Ask Me!: A Moral Dilema?

What do you do if you get an audition/job for something you fundamentally disagree with? Morally speaking?
For example I once went out for a Malboro commercial. I didn’t want to support the tobacco industry and didn’t give my best performance in the callback because I didn’t want to book it. The money would have been really good, but I just couldn’t stomach the karma of it. Is that crazy?
Anonymous

Wow.

This question has truly stumped me! It is a job-specific situation and I don’t think I can give you a good, basic, “across-the-board” answer. When/if you get a call like this, I’d recommend calling everyone you know and seek out advice on how best to move forward while keeping your professionalism in tact.

I have been in this situation a few times and to this day, I am unsure whether I handled it all well or not. I wish I could give the details, but unfortunately I would be putting myself and others in a compromised position, so I hope these vague examples help:

On one job I did the exact same thing as you – I flubbed a call-back. NOT a great idea BTW because the Casting Director needs to see that you are a GOOD actor in any situation. So you’re taking a big risk by doing that. Don’t do that!

Another, I created a scheduling conflict. Most jobs these days don’t audition unless they know you’re available for the job itself and you’re letting a whole big machine down if you back out last minute, but it does happen, so let your agent or the casting director know as soon as possible. It’s considerate.

The final job was a film. I had a very candid conversation with the director where I tried to gage what his underlying intentions were with the film and character. When it became clear that he was a sadist and that I’d not be in safe hands on set I turned the project down.

Now, one thing I’ve heard over and over again from peers, teachers, agents and casting directors alike in the entertainment field is that I am a performer and it is my job to provide and execute a service to those who hire me. Whether I agree or not with the underlying message is none of my business.

I agree overall, but I DISAGREE with this notion in one particular area.

There is a difference between being hired to play a character who you share contrasting beliefs with and working for a film/production/group (etc) who you share contrasting beliefs with. What I mean by this is that if I were hired to play a character like Adolf Hitler (an obtuse example I know but one most of my readers will relate to) I agree that it would be my duty to play this character as empathetically and honestly as possible – to place all my opinions and judgements away until I had finished the job. Only then would I be portraying that character to the best of my ability and therefore providing my best service as an actor. BUT, if a neo-nazi production company hired me to make a propaganda film for their cause (again, obtuse but you get the point, right?) I would, as an actor, probably look for a graceful way to bow out. I would probably NEVER let on how I actually feel about the job because you cannot always work with people who share the same ethical/moral philosophies as you. And sometimes these people may lead to amazing opportunities that you would not be exposed to if you burnt your bridges with them.

That last bit may make some of you bristle. Ultimately, though, diplomacy is pretty key in this field. Well, it is for me anyway. It is a small world and you will be amazed who you run into along the way. But it is also important for me to uphold my sense of integrity and I try and do that with every project I take on. Afterall, I will have no one but myself to answer to at the end of the day, right?

As a side note, it is highly enlightening as a human to play characters that are fundamentally different to you. If you are presented with a character that deeply challenges your core beliefs I would get excited and have a crack at working under the basic philosophy that: ..nothing human is alien to me – TERENCE (c. 190-158 B.C.). It’s a pretty controversial perspective when it comes to playing “monsters” but if you can find the humanity in a monster (just as Daniel Day Lewis did so remarkably with the character Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood) then you are going to be that bit closer to creating a truly realistic character which, in turn, will enable your audience to connect to them on a deeper level which will, in turn, will make the projects you do that much more rich and successful.

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About The NYC Actor

Angela Dee is a professional actress working in Film, Theatre, TV, Commercials and Voiceovers. She currently lives in New York. www.angeladee.com

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