A Little Too Ready for Her Close-Up?
By LAURA M. HOLSON
Published: April 23, 2010
IT took years for Hollywood to create the perfect woman. Now it wants the old one back.
In small but significant numbers, filmmakers and casting executives are beginning to re-examine Hollywood’s attitude toward breast implants, Botox, collagen-injected lips and all manner of plastic surgery.
Television executives at Fox Broadcasting, for example, say they have begun recruiting more natural looking actors from Australia and Britain because the amply endowed, freakishly young-looking crowd that shows up for auditions in Los Angeles suffers from too much sameness.
“I think everyone either looks like a drag queen or a stripper,” said Marcia Shulman, who oversees casting for Fox’s scripted shows.
Independent casting directors like Mindy Marin, who worked on the Jason Reitman film “Up in the Air,” are urging talent agents to discourage clients from having surgery, particularly older celebrities who, she contends, are losing jobs because their skin is either too taut or swollen with filler. Said Ms. Marin: “What I want to see is real.”
Even extras get the once-over. Sande Alessi, who helped cast the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, said she offers to photograph actresses in their bathing suits, telling them they can keep the photo for their audition books.
Professional courtesy? Not exactly. Moviemakers prefer actresses with natural breasts for costume dramas and period films. So much so that when the Walt Disney Company recently advertised for extras for the new “Pirates” film, the casting call specified that only women with real breasts need apply. By taking a photograph, Ms. Alessi said, “we don’t have to ask, we will know.”
The move toward “less is more” is being propelled by a series of colliding social and technological trends, more than a dozen film and television professionals said.
Cosmetic enhancements remain popular, with 10 million surgical and nonsurgical procedures performed in the United States in 2009, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. At the same time, the spread of high-definition television — as well as a curious public’s trained eye — has made it easier to spot a celebrity’s badly stitched hairline or botched eyelid lift.
Men, of course, are not immune to the youthful lure of a surgeon’s scalpel. But it is women, to the surprise of no one, who are being scrutinized most closely.
Botox is the enemy in a post-“Avatar,” 3-D infatuated Hollywood, where the ability to crumple a mouth into a frown is as vital as remembering one’s lines. More startling is how young plastic surgery devotees have become. In January, the actress Heidi Montag was on the cover of People magazine touting the 10 cosmetic procedures she received in one day. She is 23.
“The era of ‘I look great because I did this to myself’ has passed,” said Shawn Levy, the director and producer of “Date Night” and the “Night at the Museum” movies. “It is viewed as ridiculous. Ten years ago, actresses had the feeling that they had to get plastic surgery to get the part. Now I think it works against them. To walk into a casting session looking false hurts one’s chances.”
Few in Hollywood are willing to admit to a chin reduction or mini eyebrow lift. (Remember when Jennifer Grey admitted to a nose job, a move some say hurt her career?) Celebrities instead are more open to discussing a former drug problem or sex addiction, because there is less concern a confession of that sort will harm their careers. But with so many types of cosmetic rejiggering, results are often painfully obvious and difficult to correct.
Ms. Shulman of Fox met with an agent recently to discuss hiring an actress who clearly had work done. “What did she do to her face?” Ms. Shulman said she asked the agent. “He said, ‘Nothing.’ I shrugged. I’m just not going to argue. I said, ‘She’s not for me then.’ ”
Head shots, too, are no longer reliable. Ms. Marin said she sometimes checks AwfulPlasticSurgery.com, a celebrity Web site that chronicles the surgically enhanced, to confirm suspicions about who has done what. When Ms. Alessi was casting “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 2007, she received hundreds of head shots. Some of the actresses who arrived for auditions, though, looked nothing like their photographs.
“They would have these huge puffy lips and frozen foreheads,” she said. “You said to yourself, ‘Oh, I can’t use you.’ I don’t mind if they do a tiny bit of something, but it can’t be obvious.”
An actor can even lose a role if a director suspects surgery, whether it was performed or not. John Papsidera, a casting director for the “Batman” movies, said he and a director (he declined to say which one) recently debated whether to hire an actress in her early 20s to play a teenager falling in love. The actress was talented and naturally pretty. But what stopped the director was his suspicion that, at such a young age, she already had breast implants.
“We looked at film where she was topless and it was like, ‘Maybe,’ ” Mr. Papsidera said. It wasn’t a period film, so authenticity was not an issue. Instead, the possibility of implants became “a point of reference,” he said. “It was more of, ‘Where is that person coming from as an actor?’ ” She did not get the part.
To outsiders, such conversations can seem almost cruel. Youthful perfection is prized in Hollywood despite the seeming canonization of older actresses like Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren and Betty White. But a talented 35-plus actress who has had particularly good surgery can still find work. At that age the backlash is not against plastic surgery or Botox itself — everyone seems to be doing it, right? — but its poor execution.
“Behind the scenes, you have so many conversations,” said Mr. Levy, the director, referring to his discussions with studio executives about leading ladies. “Why did she do that to herself? She was beautiful. She was great. But now we can’t cast her.”
Rarely, though, do studio executives share their concerns with actors, he added, citing politeness as a reason.
Perhaps they should discuss it. After all, the executives and producers who criticize others for having too much plastic surgery often feel the same pressure to look young and attractive. Their judgments about others, then, are not only subjective, but deeply personal. (Several studio executives did not return calls or declined to comment on their views on cosmetic procedures.)
Carrie Audino, a casting director on “Mad Men,” said: “I do think there are times when you sit in a casting session and listen to what someone thinks is beautiful or handsome, and there is this very skewed outlook based on their own insecurities. Because they have issues, they have an issue with someone else.”
Still, there is something to suggest that the new attitude is beginning to take hold. Last week Sharon Osbourne told Matt Lauer on the “Today” show that she was going to have her breast implants removed this summer and give them to her husband as paperweights. Lisa Kudrow, in a recent interview with New York magazine, seemed happy to own up to the fact that the face viewers saw on an episode of “Cougar Town” was hers, age lines and all.
“Look, time marches on,” she said. “You still want to look good, but there’s a line between looking like yourself and looking like a character from a Batman movie.”
Of course, there are still times when having cosmetic surgery can pay off. The buzzworthiness of a reality television star seems to soar depending on her cup size or clipped waist. (Think of Jwoww from “Jersey Shore.”)
Last November Ms. Montag, who starred in “The Hills” on MTV, underwent 10 cosmetic procedures including liposuction, buttock and breast augmentation and Botox. Her reward? A torrent of media attention kicked off by a flattering January cover story in People magazine, including before and after photos.
Critics made fun of her, and her own mother was shocked. “She was looking at me almost like I was a zoo animal,” Ms. Montag told People of her first visit home.
But she said in an interview that she is convinced she made the right move. She wants to be a movie actress, and some parts have begun to come in. She recently starred in a video directed by Ron Howard, and she said she was hired for a cameo in an Adam Sandler movie.
Both parts poke fun at women who’ve had too much plastic surgery.