An actress named Ingrid Haas complained about a demeaning experience auditioning for the Super Bowl commercial advertising Bon and Viv Hard Seltzer. In a first-person essay published by Vice titled “My Bikini Audition From Hell Shows How Little Hollywood Has Change,” Haas wrote that she was embarrassed when a male casting employee told the women in the ad’s audition that they would have to dance in front of a camera for 30 seconds. When she asked why they had to dance, she wrote, the man responded: “Welcome to corporate America. This is how we sell stuff.” The actress says that she was proud of herself for refusing to dance, but the experience “humiliated and angered her.” And, of course, she did not get the job.
Anheuser-Busch, which makes the product, is now making politically correct noises and condemned the behavior that Haas described, insincerely or ignorantly, though the first is more plausible, with Chelsea Phillips, vice president of the company’s Beyond Beer division, telling the media,
“The behavior described in the Vice article is completely unacceptable and goes against everything that our brand and company stand for. I regret that this individual had this experience. Anheuser-Busch does not tolerate any discriminatory or demeaning behavior. I reached out to the production company who produced the commercial, because we hold our business partners to this same standard.”
Baloney. The audition as described was neither atypical, unreasonable, abusive, nor inappropriate. The ad’s producer’s CEO said,“Each actor was asked to dance at the beginning of their audition as this was a way to show one’s level of confidence.” This is not unusual or wrong. Then he too lapsed into politically correct nonsense:
“I do not tolerate any behavior that would make someone feel rushed or uncomfortable. I have reviewed this internally with my staff to continue to make my office a welcoming environment where every actor feels safe.”
Nobody, literally nobody, in the acting profession believes this. Auditioning is a horrible, humiliating, uncomfortable experience, always has been, and always will be. I have been on both sides of the table too many times to count. Should a good and ethical director make every effort to treat auditioneers with respect and consideration? Absolutely. This is basic Golden Rule stuff. Do some directors abuse their power at auditions, or behave insensitively or cruelly? Yes. Does the fact that an actor or actress felt “humiliated and angered” at an audition prove that this was the case? No. You are being judged, asked to do things you might not want or like to do, and facing rejection with career consequences. The only actors who feel “safe” at auditions already know they are getting the part.
Never mind: activists gotta active. “It is extraordinary that this is still happening after the outrages of #MeToo,” said Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive and the founder of the website MakeLoveNotPorn. “The fact it’s still happening demonstrates how fundamentally systemic sexual harassment is and that this is about power and abuse of power.” No the fact that Cindy would utter such fantasy world nonsense proves that such people are only looking for power, publicity and leverage, and that how certain professions have to operate doesn’t enter into their calculations at all.
When physical attractiveness is an element of a role, then an actor’s body, presence, confidence, fitness and sexual appeal are under scrutiny. Various directors have different ways of exploring that. An audition is often a test of confidence, willingness to take risks, modesty, and cooperation. Actors who are easily made uncomfortable and who think they should feel “safe” while selling themselves, their looks and their attractiveness to strangers are in the wrong profession. Ingrid Haas is in the wrong profession. It’s nice that she’s “proud” that she refused to do what the director asked, but I wouldn’t cast an actress that did that, and neither would any other director.
I once oversaw another director’s auditions for the gay comedy-drama “The Boys in the Band.” In the callbacks, the director asked all of the actors to strip to their underwear. He asked some of them to dance. He asked them to embrace and kiss other actors, all stranger. The auditions were very stressful on the auditioners, who were not all gay—they were never asked about their sexual orientation—and several said afterwards that they were uncomfortable. Personally, I would not have gone that far if I had been the director. However, the methods were defensible, and if an actor isn’t comfortable being semi-naked in an audition, it is a legitimate question whether he can pull it off in front of an audience.
Show business has, and must have, a different ethical culture than other fields. Pretending that it doesn’t just confuses the public. Yes, if Ingrid was asked to dance in a bikini in a job interview for a law firm, that would be inappropriate.