A weighty debate – should critics comment on an actor’s size?

Rosie Cavaliero. Photo: ITV
Rosie Cavaliero. Photo: ITV
Matthew Hemley
Matt is news editor for The Stage, having started as the newspaper’s broadcast reporter. He covers all areas of the industry in his role, but has a particular interest in musical theatre. Matt studied acting at Bretton Hall and presents a monthly theatre news round up on BBC London Radio.
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Take a look at the photo above and tell me what's wrong with it. Nothing? Good, that's what I thought too.

But, according to critic Philip Hensher, Rosie Cavaliero is fat. Reviewing ITV's new drama Prey, which stars the actor and John Simm, he said he was interested that the writer had decided to make Cavlaiero's character "the fat lady detective whose investigations all keep going slightly wrong".

True, Cavaliero plays a detective. True, her investigative skills may need some work. But fat? I don't think that is what the writer specified the character should be. And, regardless of that, it's just not true and has nothing to do with her performance.

I'm not the only one who thinks so:


What Hensher might have commented on is the fact Cavaliero, in Prey, is playing against type. She often does comedy, as she told me herself this week in an interview in The Stage. Prey gives her the chance to show her other skills as an actor. But did Hensher notice? Did he heck. He only seemed to notice her physical appearance.

[pullquote]Please, Hensher and your type. don't reduce their work to an adjective about the way they look[/pullquote]

Clearly, Cavaliero isn't fat. But comments like Hensher's could easily convince her she is. Dangerously, comments like this could also force some actors, particularly young ones, who are already working in a difficult and unstable profession, to believe they need to change their appearance and conform to an image people like Hensher believe they should have.

But this isn't Hollywood, where stick thin is the norm, no doubt because of the pressures women there are under to look a certain way. This is the UK, where TV is at its best when it reflects our own lives, full of people of all shapes and sizes.

Actors, by the work they do, put themselves up for scrutiny. And by all means, when their work isn't up to standard (if they mumble, for example, which is a complaint often levelled at them) then people should be free to criticise. But please, Hensher and your type, don't reduce their work to an adjective about the way they look.

Clearly some actors make their living from their size, playing characters that are created by a writer to be on the large side. But in Cavaliero's case, I don't believe weight has anything to do with the role she is playing.

So, Hensher, I'm afraid I'm inclined to agree with the people who responded angrily to you on Twitter. They have a point. Unlike you.