Trump, Hollywood and my (unwaxed) Billy Bush
If there is one good thing to come from Trump's running for President (and by "good" I mean something that isn't completely dispiriting, soul killing, gouge out your eyes depressing), it's the release of the now infamous "Grab 'em by the pussy" tape. Not only does it expose him for the narcissistic sociopath he is (is anyone surprised?!) but it gives me a quick and easy way to describe what it was like being a young, aspiring actor in Hollywood. It was like that. Every God Damned day.
First off, I am in no way placing myself on the same level of "hotness" as the leggy blond who inspired Trump's pussy grabbing manifesto (so don't you go thinking that I'm thinking I'm all that.) Secondly, I acknowledge that not all men in Hollywood are sexist and that male actors suffer sexual harassment too. That said, the vast majority of sexual harassment affects women and Trump's misogynistic remarks (along with Billy Bush's sycophantic, infantile pandering) perfectly capture the prevailing attitude of many, many men I dealt with while trying to find work as an actor.
Although The Donald's "girl" ("Hot as shit. In the purple") didn't hear his so-called locker room banter, she knew. Because you always know. Because it's omnipresent. It's the norm. Trust me, she clocked the juvenile innuendoes, the leering grins, the bullshit business with the hugs and she had a choice - she could call them out (and then be branded a trouble maker, a kill joy, a "difficult" actor that is "hard to cast") or she could do just what she did: gamely strap on a smile and soldier through.
The casting couch is alive and well. Thus has it always been, thus shall it ever be. When young women ask me for acting/career advice, I encourage them to search their souls, identify their moral line, carve it in stone, and prepare for battle. Because that moral line will be tested, either overtly or obliquely, on a daily basis.
For some, the line stops at a little flirtation and hints that you just may be sexually available. For others, it stops at screwing the director but not the entire crew. Yes, women opt to trade sex for acting work (for some, that choice has led to astounding success. For others, it's backfired big time) and while I'm not passing moral judgment on those who do, it sure as Hell makes it harder for those of us who don't. Why? Because we've got to fight against the expectation that we're all low hanging fruit, simply there for the taking.
While a straight up proposition is embarrassing and skeevy, at least it's an upfront, cut and dried transaction:
"You want the part?"
"Give me a blow job."
Make no mistake, it shouldn't happen, it's awful, it sucks (pun intended), but it's transparent. Tit for tat. (ibid)
I found the blatant proposal much easier to deal with (and almost more respectful in a weird way) than what I usually encountered: thinly veiled come ons, underhanded, gleefully dismissive jokes, callow observations about my body (and what I could potentially do with it.) Like Chinese Water Torture, I was eroded by the daily drip, drip, drip of insipid remarks - the insidious and inevitable testing of the waters, the constant pushing of the envelope to see where my line was and if it could be moved.
No wonder men in Hollywood treat women like idiots, I often had to act like an idiot to get by. If I called them on their crap, I'd be deemed humorless, a Diva, not a team player so I'd pretend not to understand the bone headed innuendoes, pretend not to see the lingering, lewd looks, pretend not to hear the grubby, insulting questions.
The immature, creepy, Frat boy commentary in Bill and Don's Excellent Adventure is a perfect example of the demeaning, entitled, chauvinistic atmosphere that permeated my Hollywood scene. It was this dynamic that left me off kilter, paranoid, and enervated - dead tired of searching for the sweet spot between maintaining dignity and not alienating the assholes in power. Exhausted from smiling sweetly while screaming in my head HOW FUCKING STUPID DO YOU THINK I AM?!
Like when my first agent - who said I was a "comic genius" (as I've written before, the word genius is tossed around really, really liberally in Hollywood) - but insisted on always bringing the conversation around to sex and nudity in films - How did I feel about it? Sure, I could see asking once, to determine where I stood, but every time? With my Good Sport smile firmly in place, I'd say it would depend on the project but, given my comic genius, I thought that's where we should be concentrating. And he'd agree -until our next meeting. Rinse and repeat. When he grew tired of my stonewalling the sex and nudity conversation, he opted to show me clips from a movie to better understand "my aesthetic." Big surprise, it was a sex scene. Again, I strapped on the Good Sport smile and said something like "She's lovely but I don't see the relevance as I'm interested in comedy." So, accommodating guy that he was, he found a comedy... with a nude scene.
Like when a Director asked me if I was a "natural girl."
"You mean, like a vegan?"
"No, like your bush. Do you wax it or ...?"
Like when a DP told me I was "too smart" to be an actress but I had good tits, were they real and could I prove it?
Like when the independent film audition turned into a quasi date with the Director (he wanted to see how we "related" to each other) and then turned into an angry tirade about "cunt actresses" when I didn't want to take our relating back to his hotel room.
Like when I did a comedy showcase and the agent's feedback was "you're funny but you really should do the scene in your underwear."
Like when I auditioned for a floor wax commercial and the director suggested I try "something fun" and fake an orgasm.
Like when I was helping cast a project and a producer nixed my choice for the lead because she had 'horse teeth.' "Can you see her giving head? She'd bite my dick off."
Like when a commercial agent asked me if I was wearing a bra because he wanted to submit me for “Buxom Coppertone girl” but I didn't have a swimsuit shot and he couldn't honestly submit me for the part without said photo BUUUUT since a bra is very much like a bikini, I could lift up my shirt, give him a peek, then he could vouch for my buxomness and we’d all be on the level.
HOW FUCKING STUPID DO YOU THINK I AM?!
(Especially the Coppertone incident. I mean - really?! I make vampires look tan.)
The list goes on and on and on. It was THIS - this sneaky, vague, manipulative, micro aggressive bullshit - and the expectation that I play along - this is what ultimately broke me.
I saw that the women getting work were the ones who could play nice, stroke the male ego, give an air of sexual availability (be it true or not) and, above all, not take any of the crap personally. I did try - to flirt. To giggle. To ignore. To deflect. To be the Cool Girl. To laugh it off. To smile, smile, smile - but my Teflon coating wasn't thick enough and the eventual day came when I grew tired of smiling and began to very politely call men out on their shit. And then my agent started getting feedback like "Anne seems angry" and "Can't she take a joke?" and when I said that, yes, I could take a joke (because I do fucking COMEDY) but I wasn't hearing any jokes, just the same old, tired misogyny, he commiserated - "Yeah, it's a shitty business for women" - and shortly thereafter dropped me from his list.
Although I've been out the acting loop for a while, it seems not much has changed. My hat is off to actresses like Rose McGowan, women who are bravely speaking out and (sort of) naming names, but I fear the piggish, testosterone driven Hollywood culture is, overall, still firmly entrenched and will be for some time to come. That is until we Good Sport Girls stop playing nice and speak the fuck up.
So thanks, Mr. Trump. Thanks for Trump Tower (which was my go-to place to pee in Midtown) and thanks for the tape - for providing me a convenient way to describe my experiences in Tinsel town and for opening up a conversation. A conversation about sexism. About male entitlement. About rape culture. About Tic Tacs. Speaking of which, best to load up on those colorful, candy coated mints, Donny Boy, because you - and your ilk - really stink.