Why are most of my favorite actors male?
I’ve asked more than a few people this question over the years. The #1 answer has always been, “There aren’t as many good actresses as actors”. The first time I got that answer was in high school. It wasn’t that we thought women were less capable of good acting. We just assumed Hollywood worked like high school: guys get picked for their skills, and girls get picked for their beauty. That was our explanation for why we never got picked for stuff, even though we were talented and capable. We weren’t vapid little ornaments, and we didn’t want to be.
There may have been a lot of teenage insecurity and snark in that philosophy, but in the end it’s still the best explanation I’ve found. You know who is the very best actor I’ve ever known or known of? A woman I used to know. She and some of my other actor buddies got together to do a read-through of a script I’d written. Knowing absolutely nothing about the script, she volunteered to read the part of the male lead that no one else wanted, because they couldn’t figure out how to approach his role. It was a true cold reading – she was seeing the lines for the very first time as she read them in character.
She blew us all away. She nailed the character that had so intimidated the others. I asked her secret, and she said, “I just read it like I mean it.” I don’t expect ever to see anything more impressive in my life. But she was significantly overweight, so I also don’t expect to see her on film in my life. And that’s how it goes. There are a number of character roles available to overweight men, but very few for women.
Weight isn’t even the half of it, though. The beauty standards for men are above normal, but the beauty standards for women are way above normal. Hollywood prefers men who are a couple of inches above average height, but they prefer women who are at least four inches above average. Men need to have some muscle tone and stay slim (which is a healthy enough goal, anyway), but women are encouraged to be underweight. Men need to not be hideously ugly; women need collagen lips and breast implants.
By making the requirements for women actors so much more stringent, you’re limiting the pool of applicants by a criteria that’s got nothing to do with skill. The 90’s were the first decade in which we had lead actresses under average height, for crying out loud (Gillian Anderson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, etc.) Meanwhile, Tom Cruise has been a major star at 5′ 7″ (ignore the press releases – 5′ 9″ is a lie) for decades. If you took all male actors, and eliminated all the ones under 6′ 2″ and demanded the remaining ones stay 10+ pounds underweight, you’d lose a lot of serious talent there, too.
But Hollywood has a good reason for this, and it’s the same one they’ve given us for decades: the audience wants beautiful actors. I don’t think that’s quite true, though. We want actors that we enjoy looking at, and we tend to use the word “beautiful” to describe anyone we like to watch on film. Some of them really aren’t good-looking, precisely – uneven features, flaws, etc. But they’re beautiful to us because of charisma combined with maybe one or two really beautiful features amidst all the other flawed bits. Even the flaws become beautiful.
And surely actresses like Sarah Michelle Gellar are proving that men are just as open to hotness without conventional beauty as women are. Gellar is extremely short, without the pouty lips, doe eyes, high cheekbones and big chest that seem to characterize “conventional female beauty”, and yet guys loved her. Could the people behind the cameras get a clue already, please?