Sexism in the Audition Room
From the dearth of opportunities for female directors, the lack of complex roles for actresses (and especially the paucity of parts for women over 40), the gender wage gap, the normalized objectification of the female body, and the consistent failure of major studio films to pass the Bechdel test, Hollywood is often criticized for its gender inequality. But sexism in the industry goes on behind closed doors, too, often in shocking fashion. Here are 15 actresses who have spoken out about the misogyny they’ve experienced while auditioning — essentially while they are in a job interview — from descriptions of openly, casually sexist environments to horror stories of the infamous “casting couch.”
When Charlize Theron was just starting out in Hollywood, she got an audition filled with red flags — if only she realized that at the time. “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal,” she Marie Clarie in 2005. “He was in his Hugh Hefner pajamas; I go inside and he’s offering me a drink, and I’m thinking, ‘My god, this acting stuff is very relaxed.’ But it soon becomes very clear what the situation was. I was like, ‘Not going to happen! Got the wrong girl, buddy!'”
Game of Thrones star Lena Headey “never played the game of going in [to auditions] and flirting; I’ve never done it,” she said in a recent interview. She remembers auditioning in Hollywood in her 20s, however, and having been told by a casting director that “the men take these tapes home and watch them and say, ‘Who would you f—?'” Headey said she believed she lost out on roles because she refused to bat her eyelashes in the audition room — and that attitude has served the Cersei Lannister actress well in the time since.
Emmy Rossum recently shared her worst audition story when she took part in one of The Hollywood Reporter’s Emmy contender roundtables. “My agent called me and was like, ‘I’m so embarrassed to make this call, but there’s a big movie and they’re going to offer it to you. They really love your work on the show. But the director wants you to come into his office in a bikini. There’s no audition. That’s all you have to do,'” she recalled. The character never appeared in a bikini or naked in the script.
The Big Sick star Zoe Kazan recently spoke out about her experiences with sexual harassment on set, and noted that it starts with the audition process, where there’s pressure to “give ‘blowjob eyes'” and “be flirty” with a director or a producer. “There’ll be auditions where they’ll say, ‘Wear something body-conscious’ and then you’re aware that they’re checking out your body,” she said. “You leave the situation feeling not good about what just happened, but you don’t really have the language for why. You feel like, if you said something, it would reflect badly on you.”
In 1998, Jenny McCarthy claimed she was asked to disrobe in front of Steven Seagal while auditioning for Under Siege 2. “When I said, ‘Well, I’m ready to read,’ he said, ‘Stand up, you have to be kind of sexy in the movie and in that dress, I can’t tell,'” McCarthy told Movieline at the time. “I stand up and he goes, ‘Take off your dress.’ I said, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘There’s nudity.’ I said, ‘No there’s not, or I wouldn’t be here right now.’ He said again, ‘There’s nudity,’ and I said, ‘The pages are right in front of me. There’s no nudity.’ He goes, ‘Take off your dress.'” McCarthy said she started crying and left, but alleged that Seagal caught up with her. “I’m closing my car door and he grabs me and says, ‘Don’t you ever tell anybody.'” (In 2010, Seagal’s rep said McCarthy did not audition for Under Seige 2 and called her claims “completely false.”)
During a talk about her Netflix series GLOW at the ATX Festival in Austin, Texas, in 2017, Alison Brie remembered an audition early in her career. “I auditioned for three lines on an episode of Entourage that I had to go on in a bikini!” she said. “Or like shorts and the tiniest shorts. And they were like, ‘Okay, can you take your top off now?'” (She later clarified her comments, explaining that she was wearing a bikini under the top she was asked to remove, so they weren’t asking her to go completely topless.)
In 2009, Megan Fox told British GQ that she never received casting-couch advances until after she was already famous. “It’s really so heartbreaking. Some of these people! Like, Hollywood legends,” she told the magazine. “You think you’re going to meet them, and you’re so excited, like, ‘I can’t believe this person wants to have a conversation with me,’ and you get there and you realize that’s not what they want at all.”
“When I was just starting out, someone suggested that we finish a meeting in the bedroom,” Gwyneth Paltrow told ELLE in 2010. “I left. I was pretty shocked. I could see how someone who didnt know better might worry, ‘My career will be ruined if I don’t give this guy a blowjob!'”
On a panel at Cannes in 2016, Chloë Sevigny recalled three different occasions when directors “crossed the line” during auditions. “I’ve had the, ‘What are you doing after this?’ conversation,” she said. “I’ve also had the, ‘Do you want to go shopping and try on some clothes and, like, I can buy you something in the dressing room’ [conversation].” Another time, a director advised her to “be naked on screen now” — as in, before her body ages further — to which Sevigny replied, “If you know my career, I’ve been naked in every movie.”
In 2013, Thandie Newton told CNN about a “horrific incident” when she was called back for a second audition. “The director asked me to sit with my legs apart; the camera was right positioned where it could see up my skirt.” Before he began filming, he gave her the direction to “think about the character I was supposed to be having the dialogue with, and how it felt to be made love to by this person.” Newton found out years later that the director had shown the footage to people at parties.
When she appeared on the cover of PEOPLE in 2017, Goldie Hawn shared a casting-couch story from when she was 19, when she auditioned for cartoonist Al Capp — or that’s what she thought she was doing, anyway. “He took off his business clothes and came in in, like, a dressing gown. I got the picture, and I thought, ‘I’m in trouble. Where’s the door?'” When she rejected him, he told her she was “never gonna make anything in your life” and advised her to go marry a dentist. Years later, after winning an Oscar, Hawn said she sent him a note saying she never had to marry a dentist. (Capp died in 1979.)
Susan Sarandon opened up to ELLE in 2012 about a horrible casting-couch experience she had early in her career. “It was not successful — for either of us,” the actress said. “I just went into a room, and a guy practically threw me on the desk. It was my early days in New York, and it was really disgusting. It wasn’t like I gave it a second thought, it was so badly done.”
Gina Rodriguez said during a Hollywood Reporter Emmy contenders roundtable in 2015 that she went into an audition in character and got some mixed feedback: “They said, ‘Oh, that’s the director’s favorite pick, they absolutely love her, but can she come back in with a little tight black dress, her face all done real nice?'” the Jane the Virgin star said. “I was like, ‘No, that doesn’t make any sense, why would I do that?’ and they were like, ‘Because they need to know that you’re pretty enough to put on the cover of a magazine.'”
When now-Real Housewife Lisa Rinna was only 24, she lost a role on a major series “because I wouldn’t bend over a chair in a producer’s office for ‘just a quickie,'” she told PopEater years ago. “‘Just pull your panties down and bend over and the role is yours,’ he said to me.” Years later, after she’d been on Melrose Place, she told gossip columnist Rob Shuter that she saw the producer again and “let him have it.”
In a 2007 interview, Helen Mirren opened up about the first and only time she met Michael Winner, in 1964. The actress was “mortified and incredibly angry” when the director told her to turn around so he could see her body from all angles during an audition. “I thought it was insulting and sexist, and I don’t think any actress should be treated like that — like a piece of meat — at all,” Mirren said.