Actors including West End star Hayley Tamaddon have criticised the rise of castings based on performers’ social media followings, claiming the move is depriving genuine talent of work.
The Casting Directors’ Guild has also called the “growing trend” within the entertainment industry of interest in an actor’s online following “disheartening”.
The issue was brought to light after actor Stephen Hoyle shared a job advert for a commercial on Twitter that said applicants had to have “more than 5,000 followers on Instagram”.
It drew criticism from performers, who said casting based on an online following meant talent risked being overlooked.
It prompted actors to share their stories of such castings, ranging from West End shows, to commercials and films.
Tamaddon, a former Emmerdale and Coronation Street star now appearing in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, said she had been seen for a West End show a few years ago, where she had been asked about her online following.
“I thought I did a good read, I was right for the role, and they seemed really happy with what I’d done. Then, at the end of the process one of them, the producer I think, asked me how many Twitter followers I had,” she said.
She added: “I was quite shocked. I stumbled and said: ‘Over 100,000, I think’, and asked why [they asked]. And they said they needed the lead role to have a good social media following as it would help sell tickets.”
Tamaddon said she confronted them, and said she hoped they might judge it on her acting.
“But the girl that went in after me had 20,000 more followers on Twitter and she got the role. I mean, you can actually just do your homework privately, can’t you? Look it up for yourself, but don’t ask me that after I’ve just given you my best bit of acting,” she added.
Actor Joseph Batchelor said he had recently attended a casting for a fast-food restaurant commercial and added: “Even though the role was just as a walk-on supporting artist, I was still asked for my social media handles, which I thought was ridiculous.”
Similarly, Bethany Fenton said she had auditioned for a non-speaking featured role in a furniture advert, and had been asked for her Instagram handle and number of followers.
“It should be about talent, but I suppose followers are often a sign of social currency and popularity, which businesses like Netflix or furniture companies want,” she said.
Meanwhile, Alexa Morden said she had been put forward for an independent British feature film but had lost out to another actor who had “marketing value” because of her Twitter followers.
“I understand where the ‘marketing’ argument comes from, I’ve missed out on roles before that have gone to previous child stars or those with a ‘profile’ in order to get investors and bums on seats. But it’s now making getting roles feel impossible,” she said.
The CDG acknowledged the trend, and said it stemmed from the idea that “a large social following will equal a bigger audience draw”.
But a spokeswoman added: “It is disheartening for casting directors to have excellent actors overlooked in favour of social media popularity, and the CDG works hard to promote actors on the skills they bring to a project.”