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Tanya Vital's Blog

Thursday, 1 March 2012

"Why Are Cinema's Leading Ladies All So Posh?"
Just another reason to Love Maxine Peake:

The Manchester Evening news did an article on Maxine Peake back in February 2011 and the piece struck to the very heart of some of the things I've been feeling are happening in this industry and what I began saying in my blog.

Maxine is a brilliant Actor/tress and one of my favourites. Not because she's Northern (although that does go in her favour), but because she's extremely versatile. I've seen Maxine play a few different roles but she is probably best known for her role as Veronica in 'Shameless'. Her broad Lancashire accent (and her RADA training of course) probably helped her bag the part of Veronica, because that is most likely what casting see as her "type". She's working class, northern and probably not a natural blonde. She (in the eyes of casting) is Veronica. The fact that she trained at one of the top Drama Schools in the country is a bonus.

In the article she talks about accent and class snobbery still being rife in the UK arts industry. She goes on to say “If you look at actors, loads are working class. But look at women and there’s only Samantha Morton, really. All the others - Kate Winslet, Keira Knightley, Emily Blunt, Rebecca Hall - they’re all brilliant, but there’s no female working class.”

So here she's highlighting the fact that leading ladies, in this country in particular, all seem to be from a privileged background. Apparently she was even told at Drama School that was told at drama school that 'she was not leading lady material'.

Now if Maxine went to a top Drama School, received the best training money can buy, has a top Agent and has played a variety of roles and STILL cant bag a top end leading role, I ask what hope is there for the rest of us lowly working class/lower middle class women? We shall find out.

Maxine goes on to say “I remember feeling at drama school that if you were male and working class you were a bit of a poet, a working class hero, but if you were female you were just a bit gobby and a bit brassy and common."

This comment in particular strikes a chord with me because, I'm at the stage in my career where I feel I have hit a glass ceiling. I've been working for over a decade, had some great Agents and some not so great. Done the rounds, met a lot of the Casting Directors in the UK, went to NYT and know a ton of people in the industry, BUT I still, on the whole, get cast/audition as the cheap, gobby, common, Northern, barmaid. Is this because this is my "type"? Are the odds worse for me than Maxine because I never trained at Drama School?

Even the media that reports on Maxine's ventures have a snobbish tone. She goes on to explain that when she played the posh wife of a lawyer in TV drama Criminal Justice. “One paper said, ‘In the opening scene you see her getting into a 4X4 and at first you assume she must be stealing it.’ They’re so classist in this country.” This comment made me question whether these notions are so ingrained into our society that they filter into Art or could she have been 'type cast' by her Veronica role?

When is comes to her accent again (if you read by previous blogs 'Change Your Accent 1 & 2, you'll know this is really a pet peeve of mine) she says, “For Silk I had to soften my accent. They go, ‘OK, so this character is from the north but she went to university, Maxine, and has lived in London for 10 years.’ So I went, ‘OK, well I went to RADA and lived in London for 13 years,’ and they go, ‘Yeah, but she’s lost her accent a bit more than you have.’”      

Does this mean that a Northern accent still suggests uneducated? Common? Classless? Or was it simply that her accent was still so close to that of Veronica and the production team wanted to steer as far away from that as possible? Was it right for the part or in their ignorance did they think she sounded like a Council Estater?

The only time I ever get cast against my "type" is if the production is Independent. Why is that? Is it because they are more willing to take chances and go against the norm? Is it because they are only worried about the Art and don't have to worry about 'bums on seats'?

So straight from horses mouth, the odds are stacked against many of us. But I'm not into self pity at all, I'm into trying to bring about change however small. So what can we female Actors with no training, possibly of colour, probably a bit dumpy or small and from the working classes do to improve our chances?

Well first up we can try and get some damn training. At my stage in life it's probably a little too late to go back and do a 3 year degree course, but there are 1 year M.A's, Summer Schools and short courses. Yes they're expensive. Yes it is possible to get work without it, but would it improve my chances? Yeah I reckon so. Even though Maxine is saying its very difficult to be taken seriously, I bet her RADA training didn't hurt her CV or technique.

Again we can 'fake it until we make it', by playing our "type", however annoying and disheartening it may be and play it well. So well that eventually, we raise our profile slightly enough for casting to consider taking a chance on us. My example is Suranne Jones. When she was playing Karen McDonald in Corrie she was great. But could I imagine her playing anything else other than a common, brassy barmaid? No. At the time that's all she was. But she played that part until she sweat blood and tears and has managed to not be type cast and has done some really great things since Corrie. Was it luck? Probably partly, but I reckon it was a lot of good organisation on her part. She was able to get her foot in the door and she knew where she wanted to go with it. Luck can only take you so far.

Will the classist, elitist attitude ever go away? Probably not. C'mon this is England. We're the snobbiest nation in the World. That type of attitude will always be around. I'm not stupid enough to think I can change the World, but I'm damn sure clever enough to adapt and find the loop holes. There are things to try before I give up.

If we look at America, again I'm not daft enough to think that we can all go to America and we will be cast that very day in the latest blockbuster as the leads, but I do know that everyone gets a fair crack of the whip there, black, white, Asian, man, woman, child. Their industry and casting system is a little different to ours and I'm sure this is true of a few other countries, so we should explore a little further than our own back yard.

Yes inevitably we are going to come up against discrimination and prejudice. Is it fair? No it sucks - but that's life. It doesn't make it right and we don't have to accept it, but we must understand what we are up against if we are to know where we are going. What I'm saying is there are many more ways to skin a cat. If we are truly devoted to this career, we need to be savvy enough to try all angles and understanding the nature of the beast will put us in good stead. A very good Actor friend of mine says "in this country acting is an expensive hobby, in America it's a business". We must take a look at our career and decide whether we're in it for the "Craic" or to work.

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