A weighty debate 2 – the industry responds to “fat” comments

Rosie Cavaliero in Prey on 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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Last week I wrote how a critic referred to actor Rosie Cavaliero as fat in a review of her new drama, ITV’s Prey.

Clearly I hit a nerve, as the response to the column has been phenomenal and a real eye opener – not just for me, but for the industry.

What has been particularly interesting to note is that other performers seem to have been on the receiving end of comments from critics about their weight. Even more interesting – though perhaps not surprising – is that most of the people reporting these comments are female. And some of them are truly shocking.

Jenna Russell turned to Twitter to tell people that when she starred in Merrily We Roll Along, one reviewer mistakenly reported she was pregnant:


Sally Ann Matthews, meanwhile, took to Twitter to reveal a critic had once called her a “little pudding”. That particular comment had awful consequences for the actor:


Meanwhile, Jo Joyner revealed what someone had once written about her:


The above, in particular, reiterates that – when it comes to appearances – you never know what someone is going through. Commenting on size, when it has no bearing on the role an actor is playing, is rude, insensitive and potentially harmful.

Although last week’s column was supported by many male actors, it’s interesting that there were no reports of men being on the receiving end of comments about their weight. It’s also interesting that – for at least two of the remarks highlighted above – the people making the comments were men.

Some people raised valid points about actors whose weight or size is often a part of a role they play. Miranda Hart uses her height for comic effect, for example, and references it regularly in her sitcom. And there’s no getting around the fact that size is of relevance – and may be commented on – when actors are cast in series such as Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends.

Often, too, actors make no secret of the weight they have gained – or indeed lost – for a role, which – when compared to their normal size – is bound to be commented on. For example, Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale have both undergone dramatic weight loss for roles, while Charlize Theron put on weight to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. But, as Theron points out:

It wasn't about getting fat. Aileen wasn't fat. Aileen carried scars on her body from her lifestyle, and if I'd gone to make this movie with my body—physically I'm very athletic—I don't know that I would have felt the things Aileen felt with her body. It was about getting to a place where I felt closer to how Aileen was living.

So clearly there are times when an actor’s weight gain or loss may well be commented on. But usually this is for a particular role, and the weight loss or gain may well feature as part of the story. This may well attract comments from reviewers.

More often than not, however, the size of an actor will be irrelevant and have no bearing on the part they are playing. In which case, commenting on it just becomes personal, as the Tweets I’ve highlighted above reveal.

And as Tamzin Outhwaite says: