The New York Times today decides to try a new frontier in the woke casting double standard adventure—you know, the incoherent theory that minority actors should be considered for all roles and all character types regardless of sex, race, size or physical characteristics, but it is unethical for white performers to play any character that they have to act and use make-up to evoke. You know, like good Hollywood liberal Tom Hanks claimed when he issued his recent mea culpa for playing a gay, AIDS battling lawyer in “Philadelphia.” So, using the same logic, Tom must have been equally hostile to “diversity, equity and inclusion” when he took a role away from some brilliant, unknown actor with a 75 IQ to play Forrest Gump, just as an autistic actor should have starred in “Rain Man” instead of Dustin Hoffman.
Suuuure. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Great Stupid often has that effect on me. Sorry.
The Times’ query, in the headline to a column by Arts Section pundit , is “Why Does Hollywood Keep Using Fat Suits?” Gee, it’s a mystery! And come to think of it, why does Hollywood keep using make-up? Special effects? Fake blood?
Here’s a much tougher question: why does the New York Times let people who know nothing about performing, entertainment, business, audiences, comedy, and casting write columns like this?The piece is, of course, a call for Hollywood to cast fat actors as fat characters, thus giving them opportunities in a tough business that is obsessed with physical perfection.reveals herself as an unqualified and incomeptent critic immediately, by using the example of Courtney Cox playing her character Monica as a fat teen in flashbacks and home movies on “Friends” as her introduction. Near the end of her column she writes, “another actress altogether certainly could have played a Monica far removed in age from her present-day self on ‘Friends.'” Yes, and it wouldn’t have been funny. See, , “Friends” was what we call a “comedy.” The audience knew that the alleged fat young Monica was still slim, fit Courtney Cox, and it was amusing seeing a supposed early model of the narcissistic “Friends” character that embarrassed the present day version. (It also set up perhaps my favorite “Friends” joke. Monica, embarrassed by the old home movie, says, “You know, the camera puts 15 pounds on you,” to which Chandler replies, “How many cameras were on you?”) In the same episodes, Jennifer Aniston’s younger self was portrayed with a huge nose, now obviously cured by plastic surgery. Same joke. Would having a big-nosed actress play the then-idolized new hot commodity Aniston’s younger self be as effective or amusing as letting Aniston do it? Of course not, at least “of course not” to anyone who understands entertainment.
Repeating myself (I have to do a lot of that here, don’t I?) regarding all of these alleged casting sins, using a non-obese actor as an obese character is ethical and defensible if it works, and can legitimately be argued as making the final product more successful.
There are five legitimate justifications for using fat suits on stage and screen:
1. As with the example of Hoffman in “Rain Man,” there is no available and reliable actor of equivalent skill who possesses the character’s required characteristic, in this case, obesity. It’s ridiculous that Brendan Frasier, who has had genuine battles with weight in recent years, is being criticized for his self-casting in “The Whale” as a struggling 600-pound disabled gay man. Sure he uses prosthetics, because there are no experienced, skilled, reliable 600 pound actors.
2. It’s a gag, like the “Friends” example. Apparentlybelieves that it would have been just as funny to have a genuinely fat Goldie Hahn look-alike play her character in “Death Becomes Her” after rival Meryl Streep steals her fiance, reducing her to a deranged canned-frosting addict. No, it really wouldn’t.
3. The fat suit is essential to a deliberate tour de force by the performer, as in Eddie Murphy’s “The Nutty Professor,” where he played multiple characters (and brilliantly: he deserved an Oscar for that film). Complaining about Murphy’s fat suit in the remake of “The Nutty Professor” makes as much sense as complaining about Jerry Lewis’s ridiculous buck teeth in the original. (‘Why couldn’t they have given a chance to an unknown actor with real protruding teeth?’) Another example is “Fat Bastard,’ above, played by Mike Myers in a fat suit in the last (mercifully!) Austen Powers film, all of which featured the comic in multiple roles.
4. A character’s physical transformation is essential to the plot. Gaining and losing large amounts of weight for a role is justly considered a sign of admirable professional commitment, but it is also unhealthy and time consuming. Fat suits are much better than they used to be (although still not always good enough).
5. The producers, studio or director believe that it is important to the success of the project to have a star in the role using a fat suit than to have a fat actor who isn’t a star.
It is the last category that is most often abused, but again, this falls into the “it doesn’t work” category. Sean Penn was unrecognizable in “Gaslit” as John Mitchell, but he was also obviously a guy in a lot of latex and a fat suit. [NOTICE of Correction: I originally wrote that Penn played Mitchell in “Don’t Look Up!” thus confusing two unfunny partisan satires. Thinks to Jeff Westlake for the alert.] Dozens of competent actors of the right age and physicality could have done better job portraying Nixon’s Attorney General. Casting Tom Hanks as Colonel Parker in “Elvis” was similarly inexcusable. Hanks did nothing many other Hollywood character actors couldn’t have done as well or better. (And what a hypocrite Hanks is! Only a gay actor should have been allowed to play his character in Philadelphia, he expounds, but it’s fine for him to play a real life character he shares no characteristics with whatsoever, except that he’s male and white.)
The column criticizes Bill Maher’s much-attacked tweet that “Casting directors have to stop listening to the casting police and go back to doing their job, which is picking the best actor for the role.” He was, for once, absolutely correct.
That doesn’t counter Maher’s statement at all. Producers and directors who don’t “widen the net” aren’t doing their job, and end up with fat suited actors who don’t work in the roles, as with Penn. Moreover, if the writer had ever been involved in casting, she would know that risk is always a consideration. Casting unknown, untried and unfamiliar performers adds risk to a project that is already risky, because all commercial artistic ventures are. I’ve been burned, and badly, when I’ve opted for a promising unknown actor over a previous cast member whom I knew could do a role. This is why most successful film directors maintain a virtual acting company of performers who have served them well before. It reduces risk, and reducing risk is a legitimate and often wise reason to use a a fat suit.
In this, as in so many other areas during The Great Stupid, the argument made by the critic only resonates if one accepts the woke mandate that the goal of “diversity, equity and inclusion’ tops all other considerations and priorities in all settings and circumstances.