Protecting Your Age

This is a public service announcement to all actors. Never, NEVER feel obligated to tell anyone your age during the casting of a project. Casting directors (or anyone involved in the process) are strictly prohibited from asking you your age, and there’s no real reason why this question should even be asked. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule, e.g., if it pertains to minors and child actors (more on this later), but in general, when it comes to actors and their age in this industry, people need to operate on a strict Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Whether you’re a new actor or seasoned pro, you should always be aware of the following facts.

What Happens

Even though casting directors are not allowed to ask actors their age, it still happens (quite often), and actors, not wanting to appear uncooperative, typically answer lest they create an awkward situation in the room. It is important to note that when casting directors ask this question, they are not deliberately trying to discriminate you with malicious intentions – they are simply just trying to see if you’re the best fit for the character description you are auditioning for. Many casting directors also simply do not know, or forget, that it’s not okay to ask how old you are. Regardless, whether it’s a slip of the mind or not, there’s no excuse why any actor should be asked this question when auditioning.

Unfortunately, this issue isn’t relegated to just actors being asked for their ages by casting directors. Agents and managers are often asked this, especially when the reps are pitching their clients for a project. In this scenario, even though casting is asking the rep instead of the actor, it’s definitely still not appropriate. Thankfully, most reps (at least the good ones) are more than capable to handle these types of questions, and can respond accordingly. As a rep, my favorite response to casting whenever they ask a client’s age is to just say, “My client plays early to mid 20s,” or something along those lines. That answer typically appeases 99% of casting directors, but if they press me further for an age, I then have no problem saying, “You’re not allowed to ask me that.”

Why It Matters

Why is this such a big deal you wonder? Simply put, age discrimination is all too prevalent in the entertainment industry, and it hits actors the hardest. As previously mentioned, casting directors are always looking for actors that best fit their roles, and using one’s age is a far too easy filtering tool that is used. I have personally witnessed countless instances when a casting office used a client’s age as a reason for not wanting to audition him/her or why it’s not going further for them in the process. It’s important to note that in many of these situations, the casting office knew the clients’ actual ages – either because the client accidentally answered the taboo question, “How old are you?” or, even worse, the casting director simply found the client’s age on IMDB.

Here are some of my “favorite” types of responses casting offices have given me:

PITCHING A CLIENT TO CASTING

Casting: “I love that actor, but he’s 31 and this role needs to be mid 20s.”

Me: “He definitely plays mid 20s. The character he’s playing on TV right now is mid 20s.”

Casting: “It doesn’t matter, he’s still 31 and we’re only looking for people in their 20s.”

PITCHING A CLIENT WHEN IMDB IS INVOLVED

Me: “Does she make sense for that role?”

Casting: Oh, I love her. How old is she again?

Me: She plays late 20s, early 30s

Casting: Oh, I just looked up her age on IMDB, she’s too old for this role.

Conversations like the ones above happen all the time in this industry, there’s probably one going on right now. Needless to say, your age can be your Achilles Heel, and you should do everything you can to protect it. Too many actors miss out on the chance to even audition for roles simply because the casting offices were aware of their true ages.

The Exceptions

As previously mentioned, there are definitely instances when you do have to inform casting of your age. One instance is in the case of minors (under 18 years old) and child actors. Hiring minors for an acting project involves a lot of extra red tape when compared to actors that are at least 18 (or legal 18, or are emancipated). Minor actors need special work permits; they can only work a set amount of hours each day based on their age; they need special bank accounts set up for them; and they need an on-set Teacher/Legal Representative to ensure the education and safety of the performer, just to name a few. For these reasons, productions and casting offices absolutely need to know the ages of the actors that are auditioning for their projects, and if they want, they can even set age restrictions on the roles, e.g. they can require that all actors reading for a certain part must be at least 18 years old. Another exception to this rule would is when it comes to commercial auditions/projects. The commercial world is significantly different from theatrical, so sometimes age restrictions can arise, but once again, these restrictions are almost always in line with the law. For example, commercials promoting alcoholic beverages are legally obligated to hire actors that meet a certain age threshold (usually at least 25 years old).

Helpful Tips

Is age discrimination prevalent in the entertainment industry? YES. Thankfully, there are definitely ways to go about protecting yourself. If a casting director, director, producer, etc. ever asks you your age in the audition room, don’t fret, there are plenty of ways to appease them without putting anyone off. One way to answer would be to just give them your age range, e.g., “I’m mid 20s.” If that response sounds too awkward for you, you can playfully respond with, “I can be any age you want me to be.” If people continue to pressure you for an answer you can play coy and say, “You know you’re not allowed to ask me that question.” If all else fails, just be assertive and remind everyone of the law and say that they are legally not allowed to ask you that question. These aforementioned tips also apply if you are a talent rep, and I’ve found myself using these strategies on countless occasions when speaking with casting offices.

Dodging the age question in the room is the easy part, the real trick is to make sure that your age isn’t readily available online. When it comes down do it, if you are an actor or any other public figure, your age is probably somewhere on the world wide web and if someone really wants to learn your age, they will probably be able to do so after a few minutes of internet searching. Thankfully, most casting offices aren’t this hardcore when looking up actors, and if they don’t find your age on IMDB, they will often give up the pursuit. Not having your age listed on IMDB is an entirely separate beast, and the website does not make it easy to change/remove your age once it’s already on there–in fact, it is near impossible. The best method of protection in this case is to just avoid giving out any of your personal information to these online sites and services, specifically your age and birth date. Many actors think that having a profile on IMDB is a useful place to house their credits, pictures, and materials, but it’s definitely NOT worth the age exposure risk, and there are much safer online alternatives–for example, having a Cast It Talent profile which allows you to store your actor materials while also giving you full control over what information is displayed online.

Casting directors constantly use different methods to filter out actors for their projects, e.g., gender, ethnicity, age range, look, etc. This is understandable since it would be impossible for a casting office to audition the thousands upon thousands of actors that are out there, and only 1 actor can fill each role. While you can’t really control your ethnicity or gender (at least not easily), you can definitely control the manner in which your age and age range is perceived in this industry. Even if a part doesn’t ultimately go your way, you should at least have a shot at a role if you could be right for it, and not be excluded simply because someone saw your age online. There’s a key difference if a casting director tells you, after auditioning you, that you come off too old and mature for a role vs. a casting director refusing to even read an actor because they know how old he/she really is.

For more information, check out SAG-AFTRA’s detailed FAQ on this issue, and what you can do about it. http://www.sagaftra.org/content/diversity-faq

This entry was posted in Career Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
Kyle

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>