beer pong really require scare quotes? I asked our esteemed copy editor, Nicole McClelland. "Absolutely not," she says. "Beer pong is totally legit, and therefore needs neither quotes nor introduction. It's not in the dictionary yet, but soon, my friend, soon."

There you have it. Come on now, AP.

 

Miss Landmine Pageant Banned

| Tue Aug. 4, 2009 2:44 PM EDT

Last year, women maimed by landmines around the world competed for the grand prize of an artificial limb in the Miss Landmine beauty pageant. But this year, the Cambodian government has ordered the organizers of the second annual Miss Landmine pageant "to stop activity immediately in order to keep the honour and dignity of handicapped Cambodians, especially women." 

The pageant's organizer is Norwegian artist/actor/director Morten Traavik. According to Traavik's website, the goals of the project include "female pride and empowerment," "disabled pride and empowerment," and "global and local landmine awareness and information."

Traavik told the Telegraph:
 
"Why this situation comes now and not before two years of good relations, I do not know," said Mr Traavik. "I have requested a meeting with [the social affairs minister Ith Sam Heng] as soon as possible to try to correct the misunderstanding."

Which, to be fair, seems a little disingenuous. I mean, yes, this appears to be a case of someone not understanding (or appreciating) the whole tongue-in-cheek nature of such an event. But presumably, part of the point of the loaded one-two punch of landmines and pageants was to make people a little uncomfortable, so Traavik had to have expected (and perhaps even wanted?) a reaction like this, no?

Obama Nude with Unicorns, Stalin

| Mon Aug. 3, 2009 1:30 PM EDT

Some web weirdness/wonderfulness to perk up your Monday. Check out these paintings of an unabashedly nude Obama riding a unicorn, getting a massage from said unicorn (left), and confronting a fetal-looking Rush Limbaugh. Along Obama's naked travels, he meets a glum-looking Dr. House, Stalin, and Sarah Palin.

Dusting off my art history major, I would say that some of artist Dan Lacey's artistic inspirations are Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and early 20th century Russian Art with a dash of Chagal. Though given the high unicorn density, I'm sure Lacey has many other, ahem, non-traditional influences. Enjoy!

h/t to former MoJo fellow Daniel Luzer

Music Monday: David Lynch...Rocks?

| Mon Aug. 3, 2009 7:00 AM EDT

When Pitchfork announced in June that David Lynch had a forthcoming rock album, I was skeptical. Great, another celebrity vanity project. Anybody else remember that awkward interview with Billy Bob Thorton's rock band where he tried to claim he actually wasn't an actor at all? Or Balthazar Getty's little band? And then there was Scarlett Johansson's Anywhere I Lay My Head, featuring really bad Tom Waits covers. Add to this the fact that Lynch is famous for fascinating but somewhat inaccessible ideas. (Remember the magician kid in Twin Peaks?) All told, it looked like we had a recipe for trouble.

Which is why I'm surprised to say that the result is actually, well, pretty good. Lynch doesn't sing on Fox Bat Strategy: A Tribute To Dave Jaurequi, but he did write the lyrics, apparently. To call this a tribute to his group's singer/guitarist is slightly misleading since these songs were actually recorded back in 1994—and Jaurequi died in 2006. The album features seven songs by artists involved in the soundtrack for Lynch's cult TV series Twin Peaks; bassist Don Falzone, drummer Stephen Hodges, and engineer Bruce Robb have all been involved with Lynch and his projects.

HBO's Self-Hating Ageism

| Sun Aug. 2, 2009 11:09 PM EDT

I've never seen HBO's Hung. Long hours, new baby, refusal to give Comcast one more dime of my money. But I've heard it's good, one of those things that, like The Wire, or Mad Men, or Weeds, I'd have to content myself with getting to a season (or three) after everybody else, but be extremely psyched to rent.

That is until I read this NYT profile of Anne Heche, the star of Hung, which was clipping along in its Anne Heche weirdness, until I got to this doorstopper of a sentence:

“We auditioned a lot of people,” says Colette Burson, the co-creator of “Hung.” “It is incredibly difficult to find beautiful, talented, funny women over 35.”

Um...WTF? No secret that ageism against women in Hollywood is rampant, ridiculous, repugnant. But so naked? And from a woman? Who is herself 40? What form of self-hating do you even call that? Plus were we not just subjected to 18 months of cougarmania from Hollywood?

I can think of a ton of actresses over the age of 35 who are beautiful, talented AND funny. Let's start with Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, Christina Applegate, Jane Krakowski, Mary-Louise Parker, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who had a poignant (and of course, hilarious) discussion of ageism in the entertainment industry with the Hollywood Reporter (see clip here). Like being cast as a mother of someone you're only 8 years older than. Or being told, as Christina Applegate was, that at 35, she was too old to be on the cover of a glossy mag (ladies, my offer to put any or all of you on the cover of Mother Jones still stands).

But back to Colette Burson. Shame on you. [She's issued a long clarification, see below.] As for the rest of us, ponder these facts when you go to buy your next ticket, or pick your next rental. Guess I won't be renting Hung after all. [I'll take her at her word and give it a shot.]

Actresses over 40 account for 9% of movie roles. Actors over 40 account for 30%.

Anne Bancroft was 36 when she played Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman was 30.

Chances that a Best Actress winner portrayed a prostitute, a nun, or a mute: 1 in 8.

UPDATE: Burson gave a long impassioned clarification to Melissa Silverstein at WomenandHollywood.com, who'd interviewed her previously. I'm reprinting it here in its entirety, because a) only fair b) while it may let Burson off the hook, it goes to show just how deep the problem is:

I do think it’s always hard to find pretty and funny.  It’s a difficult combo and it’s something that’s talked about in Hollywood.  Blonde and funny.  And that is definitely true with Anne.  She’s very funny and real and she’s blonde and she’s pretty.  And this role happens to be for a beauty queen who needed to have serious emotional acting chops and at the same time was funny. [stay with her, people...Though also: Meg Ryan anyone? Roxanne Arquette?]

In terms of the quote: it is such a shame that I was either too tired to express myself correctly on the issue or part of my quote was left out because it is something that I think about a lot and I actually consider myself a warrior on front lines of this issue.  It’s something I am actively involved in on a daily basis in a way that most people are not.  Nevertheless I do think that the part that I would have added or the part I hope I did add was that it is difficult to find an actress over 35 or over 40 who is funny and talented and is still working and has not quit the business.

And by difficult I mean harder than you think.  There are not hundreds of people who show up for the auditions because you need someone who has been working, and you need someone whose agent sends them.  In my personal experience I know five actresses off the top of my head if not 10 who are around the age of 40 who no longer go on auditions anymore because they are too fucking bummed out by how few roles there are.

Just to illustrate: Dmitry (Lipkin her husband and co-creator of Hung) and I went into CAA and we were talking about all the different roles and I said what we are really going to be looking for is an actress around age 40 who is talented and funny and yet can really act.  They seemed to not want to address my question so I brought it up again and they said what about x? (a well known 45 year old film actress)  I said no, we don’t want to cast celebrities.  We want to cast real women and this is a rare opportunity.  We don’t want you to send us your beautiful starlets.  Send us real women with real bodies who can act and who can be comedic.  And he looked sort of sheepish and said I’m really ashamed to tell you we don’t have anyone like that on our list.

I said you mean to tell me that you this huge agency can’t send us a woman who is 40 and they said no.  And he said I know it’s horrible but it’s the state of the business that they really aren’t a lot of roles for them.

It’s such a bummer.  When you cast a role, casting agents will send you who has been working.  My friends who haven’t had a job in five years who quit because it was such a fucking bummer they are not sent out because they don’t have managers anymore.  They are not in the game anymore and it’s not because they aren’t talented.  Of course they’re talented.

So what I am saying is that it’s hard and the situation is more complex than you would think.  Because we are one of the few shows that frequently has these types of roles open…like the role of Tanya.  How often does that type of role occur?  Jane Adams is this gem and people say why don’t we see her working more?  And the answer is because there haven’t been that many roles for her.  We actually wrote a role for a failed poet who is over 40 and she is not ms fabulous.  She doesn’t wear clothes from Neiman Marcus  or Fred Segal.

So I hope the message will get out there.  Maybe I was tired, maybe I was a dumb ass but I feel so passionately about the issue.  But that aside our actions on a daily basis is that we fight this issue.  We conceive of characters that are women over 35 of all body types.  We debate them and we fill them out in the writers room.  So please forgive me for the asinine quote but look at what we are actually doing because we passionately care about this issue.

Wow, CCA doesn't represent one comic actress over the age of 40 who has a real body? What does Oprah (client) say about THAT!

Update II: More on CAA here.

Clara Jeffery is Co-Editor of Mother Jones. You can follow me on Twitter here. That's how Melissa Silverstein contacted me, you can find her here.