Blake Lively says more actresses should go for characters that are less than pleasant.
In her new film, A Simple Favour, Blake Lively plays Emily, a glamorous, manipulative, offhandedly cruel mother who draws Anna Kendrick’s small-town widow into her web. Emily isn’t likeable: she’s much too arrogant and unpredictable for that. Yet Lively’s performance has been praised by critics, with the character of Emily widely seen as the unnerving centre of the film.
Speaking to reporters this week, Lively said she believed more women actors should pursue “unlikeable” roles, adding that a double standard still exists around what behaviour is considered acceptable for men but not for women.
“I think we need to embrace being unlikeable,” she told the Press Association. “That is sort of what I’ve done.”
Lively also touched on contemporary Hollywood’s tendency to simply flip the gender of a film’s characters to make it more woman-friendly, rather than writing a script with women characters in mind from the beginning.
“I keep getting ‘Here’s this great script, it’s a male but we will gender flip it,’” she said.
“Well why don’t we just flip it now, why do we have to imagine you’re going to flip it?
“They’ve already written, but instead of rewriting it they are like ‘Now this person is a woman’.”
On one hand, Lively said, simply giving women roles originally written for men “is great, because you want women to be as unlikeable as men. If you gave a woman Harrison Ford’s line, it would be like ‘you can never say that, she’s such a jerk’, but if it’s a man it’s sort of charming and sexy. So it’s good to have a touch of that.”
However, she said she thought that scriptwriters also needed to consider the fact that male and female characters wouldn’t always behave exactly the same in any given scene. “There are differences in men and women,” she said. “Let’s do a little bit of rewriting.”
Lively has addressed Hollywood’s problem with female likeability before. Last autumn, she discussed the fact that women actors are rarely given the chance to play characters who seem like “a**holes” on paper.
“You always get that note from a studio, which is the woman has to be likeable. I’ve never heard them say that about a man,” she said during an appearance on Vanity Fair’s In the Limelight podcast.
“I mean, my husband [Ryan Reynolds] plays a**holes [but], you go, ‘He’s so charming.’ Because he is likeable.”
She added that many characters seem unpleasant in scripts, but are brought to life by the person playing them.
“You would read on a page and you just know, ‘Oh, it’s a man, he’ll be charming.’ But if you read that on a page as a woman they would never let you say that line because the note would always be, ‘Oh, we just have to make sure she’s likeable.’”
This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed pop culture’s problem with “unlikeable” women, and we’re sure it won’t be the last. But all power to Lively for keeping the conversation going. We look forward to seeing her take on a Harrison Ford-esque role any day now.
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