Have you heard the term "casting couch" before? You probably have. It represents the trading of sexual favors to help someone get a job, and it is widely associated with the motion picture industry, for when potential actors arrive at an audition and have to please a casting director or producer in order to land a coveted gig. It's a horrific phrase, but it exists because it's a gross reality of the entertainment industry, as this recent story told by Crash star Thandie Newton reminds us.
The Westworld actress was being interviewed by W Magazine, and the subject came around to an uncomfortable and disturbing experience she had at a young age while auditioning for film roles. Newton recalled, once again, an uncomfortable experience she had with a casting director when she was trying to break into the business. Newton has shared this personal story before, and while she didn't mention the name of the director in this story, she recalled the incident in question in this way:
A director, on a callback, had a camera shooting up my skirt and asked me to touch my tits and think about the guy making love to me in the scene. I thought, 'Ok, this is a little weird,' but there was a female casting director in the room and I'd done weird stuff before so I did it.
The way that Thandie Newton describes that situation almost makes it sound like it's normal, accepted behavior. We don't know the type of role that she was auditioning for in this context, so it's possible that such behavior would be part of the gig. As she says, she felt slightly more comfortable with the idea because there was a female casting director in the room, as well. Acting is a strange profession, and certain boundaries we might accept are overlooked by performers.
What happened next, however, takes the situation to a whole new field. Thandie Newton recalls to W that she ran into a producer during a film festival, who drunkenly admitted to her that they had seen the footage of Newton's raw audition. Newton explains:
It turns out that the director was showing that audition tape to his friends after poker games at his house. And they would all get off on it.
What a horrific, vile violation. There's so much about this that's wrong, we hardly know where to begin. We can almost understand the need to have an actor pantomime sexual activity in an audition, if it's for a role that requires such action. The actor going out for the role may know what's needed from them, and if they want to be in such a project, the audition could requite it. But a filmmaker holding onto the footage, and then sharing it with strangers after the fact? That's beyond deplorable.
Newton, now 43 and the mother of two teenage daughters, is taking the high road. She is sharing this story so that it might be a lesson to others in the industry who are doing what they can to break in, not realizing how detrimental it might be to them in the future. She concludes to W:
I was so, so naïve when I started out and I realize now that we have to prepare our kids--- I've got two beautiful daughters, one is 16 one is 11. So many people in our business, they don't want to be the ones to say something. That's a bum out, because then they become associated with a bum out and nobody wants to read about so-and-so because they're always blabbering on about a bum out. But one person will read this and it will stop them getting sexually abused by a director. That's the person I'm interested in.
We sincerely hope that Thandie Newton's message reaches all of the right people.