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Fiona Rodrigo: Do I have to change my name to be seen for South Asian roles?

Fiona Rodrigo. Photo: isaac peral Fiona Rodrigo. Photo: Isaac Peral
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My name is Fiona Rodrigo. I am of Sri Lankan heritage.  Simple enough, yes?  No, not quite.

When I left drama school I had a few conversations with industry advisers and my acting coaches about my name and ‘branding’. They all said the same thing: “It’s who you are. You’re obviously Asian so that’s not confusing, but your look can also cover quite a bit of the globe.” I was excited and reassured by this and did not think much more about it.

Years later, the conversation is very different. I am being asked to consider changing my name to something more Sri Lankan. Portuguese names are not uncommon in Sri Lanka. Therefore, this is actually about something different: changing my name from something European-sounding to something South Asian so that when casting directors see it, they will put me forward for the more ethnic-specific castings. Are these discussions around names and casting common for other actors of colour?

The South Asian roles I have come across do seem to be cast with actors who have very South Asian names. Is that a factor? Is my name an obstacle to being seen for these parts that seem elusive? It certainly isn’t great if that is the case.

When my ethnicity is relevant it is included in the submission anyway so I certainly want to know if my name is stopping casting directors from opening my submission for parts requiring certain ethnicities.

The industry appears to be in its infancy when it comes to conversations and actions to do with inclusivity so this may be one of the issues it is grappling with behind the scenes. The growing emphasis on authentically diverse casting is positive and to be welcomed but authentic heritage is not always obvious. However, it’s not that complicated either.

My name should not stand in the way of being seen for any role where I fit the breakdown. I have wondered whether it has had an impact on what I get seen for just by looking around.

When it comes down to it, I fear I could be losing out on audition opportunities on this quirk of my surname and I might just need the industry to catch up.

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