The naked truth of acting

Credit: Unsplash

Orla Brady

Is nudity during the audition process unacceptable in today’s #MeToo era ?

Starting out as an actor is a daunting experience for anybody. More often than not, graduates of drama school are aware that the likelihood of landing their dream role immediately is low. Following a long period of intense study, the thought of spending more time struggling to find work in your field can be a difficult one to grasp. But sadly, it’s the reality that many passionate artists continue to face today.  

On top of this, performers must come to terms with the fact that landing a role lies not only in the strength of the audition, but also on physical appearance. Of course, a performance must be believable, and appearance does go a long way to achieving this. However, the idea that an audition panel could make an immediate and split decision regarding whether an actor is right for a role as soon as the individual walks in the door, and before witnessing their level of acting ability, is a frustrating yet very real one.

Although we live in a time where body confidence is increasingly promoted, a positive attitude and the bravery to place talent before appearance may not be enough to ward off Hollywood’s toxic atmosphere of abuse that has been exposed in recent years. Naturally, the first major exposé that comes to mind is the Harvey Weinstein scandal, in which dozens of women came forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against the Hollywood production mogul. 

Amidst the anger and pain of Weinstein’s unmasking as a prolific rapist and sex offender, the #MeToo movement came into creation in order to recognise the struggle faced by survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and to make an attempt to expose further offenders. This movement led to over 201 men in high-profile jobs, within both Hollywood and several other industries, losing roles or employment due to accusations of sexual misconduct. The New York Times revealed in 2018 that nearly half of these roles and jobs were replaced by women. 

Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke has been outspoken regarding her experience of shooting nude scenes for the show. Whilst featuring as a guest on actor Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert in 2019, Clarke admitted that, as a 23-year-old drama school graduate, she felt extremely nervous about these scenes and was surprised to learn that they were required after she had signed a contract, describing it as a “catch”. 

However, she expressed her gratitude towards co-star Jason Momoa who supported her and helped to ensure everything was kept above board during the nude scenes they shared. Clarke also stated that, when she insisted that these scenes stayed within the realms that she felt comfortable with, individuals on-set were concerned that she may “disappoint” viewers. A very worrying account indeed, which raises alarm bells and begs the question, how can writers and producers create scenes which require nudity whilst also ensuring the actor remains comfortable at all times?

In November 2019, Directors UK published guidelines for “Directing Nudity and Simulated Sex”. This included eliminating full nudity during the audition process in order to avoid actors being subjected to manipulation and abuse, or feeling pressured to prove themselves by participating in unnecessary nudity. These guidelines also stated that written consent must be provided from the actor before nudity is photographed or filmed. The aim is to encourage “a professional and respectful on-set environment”, according to the chair of the Directors UK film committee, Susanna White. 

These are extremely positive steps towards creating a less-intimidating atmosphere for new actors. There’s a vast difference between being body-positive and using the body of other individuals for personal gain, as figures such as Weinstein did for several years. Just because a person is confident regarding their appearance and body, it doesn’t mean that they’re automatically comfortable with stripping off before a camera or audition panel. Movements such as #MeToo, and the work of organisations like Directors UK, play a large role in making all of us aware of the dangerous, coercive behaviours that are present in Hollywood. 

Sadly, abusers can use the audition process to push vulnerable, young actors into compromising situations. Therefore, controlling what is permitted during this process goes a long way towards creating a safer environment for those starting out in the film industry. 


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