Monday, August 13, 2012

What do actresses want to see less of in the scripts they get?

I was out with some friends this past weekend and as it happened, the group included a couple of actresses who've done a fair number of supporting roles and guest roles between them.  So I asked, "What is it you'd like to see in scripts that you get?"

The answer: "Less victimization of women."  I know we've talked about this before on the blog - a lot - but it was interesting to see how immediately that response came from an actual working actress.  I knkow a small handful of actresses who get a decent amount of work in TV and it seems like they're perpetually cast as victims.  (For example, a few seasons ago, I had a friend get raped on two different shows.  And no, NEITHER of those shows was Law & Order: SVU.)

As the conversation continued, we discussed how the issue wasn't just writing women as victims, but that there's nothing to those roles beyond being victims.  It's not always an avoidable problem - on a procedural, most of the characters are going to end up defined by their function in the plot.  Still, if possible, one should try to put oneself in the shoes of the actor who's eventually going to have to say those lines.

If you're writing SVU, the formula demands that at least one rape victim a week - there's no way around that.  But how many different ways can you write that victim?  What's their backstory?  How do they react to the attack - do they fight back ferociously or do they try to bargain with their attacker?  Afterwards, when they talk to the cops, what's the underlying emotion as they tell their story - terror? bloodthirst to see the guy punished? Do they deny what happened?  If so, why? Where does that motivation come from?  Do they gloss over details that they think makes them look culpable?  Do they emphasize certain details because they are mad at the detectives for making them relive it?

There are so many different options and layers to play in a scene like that beyond "generic weeping rape victim who barely gets through her story before breaking down in tears."

See, for an SVU writer, that scene is just there to give Mariska Hargitay and her partner something to play against before they're off and running against the bad guy/Special Guest Star.  For the working actor who gets that part, it's a part they had to fight against a few dozen other actors to get and it might be the only work that they have for months.  They might only have a three-page scene (or possibly less), but they're going to stare at those words - your words - and struggle to find a way to make them real.  Even if the character's job is to blend in, the actor can't do that if there's no sense of reality.

So think about it from their side of things and give them something to play.  And hey, if that means you can make your female victims more multidimensional, so much the better.


  1. I remember reading in school about an ancient Greek poet who thought he'd write the first love poem. Because at the time he was writing, there had been poems about war, about battle, about sadness. But no love poems. So heh he's go write one.

    The most cliche thing in existence (a love poem) and no-one had ever written one before. For me writing female characters is kind of like that. You can write a stock male character, change their gender and suddenly. You're ahead of the curve. /shrug may as well.

    ps:- About victimization. I should point out that not only is that bad for female actresses... but reality is that media has an effect on the public and maybe we should think about given females(in the general public) some roles on TV that don't revolve around bad things happening to them.

  2. Interesting point. "Victim" isn't a one-size-fits-all category.

    But yeah, fewer victims would be great too.