What the Harvey Weinstein Revelations Can Teach Actors

I have been writing a blog for years to help actors feel supported and encouraged, in a business that does anything but. I’ve written posts about learning to set limits, and managing your acting career in an uncertain world. I’ve written articles and given talks on how faith and community can help guide and hold you up during difficult times, and other kinds of posts along these lines. My blog is not sweet. It’s not nice. It tries to give hope, but in an honest atmosphere that tells it like it is. I’ve always tried to give straight, honest, if sometimes complex, advice to those wanting to get into the acting world, that shows the ups and downs of being a working actor. I’ve wanted to help people try to avoid some of the mistakes I may have made. Yes, I write a blog for actors to help them… because they need help. I know they need help, because I sure needed help when I first started acting in LA, and I really had no one to turn to.

Why do actors need help? Because being an actor is hard. It’s incredibly hard. It’s stressful and you never have enough money. And it’s competitive. And you never feel you have any control. And you may be the best actor in your whole college or state and then you move to LA and no one cares who you are or how you can act. No one gives a damn! You always feel like you’re too fat or not good looking enough. You always feel like you need a better car, or better agent, or better apartment, or new head shots. If you don’t have help from your parents, you are basically always broke. Yes, you need help if you’re going to be a working actor. And so I try to give that help, any way I can.

So while I say that having a career in acting is incredibly taxing, the “act” of acting, if you’re good and you know what you’re doing, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Right? When you’re in the middle of a scene, or shot, or play, and everything’s going swell, you feel like a million bucks. You are high as a kite on life and on your skill and profession. Acting is beautiful and wonderful and a blast! It’s fun! And it’s hard, but hard in a great, challenging way. You can’t wait to do it! Your love of your craft makes all that work and effort and daily slog a complete and total joy. Landing and preparing and performing a role well and with focus and strength is one of the most fulfilling thrilling things an actor can ever do!

But the career of acting? It’s hard. Anyone that tells you otherwise is a fool, is inexperienced, or has other improper motives.

Which brings me to the heart of this post: the Harvey Weinstein revelations. I have been meaning to write something about the Harvey Weinstein revelations since the stories broke, but I’ve been avoiding writing about it for some reason. I think because I like to be a positive influence in the acting world, and writing about this disgusting situation just makes me sad. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Mirimax movies, and I think I may have even pitched a couple films to some of their producers through the years. Yes, I always knew he was a jerk, a control freak, a yeller, a screamer, and that people hated working with him but that he funded great films. But I had no idea he was doing what he was doing, and to so many actresses through the years. It’s horrifying.

This sexual abuse by Weinstein, targeted mostly young people. It probably totally destroyed many lives and hearts. And it makes me sick. But what breaks my heart the most about the Harvey Weinstein scandal/abuse stories, and now the Kevin Spacey stories/abuse too… is that any of it was allowed to happen in the first place. And by that I mean, that any actors allowed for one second any of their bad experiences to get any further than Harvey Weinstein’s first move. By that I also mean that Hollywood has created a culture of support of this kind of behavior. Support and secrecy, complicity, and corruption. How does this happen? We can understand a 20 year old excited to have dinner with a famous producer, but a whole production team, agent, manager, and director, allowing her to go to this dinner, knowing what they know? This is revolting. Unfortunately, I do not know how to change an entire industry. But I do know how to work with actors. I am still wondering how I can help teach young actors and actresses to see the warning signs for themselves. How can we teach a whole new generation to fight for their safety and honor and dignity? What I am wondering is — at what point can an actor comfortably say NO and tell the world what just happened loudly and clearly? How can we teach our young people to fight back.

Teaching Actors to Say "NO"

What would happen if the second someone said, “You’ll be meeting the director in his hotel room, or for dinner, or at his beach house…” What if the actor sprung up from their chair and she/he said, “Hell no I’m not! I do not meet directors, producers, or anyone in their hotel rooms! Ever! Not when they have an office. And certainly not alone! No!” How would the industry as a whole change if actors started saying no, a lot, to everything? Could we have a governing board that helps with this cause? And where is SAG and AFTRA in this whole discussion. What have they been doing to protect our actors? Where are they?

What if they said no to just every single thing that felt wrong, or creepy, or dark, or scary, or too much, or inappropriate, or gross. What if they didn’t allow themselves to be put into situations that made them suffer - or if they stopped mid sentence once they felt something go a bit too far - and just ran out of the room? Maybe they’d be fired? Maybe they wouldn’t be hired? Maybe they’d be laughed at… Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. And maybe things would change! What if we taught everyone going to LA or NY or London or wherever to be in a professional (or non professional) acting scenario, to shout out “NO WAY!” if or when something weird or wrong or dangerous or scary or creepy or just odd happened to them that they knew in their gut was inappropriate. What if shouting out “NO WAY” became the new norm. Wouldn’t that be cool?

This thought experiment could be extended to other circumstances. Let’s think about all actors and actresses of all ages, who have been in situations where someone of power asked them to do something they didn’t want to do, or didn’t feel comfortable doing, or something improper or dangerous or physically or emotionally destructive to the actor. What if everyone just jumped up and said, “HELL NO! This makes me feel uncomfortable and I’m not doing it! No! I do not want to do that! No! I am not doing that! No, this sounds creepy and it makes me feel creepy and I do not feel good or supported or safe with you asking me to do this!” or how about, just plain getting up and leaving the room, or the set, or wherever you are, with no explanation? I think of all the times when casting directors ask actors or actresses to take off their shirts. I saw it all the time with male commercial auditions in LA. Poor actors! We women complain that the industry fat shames women, but they are just as bad to male actors who don’t have six packs or perfectly spaced nipples over rigid rippling pecs. Guys, keep those shirts on and walk out if you have to. No one can make you do anything that makes you feel gross, or less than, or used, or disrespected. And who cares about the role. “Scream explicative that role!” So there!

I know I sound simplistic, but I am offering suggestions for an ideal, new, strong film and acting world, where actor’s have opinions and shout them out; an atmosphere where your opinions actually matter, and where it’s okay for everyone to speak their mind and everyone is open to talk about how they are feeling. I doubt this could or would happen quickly or easily and I am not implying that anyone could easily do this. But wouldn’t it be great? Why not try? They talk about fat shaming, or slut shaming, or gay bashing, or agism… well how bout bashing the predators, the bad directors, the insecure narcissists, the pedophiles, the creepy creepers, the sexist casting directors, the anger addicts, the control freaks? How about shaming THEM for a change? How about shining light on these jerks and calling them for what they are… losers… jerks? They need you more than you need them. It’s true! And the more people say no to them and expose them to the light, like Vampires, the more quickly their power and flame will fizzle out and they will be no more. They will lose their power and their hold to hurt and humiliate others will whither and die. They always say the best way to avoid an exhibitionist is to point at their privates and start laughing hysterically. What if every time some creepy producer (no matter how famous or good looking or not) starts putting inappropriate moves on a person, the victim just started laughing, and shouting, “Stop touching me you creep, as if!?” Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

Poor Actors!

This reminds me. My favorite line whenever I’m watching a movie or film is often “Poor Actor!” It’s become a stilly private joke between myself and my husband. He kind of dreads it when he can tell I’m going to say it, because I always say, “You know what I’m going to say don’t you?”… because we always know when it’s coming. And sadly, it’s really not a very funny thing to say. But it gets me past my anger when I’m feeling it come on, and allows me to move on to the next scene. Because I am so protective of actors, and I hate it when I see them being taken advantage of in a scene or movie. It’s why I’ve taken so long to write this post in reaction to the events the last few weeks. It’s breaking my heart! I want to expose all those predators and creeps. And I want to hug and support all the victims and say you’re going to be okay, and it’s okay to be mad, and confused, and angry, and let’s make this stop. Let’s make this stop now!

“Poor Actors,” I scream! And I’m screaming this now for all the men and women and kids too, who have been victims of this horrible crazy industry that is so hard to make a living in, and that turns strong people into victims who do things they don’t want to do, and who are confused and scared, and who don’t know how to get ahead, and shame on you creepy jerks who think you hold the power, who are weaklings, and narcissists, and addicts, and power junkies, preying on others, who are so screwed up and insecure that you have to hurt those beneath you, and shame on you for continuing to do the crap that you do to others. This industry needs to change.

“Poor Actors,” I shout. It usually comes when I see an actor in a scene with gallons of freezing cold water rushing them as they fight with swords on the deck of a ship, as I watch as their lips turn blue for real. Or I shout out “Poor Actors” when they’re lying in a pool of blood, brains, dirt and guts, after someone’s head has exploded; poor Jennifer Jason Lee in “The Hateful Eight” covered in what looked like blood and brains for hours. Or when they’re having to take off all their clothes as they walk around naked, in a full body shot, delivering their lines with their breasts or penises totally exposed; poor actors in “Game of Thrones” - as if any actor would want the whole world to see their genitals or boobs viewed by the whole world like that. I could go on and on and on about “Poor Actor” situations.

The things directors make actors do just startle me to my core at times, and no one should have to go through any of that crap just to portray a part. Once it no longer feels like fun, it isn’t. It’s abuse. And actors need to start saying NO to being abused. No matter what kind of abuse, sexual, physical, emotional, stress inducing…it’s all disgusting and wrong and unethical and it’s got to stop!

I haven’t even mentioned the physical toll most directors expect of actors in fight and battle scenes. These days actors (and actresses) are pretty much expected to be muscle bound work-out fanatics with crazy stunt fighting abilities, expected to prepare for a year or more just to shoot a film. Do you think actors in films in the 50s and 60s were expected to train like the ones in “The Matrix” films? Poor Actors! But they get paid so much to do so, you might retort. Really? Fighting up the side of a snow covered mountain on location, riding a horse, swinging an axe, at age 45? I mean, come on! What about their backs? They have to keep making a living right? Ruining their bodies will not help them out.

Why do I bring up these taxing scenes alongside talking about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, and the many stories of sexual abuse and predatory sexual harassment that have come out recently? Well, I think the whole industry really needs to change. And I think that if we’re talking about changing attitudes and predatory behaviors then we also need to discuss the other types of hurtful behaviors actors and actresses experience. And we need to teach especially our younger actors and actresses, to learn about boundaries, and how to get out of these situations. We need to support them to know it’s okay to say no. And maybe even also help them learn how to fight back! Whatever that means.

We all know that many actors get into odd situations and go along with them because they want or need the job or role, and they’re afraid they won’t get or keep it if they don’t go along with the situation. What I am more interested in discussing is not this power dynamic which is obvious and easy to understand… what I’d like to talk about is WHY so many actors and actresses go along with these scenarios so easily but then can’t really figure out if they were a victim or if they are also somehow to blame. They end up taking responsibility for the predator's actions and saying, “Well, I just made out with him, it’s no big deal, I mean I don’t like him, but he does have connections” or whatever it may be. But the truth is, it’s NOT their fault. So why do people, the victims, the actors, take responsibility for what was done TO them. I guess I’m trying to understand why it’s so hard to say no, and so easy to go along?

Blow that Whistle

There’s been a huge surge in online public “me too” posts and forums with hundreds of men and women, actors and non-actors, coming out to tell their stories publicly. I am thrilled about this. Despite many people calling these “me too” posts “virtue signaling” - I still think it will ultimately be a good thing. It’s not hysteria. It’s truth telling. And there’s a wave of protection people are riding as they finally feel safe to share these stories. We need to keep these people feeling safe and not shamed, and support these truth tellers whole heartedly and just help them know we trust them and care about them. No judgement. No advice. Just hold a trusting presence. A kind of peace and reconciliation reboot for the industry would be a good start.

I find fascinating and also heartbreaking, that the very traits that make actors gifted and talented are often the very things that make them vulnerable to sexual or other types of power/playing predators. These same traits make it hard for actors to say no. Being an open people pleaser can make it hard to express outrage when asked to do an improper, or overly graphic sexual scene, or overly daunting physical stunt work, even when it puts the actor in real obvious physical or emotional danger.

There is another type of predator that needs to be discussed, especially for beginning actors who are the most vulnerable. This is the power hungry acting teacher/guru who has a bunch of groupie students at their beck and call. These kinds of classes can become like little cults. These kinds of teachers are totally toxic and can ruin an actor’s career forever. This type of acting teacher uses his/her class as a pseudo psychoanalyzing camp, offering emotional advice or judgement to naive and trusting students, with no psychological training. I’ve written about this a lot in many past posts. These types of teachers may even analyze students and shame them publicly for their pasts, their sexuality, or their talent or looks, or when they express certain feelings in certain ways. I myself experienced one of these kinds of teachers. He had a student sobbing one day in class after making her share her life story in way too much detail. It was horrible. Another of my own teachers told me how fat I was and that I’d never make it if I didn’t lose weight. I was 5 pounds overweight at the time and had modeling agents interested in signing me. Needless to say, his words have haunted me my whole life and caused me great emotional distress.

If we can’t always change the predatory power relationships of Hollywood, then maybe we can at least change our own behavior as actors, and get strong. We’re so good at reading other people, so why are we so lousy at protecting our own selves? Or reading those in power over us? Do we really trust this or that person? No? Well why then?… Learn to listen to your gut. It will always lead you in the right direction! Actors can really learn how to modify or enhance certain behaviors in different situations and use them to their own advantage. Learn to fight back! Being open doesn’t have to mean being naive. Being direct-able and a people pleaser doesn’t mean you have to be nice to a jerk.

Learning to Foster Courage

Below, I am listing off some of the traits we can all find in actors. These are wonderful traits. No judgement. Many of these traits are what make us strong and creative and breathtaking performers. I am pretty much describing myself to a “T!” Many of these traits can also lead us into the hands of predators if we aren’t awake and vigilant and aware of what’s really going on. Note: after each trait I have put an opposite version that is a more empowered alternative version, but retains the same creative quality of the first trait. Combining both the first and second traits into a new version of yourself will yield the most real you. You can print this list up and post it on your mirror or fridge if you’d like.

  • Actors are open trusting souls who learn to use their open and vulnerable emotionality for expression and creativity.
    • Actors are open and trusting when they feel trust coming from those they respect. It’s okay to not trust everyone, as not everyone has your best interest at heart.
    • Actors know when to be vulnerable, and when to be strong and angry, heeding their own gut warning signs. Don’t trust everyone. Fight back if you want.
  • Actors often think that others see them as weak so they work hard at appearing strong and happy no matter how week or scared they may feel.
    • Actors can and should also work at opening up to all of their feelings, and do not always need or have to be happy or strong.
    • Knowing that there are hundreds of emotions, many of them very valid, and possibly based in fear. Fear can be your guide.
  • Actors are people pleasers who are taught to take direction, to trust, to do what they are told, to be open to coaching, to be suggestible and to never argue or negate.
    • Actors can be very successful thinking about themselves first for a change. It’s okay to talk back, argue, make strong suggestions, rock the boat, change the plan.
    • It’s healthy and normal to not like everyone you meet. You don’t have to take care of everyone. It’s okay to let others take care of you for a change. Would that be nice?
  • Actors learn that they will get hired more if they are even-tempered and easy to work with and that they will fail if they ever complain or express anger.
    • Many actors get hired despite their grouchy, crotchety, odd temperaments. Some of the most famous actors were angry loner misfits who argued constantly with cast and crew alike.
    • All that matters is the performance. If you’re mad during rehearsal or in your audition, learn to express your anger. Use it. The more in touch you get, the better your acting in the end.
  • Actors are taught that they get more jobs if they are thinner, prettier, sexier, and we are told over and over that sex sells and sex (not friendship) gets you fame and fortune.
    • Sex is nothing more than a passing fad. Your look, your sexiness, changes from year to year. Learn what your essence is. It might be sexy. But it could be something much more interesting.
    • Be you. Your sexuality is YOURS alone, and does not need to be on display for the world, if you don’t want it to be.
  • Actors learn early on to downplay their self confidence, their smarts, their healthy sense of ego, even their independence, as they don’t want to appear big-headed or aloof or cocky.
    • Your brain is your most important tool as is your self confidence. If some jerk or project does not hire you because you are too smart, their loss. They are weaklings and don’t deserve your greatness.
    • The more powerful and self confident and glowing you are, the more you will draw others to your fire. Be the shining star, the eccentric, the loud wonderful you that you know and love inside, on the outside!
  • Actors often experience difficult childhoods or pasts, may have a dysfunctional family member or loved one who causes them pain, and may have gotten into the arts/acting as a way to cope with buried feelings and emotions.
    • If you’re dealing with pain from your past, get help. Go to a 12-Step program, get a good therapist, work on yourself. It will help make you a better actor and you’ll be happier too! And stronger!
    • If you are depressed, or into an addiction of your own, work on that first, before pursuing your acting career. Ultimately, your health and safety is all that really matters.
  • Actors often live in expensive cities, living month to month, away from family, and may become easily depressed/desperate to “make it” - making them easy prey for those with more money or power.
    • Get your money situation settled first before you work on your acting career. A starving person will do anything to survive. And being broke makes you depressed.
    • Get a better day job you like, a roommate, and a cheaper apartment. Do things one step at a time. Walk. Write. Meditate. Get happier. Or move to a cheaper city.

It’s my hope that all actors can take back their power. You don’t always have to agree. You don’t always have to be happy. You don’t always have to take direction. You don’t always have to go along. You don’t always have to be sexy. You don’t always have to be nice. You don’t always have to say yes.

Recommended Reading

On a final note. I have some suggested reading. Several years ago I read several books by Anne Katherine (M.A.) I highly recommend them since they totally changed my life. “Boundaries - Where You End And I Begin, How To Recognize And Set Healthy Boundaries.” I also recommend: “Where To Draw The Line: How To Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day.” Anne Katherine’s also written several amazing books on food and eating/weight issues. I’ve learned she also has several new books about boundary setting in the social media age. I think they’ll help anyone wanting to get stronger and wanting to learn to say no.

It’s my opinion that actors would be stronger and healthier and more importantly, safer and happier, if they learned how to set healthy boundaries around what they will or will not do. But you don’t have to listen to me. I am no expert. I am just one actor, who became a teacher, who is trying to share her story to help others. But honestly, it can take years to develop these skills. I don’t write about all of this lightly. It probably took me 5 long hard years to say no to people.

In the end, we all love acting, and that’s the most important thing! Let’s motivate ourselves to renew our sparkle, our passion, and our love of this incredible art form! If we actors can learn to take some of our power back, we ourselves will become powerful leaders in the industry, producing, writing, and directing our own films and projects. With these changes we can slowly improve the situation for actors everywhere. We can run a new kind of industry full of love and respect, that supports stories of real people (of all shapes and sizes and ages and colors!) and we also might just possibly make our own work for ourselves in the process. How about writing and producing a movie or play you can star in?

Change is possible. It just takes one person at a time, one step at a time.

Here’s to actors and acting, the most wonderful profession in the world! Keep on acting!

About Kirsten Tretbar

Kirsten Tretbar is an acting teacher, filmmaker, and former actress. She received her MFA in Acting from USC in Los Angeles, where she acted professionally for many years.

Los Angeles + Kansas City http://theactingroom.com