Off the couch and onto the treadmill: Do I have to go on a diet to get the job?


Hayley Derryberrynote from the author: The basis for this article is that it seems like 95% of female roles on every movie and tv show are played by someone outrageously skinny. Not someone healthy and thin, someone outrageously skinny. Noticing that has created a difficulty for me in this career, because I don’t want to starve myself, but I don’t see why the women we see on tv can’t look healthy. So when I say “When you go into an audition” or “you’re not the right body type” I mean for nearly every role being cast, whether its for “hot chick” or “secretary”.  

Have you ever gone into an audition and been told that you didn’t get the part because you’re not the right body type?  Probably not, today’s casting director is not going to tell you that you’re too big or need to go on a diet; they’ll simply move on to the next girl.  I recently worked on a movie with a very successful actress who has worked regularly on some hit cable shows.  She mentioned having to get up early to exercise and went on to explain that she hates exercising, but she does it because no one will tell her to look a certain way; they simply won’t hire her if she doesn’t.  And that’s the truth.  When you walk into an audition room, the people doing the hiring don’t see who you could be after an intense diet and exercise regime.  They see who you are at that moment, and if you’re not “the character” you won’t get the part.

So to really answer the previously proposed question, you need to ask yourself what kind of actor you are and what roles you want to play.  If you want to play a kick-ass CIA agent/spy, you’re going to have to be athletic, and if you want to play the beautiful love interest to Channing Tatum, you’re going to have to be thin. (Channing works around the clock to stay in the kind of shape he’s in. It’s only fair that his co-star work at least half as hard.) Keeping in the right kind of shape is just as much a part of our jobs as memorizing lines or taking acting classes.  Just because you’re not getting paid today as an actor, that doesn’t mean there’s no work for you to do.  I am working on my career every time I wake up and go to the gym, every time I make a low calorie meal for dinner, every time I post a tweet, and certainly every time I attend a class or workshop.  As actors we are salespeople and the product we sell is ourselves. Your body is a part of that product.

In the current world of political correctness, no one will tell you what you have to do; you just have to do it.  I worked as a stand-in a while back on a television show, and the actress I stood in for gained 3 inches on her waist from the time she was hired to the end of the first season.  Being a part of the crew, I got to hear a lot of chatter that the actors wouldn’t normally know about, and it was speculated that the actress’s weight gain was the reason her character was getting married off and thus leaving the main cast of the show.  Now that probably wouldn’t be the case for most actors on TV shows, but for this particular actress she was supposed to be the “hot chick” so her body was a part of her character. I’m not saying she was treated unjustly.  On the contrary, the company was right to take her out of the show because it was unprofessional of her to allow such a drastic change in her body. While her co-star on the show was waking up early every morning and hitting the treadmill, this actress was downing sodas and candy from crafty.  If I had been the producer, I would have done the same thing. Because of the way unions and rules are now, a company can’t tell you “you have to lose weight,” what they will do is not bring you back.

The fact of the matter is all actors have to be body conscious.  Once you’ve decided what kind of actor you are and what roles you want to play, it is your responsibility to get your body on the same page and keep it there.  In this business, most of the work you get will be based on your previous work.  Someone may bring you in to audition based on a role you played or an audition you had two years ago.  People change, but as actors it is irresponsible to let your product change so much that you’re not selling the same thing any more. I’m not saying you don’t have the right to change yourself, of course you do, just know that every time you make a major change, you will have to remarket yourself.  It’s even true for hugely successful actors.  Just look at Jonah Hill’s weight loss or Keri Russell cutting off her ‘Felicity’ locks.

There is a beacon of hope in this dark tale, however.  Nowadays there are far more roles for actresses outside of the Hollywood skinny box.  Most of them can be found in the realm of comedy, and female comedians are seriously making their marks.  Mindy Kaling and Kat Dennings are currently leading two TV sitcoms with “non-traditional” body types while raking in the ratings, and they’re not the only ones.  It makes me so happy to see such strong roles for women who aren’t just “the sexy love interest” or “the nurturing mother”.  Women in film and television are collectively making the statement, “We are not here to add filler to your show.  We are the main dish.”  I look forward to the day when there is as much diversity in the women we see on screen as in the wonderful women who are in our lives.

Before I end, I’ll tell you a little about myself so that you see where I’m coming from.  I grew up acting in theater, and about 6 years ago I began acting professionally and on camera.  I was thirty pounds heavier at the time and I couldn’t run a single lap to save my life.  Then I asked myself the very question that is the title of this blog. I decided that I did want to play leading ladies and so I went on a diet. Well, more like changed my whole lifestyle.  Now, largely thanks to the support of my husband (a US Marine veteran), I consider myself an athlete and am conscious of every calorie I consume.  It can suck sometimes, but it is a part of my job.  No, I don’t have a 24-inch waist, and I don’t want one because that would be unhealthy for me.  For a large part of my life I was malnourished from eating processed and fast foods, and now that I’m finally eating right and feel great, I don’t want to push myself to the other end of the spectrum by becoming unhealthily skinny.  That may exclude me from booking some roles, but I think it’s worth it.  It breaks my heart when I see the women in this town who starve themselves to the point that they are so unhealthy their hair is falling out or they don’t have the energy to smile and laugh.

I don’t want this blog to be discouraging; on the contrary, we’ve all chosen this insane career because we love acting.  We are performers, so don’t think of diet and exercise as roadblocks on your way to your destination of performing. Think of them as a part of the journey.  So the next time you talk yourself into going to the gym or order grilled chicken instead of fried, celebrate because you are doing the job that you love!