it's even harder to explain to people who've watched way too many episodes of that tv show fame, or who semi-worship the movie - people who honestly believe that if you have talent, you'll "make it," whatever that is. that's right up there with that idiotic all-american horatio alger "rags to riches" myth. nobody pulls themselves up by their own bootstraps. nobody.
let me say this loud enough for you to hear it, whoever you are: having talent does not guarantee your success on any level in the entertainment industry. while it's true that talent helps a great deal, in the grand scheme of things, talent doesn't matter. this is especially true if we're talking about on camera work. i suppose if i lived in hollywood, that's a bigger part of where my focus would be. like i fit into their beauty standard, anyway.
just because you're talented, just because you do a great audition and maybe even a great callback, just because you have presence, that doesn't mean that you'll get the part. and if you do get the part, that doesn't mean you'll keep it. the whole thing can fall apart at any point in the process. there are no guarantees, even when you're working. especially when you're working. because if they think you look funky in the playbacks on that monitor or if your chemistry with your co-star isn't up to scratch or whatever, they will replace you. it happens all the time.
there are so many variables involved. and it's usually stuff that has nothing to do with you. stuff like, how tall you are. or whether somebody thinks you're pretty. or not pretty enough. or whether the camera likes you. what does any of that have to do with whether you can act or not? not a bloody thing.
there, i said it.
let's get one thing straight. there is fat, as in overweight. and then there's hollywood fat, which looks fine in the real world. but in el lay or on camera, a size 8 is positively bovine. i'm not anorexic. i'm not bulemic. i don't have love/hate issues about my body. or food. or anything else. i am simply a theater actor that's hollywood fat. and by working this weight off, i'm doing something about it.
or i could keep eating and turn myself into a big black woman who plays caricatures that amount to little more than what can only be described as mammy for the 21st century -- usually with a lot more attitude and sass than she had in minstrelsy.
i don't want to have some long, drawn out post-feminist argument/discussion about how hollywood's obsession with youth and a size 4 body ideal has given a lot of girls and women in this country a complex and how you may or may not think i'm buying into that by doing any of this. all of that stuff is cute in theory. but this isn't theory. this is my career. and that's what makes it counterproductive - and moot. i realize that this is an important moment for me. i can either get it together and do what i have to do to make the transition to on camera work - get lean and get my teeth fixed - or not. this aspect of the business involves paying a great deal of attention to what i look like, and turning myself into something of a junior triathlete to get the leanness i know i need to look a certain way on camera is par for the course. now i understand why the actors i'd meet in LA were so foaming-at-the-mouth obsessed about what they ate, how they looked on camera, what they looked like, what everyone else looked like. and when they weren't looking at everyone else, they were expecting everyone else to look at them. everyone, constantly checking each other out. think about it: if you look that good, the compliments have to keep coming, you have to stop traffic, you have to look a certain way - or what's it all for, and how will you ever know what you're worth?
in this weight loss struggle, i am not alone. there are many bright shining examples of actors and actresses and performers in hollywood who did what they had to do to get that look. i just read lena horne's excellent bio stormy weather and i didn't get to the middle of the book before she was popping pills to get her weight down after having had two children, because the studio demanded it.
all in all, the results of such studied efforts have been transformative visually for many, to say the least. here's two of my all-time favorite examples:
once upon a time, greta garbo was a working film actress in sweden and happily studying theater. she was on her way to becoming a funny fat comedic actress with bad teeth, but filmmaker mauritz stiller saw something more. he made her take elocution lessons to walk and talk differently, and he got her a stylist so she could dress differently. he gave her acting lessons for the camera. and yes, he made her lose weight. she went on to star in two very successful european films. then they went to new york city. they languished there and almost went home but something interesting happened -- they took portraits of garbo and -- on the strength of those pictures alone -- MGM bigwigs decided to meet with them.
this is the photo that got her that interview.
here she is in 1924, photographed by henry b. goodwin.
these photos were taken by arnold genthe for vanity fair in 1925, prior to garbo's arrival in hollywood.
irving thalberg didn't think garbo was pretty at all (remember, she is considered by many to be the most beautiful woman who ever graced the silver screen - and some believe that she is the most beautiful woman who ever lived) but if you consider what he saw when he looked at her -- a heavy set 21 year old frizzy haired swede with bad teeth who could barely speak english -- maybe you could cut him a little slack.
so he had her straighten her hair and get her teeth fixed. on a scouting trip to berlin, louis b. meyer actually looked her over and told her to lose more weight before she attempted to work in hollywood -- this, after she'd already lost enough weight at the onset of her on camera career to become a successful european star -- with the admonishment, "in america, men don't like their women fat." they groomed her for a few choice roles here and there, she made it through the transition to talkies and the rest, as they say, is history.
this is certainly a much more finished look but wow -- she really doesn't look all that thrilled about it, now does she?
at the other end of the stick, of course, there's joan frackin' crawford - otherwise known as lucille le sueur.
joan's story is one for the books. she didn't have a svengali/lover at her elbow, telling her what to wear and what not to say. hers is a story of raw discipline, true grit and just plain old hard work on her physical self. i LOVE it! she knew everything that was required of her as a movie actress and as a star, and she handled her mutha-effin' business. period.
one day, joan was having stills taken by a cameraman, her friend johnny arnold, for a picture they were working on at the time. he told her offhandedly that her face was "built" - her bone structure was perfect for the camera but the camera couldn't get to any of it. for that to happen, she had to lose weight. joan took his casual remark to heart and promptly went on a diet of steak and tomatoes for lunch and dinner, and grapefruit for breakfast. in a month, she lost 20 pounds. her face changed so drastically, everyone assumed she got plastic surgery to make her eyes bigger. she didn't. at 5'1" and 149 pounds initially, she was pretty buxom. she dropped all the way down to 108 and never weighed more than 118 pounds for the rest of her career. and now -- to paraphrase paul harvey -- you know the rest of the story.
this is joan before the weight loss. (i'll bet you didn't even know this was joan, did you? i didn't.)
will you just look at that belly and those thighs? now that's hollywood fat.
and this is joan after the weight loss. of course, this new look garnered much more work and ultimately, success.
i don't know. maybe i've got it all wrong but i don't think so. to make this transition, you have to plug into your inner svengali. after looking over pictures like this from back in the day, mine is totally on point.