Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Let's get naked

Consider this for a moment. If you were preparing to appear naked on stage or screen, how much of an expectation would there be that you would appear toned, tanned, lithe and dancer like? How much of that expectation would come from others (director, producers, co-stars, casting director, your agent)? And how much would come from you?

Is it a question of common sense, professionalism or ego? What about artistic choices? What if you chose to make your stripper/naked housewife/prostitute a fattie? What would it say about the character (or your personal character for that matter)? Would it make her more interesting, more appealing, more endearing or just plain wrong and repelling?

These are the questions I ask myself, as I ponder the development of my latest theatre project, working title: The Lusty Lady, based on my experiences as a peep show dancer in San Francisco.

I'm not new to the uh... nudity clause. It became my signature stunt at Drama School (and won me the "best skin" award at graduation). It's very empowering, not the actual nakedness but rather the awe it inspires in most people who wouldn't dream of disrobing in front of others, not even in the relative anonymity of the single sex changing room. It makes you feel powerful and vulnerable at the same time - quite handy for an actor.

I'm also not new to the skinny vs fatty debate. When I performed "There's Something in the Fridge that Wants to Kill Me!" at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe, I lost a fair bit of weight through a combination of factors: cutting out chocolate and dairy for my voice, day long one-on-one rehearsals for 5 weeks, the general running around that producing and marketing a show at Edinburgh entails, and performing the show twice a day (I did a full run in my flat every morning as part of the warm up). I was looking pretty good up there. How did that work out for me? Actually, it cost me the trust and involvement of some audience members who thought I looked too slender to play the characters convincingly. They didn't believe my story and would have liked me a lot better if I'd been podgy. Oh the irony! Let's call it the Madonna syndrome.

Damned if your thin, damned if you're fat.

Now, The Lusty Lady project, as yet unwritten but surely one that's going to call for some flashing of the flesh. Am I too old? Am I too fat? Or the wrong body type? Will people like me better if I'm fit or if I'm pleasingly normal? Or downright chubby?

Is there such a thing as being a plus size actress? Do you get your own acting category? The sweet sweet chocolate covered irony in all of this is that for the last few years, it's the rounder actresses who've made out like bandits on the award circuit.

Remember Dreamgirls? Poor Beyonce was made to shave her signature curves with some godawful stringent diet but it's Jennifer Hudson playing the Fattie who got the Oscar. And what about Gabourey Sidibe nominated for an Oscar for her lead role in Precious? So much for Hollywood producers and their obsession with size 0 actresses. Somebody's coming round...

But to get back to the point, if you're going to strip to your birthday suit, which suit should that be? Skinny or Rubenesque? Renee Zellweger famously piled on the pounds to play Bridget Jones but she kept her clothes on (mostly, remember those big white panties?)

Of course, I could choose to play a character who doesn't disrobe. All Tease and no Strip as it were. But that's not the point. There will be other instances when I am asked to disrobe or consider disrobing. I didn't mind at all in Wire in the Blood even though the wide angle lense and lighting were rather unflattering... but it suited the character.

So I think the answer is that as an actor, I will seek to shape my body to the needs of the character rather than subsume all my energy in the pursuit off a tiny bottom. (Mind you, as a Latina, I am never going to achieve a tiny bottom, I'll settle for pert.)

These are my principles. There are limits of course and I did draw the line once when my very first agent asked whether I would consider doing an ad for a well known sports brand in which I would be required to do yoga naked.

D'you know what? I said no.

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