Joe McGann – My Body Is My Tool

Joe McGann actor

Last weekend, I did a self-tape audition for an American movie which shoots in Spain this summer. It’s a Western, and the casting breakdown stipulated in block capitals that they would not consider anyone for any role who had ‘undergone cosmetic surgery of any kind’, and that they wanted body shapes true to the film’s period; ‘No modern physiques’.

It’s the first time I’ve seen this so starkly stipulated, but of course it does make a kind of sense to me in that the Wild West was certainly not populated with buff gym bunnies with spray tans, and was more about six guns than six packs. But it does illustrate a dilemma to the actor; that of trying to guess the best physical condition to maintain in order to maximise casting opportunities.

I’ve explained here before the importance of fitness – certainly of stamina and mobility – in order to cope with the physical demands of the job, be it in theatre, musicals or in front of the camera, and I suppose it’s obviously true in all walks of life that the fitter you are, the better you function. But this doesn’t mean that everybody has to have a physique like Tom Hardy or Angelina Jolie, or be perma-tanned and have gleaming white perfect teeth.

“If casting is to reflect actual people in society, then such standards are clearly ridiculous.”

If casting is to reflect actual people in society, then such standards are clearly ridiculous, as a glance at the majority of physical specimens in leading roles in any of the TV  dramas  and soaps will prove – very little evidence there of the much-publicised chronic obesity problems we have here and in the USA, for instance.

Do we actors have to accept that we’ll be cast on our looks before our experience and skill is considered? If we’re born a certain physical shape, are we only destined to play particular roles or genres?

Given the infinite variety of looks and physical and mental capabilities, shouldn’t we expect to see that reflected better in our dramas and comedies, or are we all just happy to go along with the increasing trend toward cosmetic homogenisation? Answers on a £20 note to me, c/o Title Sussex.

It’s complicated. I’ve a very dear friend and extremely talented actor, singer and musician who, a few years back, shed six stone in weight in order that he would be healthier and able to play with his kids. He was feeling fabulous until he realised that the work started drying up because, in his words, he was “funnier fat”.

“I was appalled, only to be proved wrong when he put the weight back on and became busy again.”

I was appalled when we spoke of it, and assured him that his talent was more important than his waistline, only to be proved wrong when he put the weight back on and became busy again. He doesn’t play much football with his kids but they’re all happy to have a better income.

I have another friend, a beautiful and statuesque woman, who has, she says, no other option than the surgeon to hold back the march of time and extend her working career, as she believes it’s her physique which gets her cast, not her brains or her experience.

My body is my tool

She has two first class degrees in different subjects. It’s worth saying here that for women, this trend towards casting a certain type of physical beauty DOES reflect the actual pressures inherent in all levels of consumerism and in society, and I realise that the pressures are much greater for actresses, for all women, while maintaining that it’s on the increase for men, too.

The differences are stark. We’ve all heard the stories of how Robert De Niro can get an Oscar for his ‘bravery and dedication’ in putting on weight to play Jake La Motta, yet the fabulously funny, talented and beautiful Amy Schumer was put under enormous pressure to lose a lot of weight in order to play the lead role in a film based on her own life.

Not a day goes by, seemingly, without headlines telling us of actresses ‘losing their baby tummy’ or selling exercise videos of how they dropped seven dress sizes; or being vilified by the paparazzi press for possessing muffin tops, as if ANY of this affected their ability to do their job. It’s one of the – admittedly few – reasons that I’m happier to be a man, but I digress…

“I believe I’ve earned myself a reputation for being reliable and good to work with.”

I am blessed with good health, a good head of hair and my doctor says my BMI and blood pressure are bang on. I have thirty five years’ experience of playing all kinds of characters across all disciplines, and I believe I’ve earned myself a reputation for being reliable and good to work with, as well as gaining mostly favourable reviews for doing so, and a good standing in the profession. However…

I spoke with my agent this morning to ask how an audition I’d had for a lead guest role in a major and very popular two part BBC drama had gone. It was to play a retired police officer, aged 60, and was a lovely nuanced part that I’d felt sure I could really enjoy and do well, only to be told that I didn’t get it because, according to the casting director, I looked too young. I shall be 59 in July. They could age me eighteen months in makeup, surely? A few late nights would do the trick, no?

No. B*llocks.

Hi diddly dee.

About Joe McGann
Joe McGann is an English actor and television presenter best known for his appearance in TV series The Upper Hand. Joe blogs about his life as an actor for Title Sussex.