Can We Please Stop Complaining About Actors Being Cast as People They Don't Look Like?
Today in petty annoyances that have absolutely no bearing on my life or almost anyone else's: actors playing real-life characters they are not identical to. Yes, this is the hill I've chosen to die on as we head into the weekend.
On Thursday evening, it was announced that Rooney Mara would be starring in and producing an Audrey Hepburn biopic directed by Luca Guadagnino that's in development at Apple. I saw the headline and thought, "Great, strong source material, lots of talent, sounds good." The next morning I was made aware of the other narrative. People are upset that Lily Collins, whose resemblance to Hepburn is undeniable, didn't win the role.
First of all, we don't have all the information. Could Collins have been offered the role but unable to take it due to scheduling conflicts? Sure. But the bigger issue here is the idea that physical likeness is the most important factor in casting. As Lady Gaga will tell you, repeatedly, in different and ever-more theatrical ways, acting is "not an imitation, it's a becoming."
The same argument arose (again and again) when Nicole Kidman was cast as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. People immediately railed against the news, arguing that look-alike comedian Debra Messing should have won the role — Messing herself announced that she was "available" for the project. The blowback was so intense that Kidman began to doubt her own ability to play the role. Note: the film isn't an I Love Lucy reboot (for which perhaps Messing would've been better-suited). Being the Ricardos is a drama that focuses on the actor couple at the sitcom's core when the cameras weren't rolling. Kidman's performance has already earned her 12 acting nominations.
A similar outcry was heard when Lily James was cast as Pamela Anderson in Hulu Original series Pam & Tommy. The British actress, arguably best known for her turn as the titular princess in Disney's live-action Cinderella, isn't what fans (or anyone, really) had in mind to portray the voluptuous Baywatch star. But ah, the magic of acting! And hair and makeup! I mean, really, have we learned nothing from every Jared Leto performance? With a platinum blonde 'do and nauseatingly thin '90s eyebrows, James is a dead ringer for Anderson. And, if the show's trailer is to be believed, she has Anderson's voice and mannerisms down as well.
This isn't to say that certain considerations shouldn't be made when it comes to finding the right actor for a job. Representation still matters, but that's not the point. Within the range of appropriate actors for a role (which needs to include race, gender identity, and ability), skill should be the no. 1 factor. Of course, Hollywood is an industry, and talent is rarely the bottom line — hell, even my high school theater department seemed to operate with a politics-first mentality.
But this is the foundation of what irks me. The bulk of castings that people have chosen to complain about involve talented actors who have more than demonstrated their range. Awards are not always a signifier of talent, but for what it's worth, Kidman has an Oscar and four nominations. And have you seen Moulin Rouge!? Have you seen The Hours?? Have you seen Destroyer??? If any human could convincingly play a tree, it would be her. And Rooney Mara? Are. You. Kidding. Me. Show me an unconvincing Rooney Mara performance? You can't. Her take on "Classroom Girl #1" in Urban Legends: Bloody Mary? Iconic.
These actors aren't even being cast against type. Mara does look like Hepburn. If Jennifer Coolidge was cast as Hepburn, maybe we could talk. Actually, scratch that, I would gladly pay to see that film.
TL;DR: Against all odds, acting is and should actually be about, well, acting.
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