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Actors vs the media – and what performers can expect to come up against

Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan. Photo: Johan Person.
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While writing a story for The Stage’s website this week, I found myself using the words “best known for” when referencing a particular actor who has been cast in a West End play.

It made me wonder how frustrating these three words may well be for the actor concerned.  For while it may be true that this actor is indeed known by many for the particular role I singled out, it’s also true that his CV boasts credits that he may now well be equally as known for.

[pullquote]It seems to be accepted by the media that if your job is on television or the stage, they also need to know about your personal life too.[/pullquote]

I am not suggesting the actor concerned would deny the importance of the role I had highlighted, but it made me wonder whether performers – justifiably – get fed up with being forever associated with one particular part, particularly when parts they have played subsequently may have been just as significant.

Very often the roles cited, of course, are the ones that have put an actor on a map. So Lacey Turner will probably always be referred to as “former EastEnders actor”, even though she has done other roles since, and someone like Robert Webb, recently cast in Jeeves and Wooster, will regularly be referred to as “Peep Show’s Robert Webb”. Similarly, Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter days will not be forgotten, nor should they be.

The words “best known for” may be useful shorthand to put an actor’s career in context, but I imagine they must surely become quite tedious for the performer in question.

So, putting myself into the shoes of an actor, here are some other imagined performer “pet hates” when it comes to the media:

If you strip off for a scene, you will always be remembered for it

Just ask Lara Pulver, who was required to be naked for a scene in Sherlock last year. The media has had a field day since then – probing her on her decision to do it, asking her how it felt. If you’re going to take your clothes off for a drama, don’t expect the media to forget about it.

You’re an actor – you must be really wealthy…

It’s perceived as a glamorous profession, thanks to Hollywood and the lives of A listers such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. But for your average actor, life will always be about saving for a rainy day, and taking other jobs in between acting work to pay the bills. The Stage knows this, but other journalists may not be so aware.

Questions about personal lives

If you live in the public eye, it’s not just your work that will be of interest. The media will be keen to know who you’re dating, or why you’re no longer married to someone. It seems to be accepted by the media that if your job is on television or the stage, they also need to know about your personal life too.

Questions about weight management

I saw this with my own eyes just the other week – when Lenny Henry was mobbed by journalists at the South Bank Sky Arts awards. Okay, he’d chosen to come to the press room. But was he ready for the line of questions he was to face? One of the journalists there had clocked Henry’s weight loss, and probed him on how he’d managed it. It didn’t seem interesting to me, but clearly she thought there was interest in knowing what food he’s cut out of his diet, rather than hearing about his future plans as an actor.

You’re an actor, you must be REALLY interesting

I’ve done it – come away from an interview and thought to myself, ‘Well they had nothing to say for themselves’. But I’ve come to appreciate over the years that actors are like anybody else – some have something interesting to say, others don’t. It’s easy to forget that actors have usually been put up for an interview by a PR to promote a drama or play. That doesn’t guarantee they have lots of interesting things to say or, indeed, that they actually want to be there talking to the press.

Unprepared journalists

Again, this is something I saw first hand at a press event, where one journalist talking to Nigel Lindsay decided to quiz the performer on something that he had read about him. “And where did you read that?” Lindsay asked, to which the journalist replied: “Wikipedia”. Quite rightly, Lindsay decided not to take any further questions from him.

Being called a luvvie

You’re an actor, therefore you’re a luvvie. David Suchet hates it (he says it’s the worst thing that has happened to the industry). And I am sure he’s not alone in thinking so. Sadly, the media and general public do tend to think the term is appropriate. So as performers you will probably come up against it time and time again. Of course if you moan about it, you’ll probably be called a luvvie. So you can’t win.


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