The “Casting Couch”—Hollywood Legend, or Shameful Truth?

It’s one of Hollywood’s most famous legends—and no, I’m not talking about Marilyn Monroe or James Dean. Unfortunately, one of Hollywood’s biggest legacies and reputations is one that’s a bit darker—the dreaded “casting couch”. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the “casting couch” legacy of Hollywood stems from the idea that success in Hollywood is equal to that of sexual favors requested by the “big wigs” of the industry of its ambitious young actors and actresses looking for celebrity. Stemming from “Old Hollywood”—the days in which stars and starlets were contracted and “owned” by studios to be featured in only their films—this practice was more commonplace then than it is today. These days, Hollywood is even more of a global business than it was in the ’30s/’40s/’50s and ’60s, and the reality is that it’s just not as easy to get away with such practices anymore.

Sadly, that’s not to say it can’t happen.

Since this predatory behavior is still a danger, as an aspiring actor it’s important to be careful and aware of everyone you meet and what’s expected of you. Here’s a couple of tips to avoid or evade those who are looking to take advantage of you:

1.Watch out for false promises. In our article Avoiding Scams (Part 1 & Part 2), we touched a bit on being careful of scams and false promises. The same rule applies here. When going out on an audition or pursuing meetings with agents/managers, don’t be afraid to do research. Use websites like Cast It to find legitimate casting calls, and be cautious when dealing with anyone who immediately offers you stardom and promises right from the get-go. Ask around about projects and casting directors to other actors in the industry. Be especially wary if the casting call mentions you having to undress for an audition—and even more so if you’re asked to do so in the room without warning. Undressing in a legitimate audition does happen, but it is always broadcast in advance, well prior to you entering the audition.

2. Trust your gut! If something feels off to you about a casting call you’ve read about on Craigslist, or if that “producer” you met the other night at a networking event sends off warning bells in your head—follow your instincts. Once again, do your research and ask around. Don’t put yourself in a potentially vulnerable situation and don’t believe what everyone says. Just because someone SAYS they’re a famous producer who’s worked with Martin Scorsese, doesn’t mean that they actually have. We live in the age of technology, and finding out someone’s actual film credits is as easy as a click of a button. Any sort of legitimate entertainment industry professional will have a trail that you can find on the internet. There will be articles about them on the major entertainment sites—and they won’t be shy in offering their credits. Don’t think that showing up to a random address in Hollywood with promises that you’ll be famous can result in anything good.

3.Don’t be afraid to walk away. All in all, the truth is, there are a lot more people in this industry that are legitimately interested in creating the best entertainment and content for an audience than there are those looking to take advantage. No matter what the name or the promise, nothing is worth you feeling uncomfortable or taken advantage of. Don’t be afraid to walk away in order to preserve your self-worth. There is no promise in the world of celebrity or fame that can make up for how you see yourself and how you want to pursue your craft.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that despite it being a common legacy of “how to become famous”, the history of the “casting couch” is really mostly that—history. There are plenty of legitimate creative thinkers and executives in the entertainment industry who are not looking to take advantage of hopeful actors and actresses, and you do NOT need to be taken advantage of to be successful. If you ever find yourself in a position that can be defined as sexual harassment or worse—report it to the authorities: the police, or, if occurring on a set or in a media company, to Human Resources. Not even Hollywood has the right to violate those who want to be successful in it.

For more details on how to report harassment, discrimination, and any other type of issue, please refer to the SAG-AFTRA site.



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tara McGrath started her career in entertainment mainly because she couldn't see a life where she wasn't surrounded and inspired by actors in some way or another. After graduating from SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film with a degree in Screenwriting, she worked for a year at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. Interning under their casting department with casting directors Carrie Gardner and Jim Carnahan, she assisted in casting such productions as Spring Awakening, American Idiot and Fox's hit show, Glee. From there she moved 3,000 miles to Los Angeles and for the last year has been working for a well-known boutique talent agency in West Hollywood. She has also worked as a reader and marketing assistant for the Blue Cat Screenwriting Competition and has worked on independent features as both producer's assistant and P.A.

One Comment

  1. Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    It`s really useful! Looking through the Internet you can mostly observe watered down information, something like bla bla bla, but not here to my deep surprise. It makes me happy..!

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