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Artists’ Issues #7: The Naked Code

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Paula RhodesNudity required.

Those words cause completely different responses in different people. Ok, in women, because how often are dudes really asked to drop trou and how often is there stigma attached if they do? And yes, I too might be drooling a little at the reminder of male butt shots in Outlander and such, but pull it together you have an article to read.

Simple fact; ladies confront that phrase in this industry far more often and not just for critically acclaimed TV or film roles.

So, do you click submit/accept the audition/take the role? That is the question. What’s your answer? For many, this causes some internal wrestling and for others, none at all. Here’s what I found helpful when I was just starting out: write your own code and stick to it.

It doesn’t have to be a black and white YES or NO. Now, for some this is pretty cut and dry due to religion, personal body image, joyful exhibitionism, or any number of other things, but for most of us it’s somewhere in the middle. All you have to do is find where your line is. Now, I KNOW the stress of “But I just need to work!” but in this case make sure you take a tick to figure out your own rules before you rush in. While making a living is important, don’t sacrifice steering your long term career for a short term pay off. Some things to consider:

Will this help/hurt my career?

First, look at the project. The type of project and level of the role will determine how respectfully you’re treated on set as well as who will see the end result. It will also let you know a little something about the traction you can expect career-wise. A TV role can often help your reps pitch you to get you in to more TV auditions (even if it’s not a scene you’ll be putting on your reel), where indie films are more of a gamble as to who will see them. If it’s on TV, what channel? Having certain channels on your resume can steer your career in very specific directions.

You can point to examples of lots of women who’ve appeared nude and have stellar careers, just like you can point to those who haven’t and have great acclaim in the industry. Of course then there’s those who have bared it all and were never able to get out of the rut of being cast as talking anatomy, but some of them work a lot! At least until they reach a certain age. The women that chose to do nudity and went on to have great success tend to have a few things in common. They know themselves, they/their reps pick their roles and auditions carefully and wisely, they’re talented, and they don’t take roles just to work or out of desperation. Then again, sometimes they just have famous relatives.

When writing your own code, decide ahead of time if you’d be comfortable doing a co-star with one line and no shirt on TV or for an indie. How about for a guest star? Or if you have no lines but have a sex scene with a celebrity in a big film? A lead in a gritty indie? A supporting role in a fraternity comedy where you’re basically running boobs who gets a pie to the face? Ask yourself these things.

If it’s a bigger project, yes it’s likely that for a while your high school classmates/family/people you just met will describe you as the girl who was naked in X film. Know how you feel about that. Is it something that will embarrass you, can you laugh it off, or meet their gaze with a good-humored and proud “Yep, and boy was that a cold day!”? It’s only shameful if you’re ashamed of it. Only do things you won’t be ashamed of.

Your code can be as detailed as having answers to all of those, or be much more general, like WWAAD (What Would Amy Adams Do). It’s just important to know your own comfort level and where you see your career going so you can steer accordingly.

Another tool that can help you evaluate this is the 2 Outta 3. Does it hit two of the three requirements for career growth: Tape (will it improve your reel), Relationships (will you be working with amazing and professional people), and Experience (will the role be a new challenge, the set be as or more professional than your norm, will it help you book your next role).

What is the role?

This one is as important as what the project is. Is the role, no matter how big, naked because it’s important to the story that she is, or is it nudity just to get ogling eyeballs? Does it let you show off some of your other skills such as your razor sharp comedic timing, your tremendous range, or your depth of character development? Or is she just a sexy prop? Would the actresses you admire have taken it when they were at your level?

If you get to show off your actual acting ability, it may be the right opportunity for you. However, taking a role that’s unsatisfactory and clearly written by some fantasy-riddled hack of a dude could open the floodgates to a lot more of that kind of role (and only that kind) coming your way. The roles you play now will lead to those you play next, and if your reel is all arm candy it can be tough for people to imagine you as anything else. But perhaps you’re the best darn arm candy this town has seen and you’re gonna make a killing doing it before surprising us all with your breakout action series. It all comes back to knowing yourself and making the best decisions for you.

Who is the audience? Is it MY audience?

Here’s one we sometimes forget. Until we’re big enough to employ a team to do it for us, we’re in charge of our own marketing, our own brand. The most direct way to cultivate your personal brand is to know who your audience is and cater to them. Do you see yourself doing a ton of sci-fi and fantasy and attending Comic Cons everywhere to meet your fans? Is your instrument made more for the indie film circuit and film buffs everywhere tipping their hat to you? Are you bound to be a living cartoon character who will have a broad base of family-friendly fans? Are you sex personified and know full well you’ll grace fantasies of people everywhere? Well then peruse roles accordingly and avoid those that take you in the opposite direction.

Now, that’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t show your range. Of COURSE we can all play lots of different characters, but getting your foot in the door is easiest if you’re selling a clear product and not a muddy “I can be anything” one. Get in the door as exactly what you are at your core, what no one else can beat you at, then knock their socks off with your range once you’re in.

Is someone bullying you into it or out of it?

Oh this one makes me Hulk-out in anger. I once had an agent at a good agency call me with an audition for a role on a well-known show that broke my personal code. She was aware of this, but stressed that we really needed a recent TV credit. The role would have me naked bent over a desk and texting while appearing to be banged by one of the leads of the show. I was on set filming another project when she called to see if I was cool with it, and as I couldn’t read the sides (this was pre-smart phones, people), I asked her to read them to me before I decided. She replied with, “Oh, they’re a little too embarrassing for me to read out loud, but listen honey, why not show ’em while you’re young? Susan Sarandon’s daughter just did a nude role on the same show.”

Are. You. Kidding me? I did not take the audition nor did I keep the agent. I didn’t at the time, but BOY do I wish I’d replied with, “A – if you’re too embarrassed to read them to me on the phone while dressed what makes you think I want to say them naked on TV? B – oh I don’t know, you’re old, do you wish you’d shown your tits to the world when you were younger? And C – if your relatives are famous you get a different set of rules than I do.”

Whatever you decide is the right code for you, make sure your team, including all of your agents and managers, know it and respect it. Don’t let anyone bully you into doing or NOT doing nudity. A significant other who has a serious issue with it if it’s something you’re comfortable doing probably has a lot more issues than just that.

So as your fears or excitement around the possibility of “These images would be out there forever!” swirl, just draw your own line in the sand, determine which side each potential opportunity falls on, walk away from those that cross it as there will always be more, and embrace those that don’t. Thankfully, as more and more women join the ranks of writers/producers/directors we’re seeing more and more interesting, substantial, and challenging female roles with and without clothing, and that’s something every one of us can tear our shirts open in victory over. Wait…

Paula Rhodes

About Paula Rhodes

Paula is a multi-hyphenate with emphasis in the geektastic genres and a founding member of the 5'2" & Under Club. She counts among her best diary entries teaming up with Stephanie Thorpe to turn their life-long love of the comic ElfQuest into getting the film/TV rights, and getting to embody some of her other fandoms as Wendy in The New Adventures of Peter & Wendy (a modernized transmedia adventure based on the classic Peter Pan tale), Lady Door in the West Coast premiere of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Zelda in Knights in Hyrule (Machinima), and Skipper & Stacie in Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse. She's hoping to continue to grow her collection. She's also pretty sure owes producing in the web space for the last 7 years, and the connections social media allows, for the majority of the credits on her imdb page. Follow/add her adventures on twitter @paula_rhodes and at OfficialPaulaRhodes.com.