How acting turned me into a feminist

(..and keeps reminding me why I am one)

Acting and sexism

Still from The Golden Goose by Margo Onnes

A couple of months ago I realised that I’d seen three great shows in the space of a couple of weeks without a female actor in them: My Night With Reg, Neville’s Island, True West (not counting the mother archetype who appears for maybe 5% of the play). They were good productions, True West in particular was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. What I wouldn’t do for a role like that of Austin….maybe even bind my chest (I’m reading Ali Smith’s How to be both)- but should I still have to think like that in 2015?

If those had been shows with only women in them, they would most likely have been classed as niche, or ‘experimental’, and if I’d dragged my feminist boyfriend along to them even he would have probably started to question why he should be interested in all these things women do (I base that on his response to my plan to see Women on the Verge, which he actually loved, how could anyone not). In the same way, if all the Oscar nominated movies had told a woman’s story instead of a man’s (I know, it takes a lot of imagining), I doubt the world would have been looking on. The whole thing would have been branded pink with that swirly chick-lit font and be sponsored by Baileys. Or maybe not, because that whole scenario implies the world would be a totally different place.

I wonder whether I would have noticed how sexist our storytelling is if looking at casting breakdowns wasn’t a thing I had to do so regularly. (Or did have to, frankly I’ve started to avoid them more and more because they get me down- which is obviously doing brilliant things for my career). It doesn’t matter how enthusiastically you start the morning’s job search, once you’ve read the words “must be attractive and comfortable in underwear” five times in the same number of minutes, you can’t help but lose heart somewhat. (And anyone who knows me knows that’s not because I have a problem with the underwear part in a practical sense).

Before I realised someone was doing this much better than I was (check it out), I started collecting the most depressing breakdowns. What struck me was the overt misogyny (how can someone write these things without thinking?!) but also just the boring repetitiveness of it, the same themes keep coming back- see below for some of my favourite examples.

And then there’s the times when you get an email, and you realise you are SO doing the wrong thing.

“You had applied for the role of Madmans Girlfriend and I was wondering if you were still interested in the film and would like to come for casting?”

I decided to start responding differently when I saw what I considered to be a sexist breakdown. After reading a breakdown for what was supposed to be a film about a concept of the FUTURE, but looked like this….

Female 30-40 year old, responsible classy caring mother and urbanite

Male 25-50+ Refined creative (architect) suave successful and charming

Female 25-35 Fiancee to the gentleman above – attractive cool confident woman

….I wrote this:

Dear x, 

Your website looks great. So, in your concept of the future the adult females are either mothers or attractive girlfriends of successful men…? 😉  If you can throw in a working woman/female business partner/boss, I’d be thrilled to be on board.  I am available on your shoot days.  Thank you for your time! 

Best,  Elisa King

I didn’t get a response. But it’s the only sane thing to do.


Casting call themes:

Women are really annoying so let’s kill them yay:

“30s, slim, good at being angry and at ranting, long hair, gets strangled and killed.”

“ The boyfriend is not interested and continues to play his videogames despite his girlfriend’s constant shouting. Eventually the girl puts her foot down and turns off the console. The boy doesn’t like that one bit so he strangles her before returning to his game.”

Women are mad (especially when they are childless or old)

“M. has been married for 4 years. She has no kids. She is loud, bossy, dominating, volatile, complains a lot, but has psychotic tendencies.”

“Girlfriend” (to a named male character): “Starting as a pretty young girl, happily in love, she starts to deteriorate mentally and physically into a witch. Getting more and more crazed as the video goes on. Ending up with a cauldron and a witch’s hat!”

Women are manipulative and bossy

“Tenacious, wily, crafty, business like, driven and conniving.”

“Uses her sexuality to entrap men into a web of deceit and seduction.”

“She’s bossy and forthright, and tries to be in charge.” (notice the “tries”? )

Weird sex stuff

“B. is our heroine, she is young, sexy and flirtatious to the extreme. She is, secretly, a mermaid and succubus (an ability to swim of being comfortable in water a plus but not essential) who had been imprisoned as a sex slave. She hated being imprisoned and escapes but she enjoyed being a sex slave! She falls for our hero and helps him in his quest for adventure.”

“Orgy extras.”

“The girls should feel young, teenage. They need to be up for semi nudity if not full totally unbody conscious. Need to be up for kissing and getting covered in muck and goo.”

Boring stuff

“The male lead role’s scenarios will entail waking up in a bed after a one night stand, stealing a bike, getting into a fight and riding a bike through a park just to name a few. A wide variety of scenarios which will be very exciting to shoot around London. The female role will be the love interest of the video.”

“She goes with the man above!!!”

“Looking for 3 attractive slim girls to play the role of Peter’s Girlfriends.”

“John’s wife.”

“Damian’s girlfriend.”

“The love interest.”


“Girlfriend of the pianist.”

“Girl with knickers in skirt.”

“Mum in kitchen. She’s attractive, she’s a dab hand in the kitchen and is clearly a good mother; looking after her family and making sure the kids eat healthy.”

“The Hormonal Housewives”.

“Mum of one 10 month old. Sensible, simple tastes, Pretty girl. Does what women do best – looking after her boys.”

“Whatsherface: Requirements: To get Shaun to like her.”

“Blo Jo: All she wants is a boyfriend – and will take any steps to get one.”

“The mother is all about the routine. When she walks into the room and sees the mess – and how much the father is enjoying playing along with the baby – she’ll flash him a sassy disapproving look. A look that of course turns into a smile as it’s his loveable antics, his youthful approach to life that she loves about him.”

“J., F., A., K., J. and P are M’s paramours and sexual entourage.”

Women need to be hot, obviously

“She should ideally be as knockout good looking, model like, as he is charming and cheeky.”

“Bored wife, gets tired of being neglected by husband. Goes to a Saree shop and buys a Saree for herself. She looks great in the Saree. Now Husband Can’t take his eyes of her.”

“Would be wearing something like short-shorts and a tank top. For this role we may not see their face.”

“Will have to be a bona fide knock-out and combine extreme sensuality with the face of an ingénue.”

“A professional trainee lawyer: Thin Build size 6-8 Very attractive”

Nudity, obviously, but also in combination with the other themes…

“Psychotic tendencies. Nudity required.”

“Non-speaking. Nudity required.”

“Part is non-speaking but you will need to feel comfortable acting in underwear.”

Women are victims

“Cocooned Victim: This role is one of endurance, so we are looking for an Actress who is happy to be strapped to a wall and covered in goo!”

“Really lovely, innocent, attractive. A total victim type.”

“Ideal physical characteristics would lend to the role of love interest and horror victim. Eg: Pretty, slim, long hair.”

“The drowning scene is filmed outside and will require the actor to get the upper half of her body wet and to have her face submerged in the water.”

“NB! The scene will be physically draining as she has to fight for her life as she is being strangled by a rope.”

Women are assistants

“Jennifer: Female scientists/Researcher – Assistant to Dr Charles Miller. Looks up to the doctor, part of his team.”

“Charlotte: Female scientists/Researcher – Assistant to Dr Charles Miller. Looks up to the doctor, part of his team.”

“Trainee: Female. Coach: Male.”

Women need to be young(er)

Versatile Performers for numerous comic roles: Female – 21 -35; Male – 25-40

Weird perceptions of women

“At the same some she loves to be a woman and probably wears a pushup—bra”.

“K. is the female friend who is equal parts girly and witty.” (cos they are definitely two opposite things…)

“S. wants to be a catalogue model. An ambition she has held since the age of 14, when she overheard the boys at school saying how they enjoyed “wanking over them”.

Just rude

“Fat Bitch Slag.”

“Total slapper. Common would be too polite an adjective to describe this tart.”

The sheer lack of options…

Select a character

The Interlocutor (Male) male
Eugene Williams (Male) male
Andy Wright (Male) male
Mr Bones (Male) male
Clarence Norris (Male) male
Willie Roberson (Male) male
The Lady (Female) female
Roy Wright (Male) male
Mr Tambo (Male) male
Ozie Powell (Male) male
Haywood Patterson (Male) male
Charlie Weems (Male) male


Select a character
Jonathon male
Harry male
Dean male
Model- Young pretty model who will appear in her underwear female
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