The deep dive: in­side the Hol­ly­wood thin dus­try

Se­cret clauses de­mand­ing ac­tors be­come ‘mal­nour­ished’. Train­ers forced upon A-list stars. Lucy Vine lifts the lid on Hol­ly­wood’s body fas­cism – and the ex­perts paid to ‘ bully’ our most fa­mous stars into con­form­ing

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

it won’t come as a shock to any­one read­ing this that Hol­ly­wood likes its women to be, well, thin. But in­creas­ingly, per­sonal train­ers have be­come a sta­ple on film sets, and stu­dio heads openly co­erce their lead­ing ladies into los­ing weight. And with a new em­pha­sis on HD tech­nol­ogy, ac­tresses are now ex­pected to ar­rive on set al­ready look­ing ‘per­fect’ – from ev­ery an­gle.

‘ They’d mea­sure me and call up the per­sonal trainer at, like, nine at night go­ing, “Is she in the gym? And if she isn’t, why isn’t she?”’ ac­tress Gemma Arter­ton re­cently re­vealed of her ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing forced to lose weight. She didn’t name the film, but de­scribed the ‘trau­matic’ feel­ing of be­ing videoed in the gym for proof to show bosses she was try­ing. ‘ There was one day when I went to get some snacks,’ she said. ‘And the man – this big, fat, obese pro­ducer – went: “I hope you’re not go­ing to eat that.”’

This kind of ob­ses­sive mon­i­tor­ing is in­creas­ingly the norm. Jen­nifer Lawrence has de­scribed how, ‘Some­body [on set] told me I was fat. That I was go­ing to get fired if I didn’t lose a cer­tain amount of weight. They brought in pic­tures of me where I was ba­si­cally naked and told me to use them as mo­ti­va­tion.’ Si­enna Miller has told how her Fac­tory Girl di­rec­tor Ge­orge Hick­en­looper would ‘snatch bagels out of my hands’. A pro­ducer on a Sarah Jes­sica Parker film once had a tread­mill flown to the set for her. And Amy Schumer was in­formed be­fore film­ing Train­wreck that, ‘If you weigh over 140lbs… on screen it will hurt peo­ple’s eyes.’

These com­ments un­der­line why ac­tresses of­ten re­sort to hard-core work­outs and crash di­ets. But why, de­spite these women speak­ing out, is noth­ing chang­ing? Why aren’t A-list ac­tresses be­ing heard?

A weighty prob­lem

How stu­dios can get away with such bla­tant body sham­ing is a ques­tion we put to Hol­ly­wood cast­ing di­rec­tor, Diana*, who asked not to be named. ‘It’s of­ten dis­guised as a need to get “into char­ac­ter”,’ she tells Grazia. ‘If a char­ac­ter is de­scribed as be­ing ‘lean’, ‘ath­letic’ or ‘mal­nour­ished’, the stu­dio is tech­ni­cally only ask­ing the ac­tress to bet­ter ser­vice her own per­for­mance and the film. They can claim they’re view­ing the body as part of the cos­tume. I don’t get a say in these mat­ters, I’m just told what film bosses want. I do feel com­plicit, but if I say no, I lose my job. It’s an in­cred­i­bly su­per­fi­cial and judge­men­tal in­dus­try – you should see how peo­ple re­act when I eat a brownie on set, like I’m some kind of rebel!’

At the heart of the prob­lem, she says, are ‘look tests’, which in ef­fect are an au­di­tion on cam­era. But for many ac­tresses, says for­mer pro­ducer An­drea*, they are of­ten less about au­di­tion­ing and more about women parad­ing on cam­era so di­rec­tors can see if they’re at­trac­tive enough. ‘Of course they want to know if she can act, but most look tests are to see how she looks. If she’s not deemed thin enough but has the rest of the look, most bosses think that can be “fixed”.’ An­drea adds that she’s seen di­rec­tors take this fur­ther, de­mand­ing re-writes that make the lead fe­male char­ac­ter smaller for this very pur­pose. ‘Adding that into the script meant he could tell his ac­tress to lose weight, and it was just part of the char­ac­ter’s look,’ she says. ‘It’s not no­ble, but it’s bet­ter than say­ing to an ac­tress that she needs to be ema­ci­ated to fit his ideal of beauty. This kind of thing is def­i­nitely im­pact­ing male ac­tors too, but not in the same way: the guys are ex­pected to be big and buff, not wast­ing away, like women.’

In­deed, the huge pop­u­lar­ity of su­per­hero movies means we’re see­ing a flurry of men beef­ing up. But the same isn’t hap­pen­ing with their fe­male co-stars. Up­com­ing Thor: Rag­narok sees Chris Hemsworth ap­pear­ing more mus­cle- bound than ever, while Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thomp­son, still fits the tra­di­tional look. Like­wise, the lat­est Guardians Of The Galaxy saw Chris Pratt bulk up, work­ing with a per­sonal trainer 

six times a week, while Zoe Sal­dana stuck to a ‘gluten- free, no added sugar, noth­ing ar­ti­fi­cial’ diet to main­tain her smaller frame.

David Kings­bury has been a per­sonal trainer for 12 years, work­ing all over the world with the likes of Michael Fass­ben­der and Hugh Jack­man – turn­ing the lat­ter into a lit­eral mu­tant, Wolver­ine. ‘Most film sets come with their own per­sonal trainer now,’ says David. ‘ We’re con­sid­ered part of the crew. I’m hired by the stu­dios rather than ac­tors. They brief me on what their goals are for the ac­tor. We’ll go through dates so I can work out the time­line for train­ing. Af­ter that I’ll meet the ac­tor to talk train­ing and nu­tri­tion. We start work­ing to­gether eight to 12 weeks be­fore shoot­ing, and then I’m on set for the du­ra­tion of film­ing.’

David’s web­site fo­cuses on his work with male ac­tors, and there is, of course, a dif­fer­ence be­tween the need to phys­i­cally change for a char­ac­ter – as with many su­per­hero films – and a pro­ducer ask­ing an ac­tress to be thin­ner for the sake of their own skewed aes­thet­ics. And un­like some train­ers, David re­fuses to take things too far. ‘I don’t work in that ex­treme way, even when we’re short on time,’ he adds. ‘My ex­er­cise and diet plan can’t neg­a­tively im­pact an ac­tor’s abil­ity to per­form.’ But he does ad­mit there is pres­sure on ac­tresses to fit a body ideal. ‘It does go on,’ he con­firms. ‘ There is al­ways go­ing to be a neg­a­tive side, ev­ery­one’s very aware of the pres­sure to ap­pear a cer­tain way.’

An­other trainer, Dan*, re­veals it’s not just ac­tresses un­der pres­sure. ‘Stu­dios ex­pect us to de­liver more and more dra­matic re­sults,’ he says. ‘As films com­pete for box of­fice


suc­cess, they rely on their ac­tors to step up too. For women, that of­ten means reach­ing unattain­able lev­els of per­fec­tion. I’ve been asked to “help” a lead ac­tress lose an un­re­al­is­tic amount of weight. When I met her, she had no idea why I was even there – no one had told her. It was a very awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion. I tried to say it wasn’t fea­si­ble in the time frame – or ap­pro­pri­ate for her health – and the stu­dio shrugged and said they’d find some­one who could do it. We

both knew we faced that same op­tion. So I took the job and the ac­tress lost the weight.’

Pro­ducer An­drea blames the in­grained thin- is- best nar­ra­tive that has car­ried through Hol­ly­wood’s his­tory, and is now un­der­lined by the rise of on- de­mand cos­metic surgery and HD screens. ‘Ac­tors are seen as tools by many pro­duc­ers and di­rec­tors,’ she says. ‘ They look at them as barely hu­man, analysing their ev­ery ex­pres­sion and ev­ery move on a screen, like they’re hired ro­bots.

‘ The new cam­eras cap­ture each per­ceived flaw, and if a di­rec­tor doesn’t like what they see on the screen, they want it changed.’ But she does be­lieve that the men in charge will start to lis­ten, par­tic­u­larly as films like

Won­der Woman do well at the box of­fice. Be­cause, yes, even though we are still talk­ing about a film full of slim, gor­geous women,

Won­der Woman is a step in the right di­rec­tion. Its lead­ing lady, Gal Gadot, was asked to gain weight. She worked with trainer Mark Wright, who spoke of his shock at how ‘her wrist went all the way up. Her el­bow was the thick­est part of her arm.’ An­drea says, ‘I’m sure stu­dio bosses must be start­ing to re­alise that theirs is di­nosaur be­hav­iour. Even the cat­walks are mov­ing away from the “size zero” ideal, and are lam­basted if they don’t use healthy sizes.’


For the past 100 years, au­di­ences have been cap­ti­vated by large, brutish Rhett But­ler types, and se­duced by frag­ile, hol­low- eyed Judy Gar­lands (who was told aged 14 by MGM that she looked like a ‘fat lit­tle pig with pig­tails’). Films may have changed, but ac­tress’s dress sizes haven’t. Even to­day, the num­ber of ac­tresses over a size 8 reg­u­larly work­ing in Hol­ly­wood can prob­a­bly be counted on one hand. And when you do en­counter larger ac­tresses on the A-list, such as Rebel Wil­son or Melissa Mccarthy, it’s largely in comedic or char­ac­ter roles.

And what of those ac­tresses lower on the showbiz scale, who don’t feel able to speak out? ‘ There is no way I can talk pub­licly about these is­sues,’ says So­phie* who has been a job­bing ac­tress for 12 years. ‘I would be too wor­ried about los­ing work or get­ting a bad rep­u­ta­tion. It’s a sad re­al­ity, but there is so much pres­sure to look the “right” way. One ac­tor friend got daily calls from her pro­ducer to ask what she’d eaten and what ex­er­cise she’d done that day. An­other was told by her agent that she ei­ther had to slim down or fat­ten up, be­cause she was “too big” for young lead roles but not big enough to be a char­ac­ter ac­tress!

‘ The whole thing is about judg­ing your look, right from the cast­ing call, which usu­ally says “Must be at­trac­tive”. At the cast­ing, your body is treated as a public dis­cus­sion point. I was at a swimwear cast­ing where there were eight peo­ple just star­ing at me and openly talk­ing about my body as if I wasn’t there. It was so aw­ful and sham­ing. But if I were asked to lose weight for a role, I prob­a­bly would. This is a tough in­dus­try and, if I re­fused, I know there would be a mil­lion women be­hind me who would be bit­ing at my heels to do it in­stead.’


But a sea change is loom­ing. As more ac­tresses speak out, Hol­ly­wood will have to start lis­ten­ing – and not just when it comes to body im­age. Jes­sica Chas­tain has pledged to work with a fe­male di­rec­tor ev­ery year. Michelle Ro­driguez threat­ened to pull out of The Fast And The Fu­ri­ous un­less writ­ers have fe­male char­ac­ters speak­ing to each other. Emma Stone has spear­headed a move­ment for equal pay. Rose Mcgowan named and shamed the cast­ing calls for Adam San­dler’s films, which re­quired women to au­di­tion in ‘form fit­ting tank that shows off cleav­age ( push- up bra en­cour­aged)’. Am­ber Tam­blyn spoke pub­licly about the sex­ual ha­rass­ment young ac­tresses of­ten face in a piece for The New York Times re­cently. In it, she ex­posed her own ha­rasser – ac­tor James Wood – and wrote, ‘ What I have ex­pe­ri­enced as an ac­tress work­ing in a busi­ness whose busi­ness is to ob­jec­tify women is fright­en­ing. It is the deep end of a pool where I can­not swim.’

Grazia spoke exclusively to Lily Collins – who pre­vi­ously suf­fered from an eat­ing dis­or­der – about it. She told us, ‘I ap­plaud peo­ple who are talk­ing about it be­cause it all af­fects us dif­fer­ently… I can imag­ine that when some­one’s telling you [to lose weight], it’s all very emo­tional.’ Michelle Dock­ery agrees, say­ing, ‘ I hear about [ weight sham­ing] on a lot of pro­duc­tions and I was ac­tu­ally of­fered a trainer on God­less. Of course there are pres­sures on ac­tresses, and it’s a pres­sure women shouldn’t have. We’re ac­tors and all dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes.’

This new-wave at­ti­tude is spreading to other, con­nected in­dus­tries too, with fash­ion giants LVMH and Ker­ing, who own brands in­clud­ing Louis Vuit­ton, Gucci and Chris­tian Dior, vow­ing to no longer use mod­els be­low a UK size 4. There is a feel­ing that women are not go­ing to take this any more. Which is what we need, says body im­age ex­pert Holli Ru­bin. ‘Hol­ly­wood has al­ways been the ul­ti­mate barom­e­ter for women’s looks. So see­ing hy­per- thin ac­tresses and mod­els im­pacts how we see our­selves. The no­tion that ac­tresses pos­sess the right or ideal way to look is om­nipresent and women have al­ways tried to em­u­late them. But it is un­re­al­is­tic – we are left feel­ing dis­ap­pointed and less than.’

Holli be­lieves that our only route to true change is with more women, like Gemma Arter­ton, us­ing their power to speak out. ‘ We need es­tab­lished ac­tresses hav­ing the courage to say, “No, I won’t lose weight for this role.” Only by break­ing out of the box and let­ting women be who they are will these stereo­types be oblit­er­ated.’

Be­cause, ul­ti­mately, it comes down to us and what we’re will­ing to put up with. Film stu­dios and pro­duc­ers will ar­gue that they are giv­ing the public what they want, so it’s time for our ex­pec­ta­tions to adapt. As cast­ing di­rec­tor Diana says, ‘ The only way things are go­ing to change is for stu­dios to see that the public want to see real bod­ies. We also need Hol­ly­wood’s in­her­ent chau­vin­ism to fall away, which will come with more women tak­ing those top jobs.’

If our favourite ac­tors are ready for the brave new all-sizes-wel­come world, the only ques­tion that re­mains is whether Hol­ly­wood is too.

Right: Gal Gadot as Won­der Woman; a larger- sized model on the cat­walk

Clock­wise from main pic­ture: Si­enna Miller in Fac­tory Girl; Jen­nifer Lawrence; Amy Schumer in Train­wreck; Gemma Arter­ton

From Chas­tain; left: Lily Jes­sica Collins on set; Michelle Ro­driguez in The Fast And The Fu­ri­ous

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