“Just pull your panties down and bend over and the role is yours.”
It may be the 21st century, but it’s become painfully apparent that nearly every female actor in Hollywood has experienced some degree of sexism, harassment, body-shaming or sexual assault during their time in the industry.
However, while we’re all too aware of the gender pay gap and the lack of opportunities for women in Hollywood, misogyny is even more dangerously prevalent behind closed doors.
We’re talking, of course, about the infamous Hollywood “casting couch”.
Under the guise of “constructive feedback”, women have been bullied, berated, and belittled over their physical appearance. They have been shamed into dressing up in a way that feels entirely inappropriate to them. And some have even been harassed, assaulted, and even raped by predatory producers, directors, and agents intent on using their position of power to get exactly what they want.
From Thandie Newton to Jennifer Lawrence, Dame Judi Dench to Sophie Turner, these 25 women have decided to share their audition horror stories with the world and get vocal about the problem, in a bid to draw attention to it and change the experience for those following in their footsteps.
We can only applaud them for speaking out - and hope that their bravery leads to change.
Megan Fox has recounted her humiliating audition for the Transformers films, which involved her going to Bay’s house to wash his Ferrari while he filmed her. When a reporter asked Bay what came of that footage “he looked suitably abashed. ‘Er, I don’t know where it is either.’”
Then, on the set of Transformers, she was made to parade around in outfits – “white-jean shorts, a pink belly-shirt, motorcycle boots” – for five gruelling hours in front of Bay, co-stars Shia Labeouf and Ramon Rodriguez, and two other actors.
In an interview with W magazine, the actress told how she unwittingly fell prey to the creepy requests of an unnamed director during an audition.
“A director, on a callback, had a camera shooting up my skirt and asked me to touch my tits and think about the guy making love to me in the scene. I thought, ‘OK, this is a little weird,’ but there was a female casting director in the room and I’d done weird stuff before so I did it.”
She recalled how years later she discovered something even more disturbing after a producer approached her at a film festival and told her drunkenly, “Oh, Thandie, I’ve seen you recently!”, before lurching away with apparent embarrassment.
Thandie's husband approached the man to find out what he meant. “It turns out that the director was showing that audition tape to his friends after poker games at his house. And they would all get off on it.”
Judi Dench has revealed that when she was a younger actress she went to audition for a big name director. He turned her away, telling her: “Well it's been very nice meeting you, but I'm sorry. Not this film. Probably not any film. As you have every single thing wrong with your face.”
Reflecting on the moment, the award-winning actor quipped: “Well, I got to do a few films after that so I'm very pleased he was wrong.”
In a video for TheHollywood Reporter, Maggie Gyllenhaal opened up about one of her most degrading auditions.
“I remember one time being really young and auditioning for this really bad movie that I just wanted,” she said, describing the black linen dress she wore and being told it wasn’t quite hot enough.
“This manager I had at the time said, ‘Would you come back and sex it up a bit?’ So I put on leather pants, a pink leopard skinny camisole and did the audition again and still didn't get the part.
“After that, I was like, ‘OK, f**k this!’”
Alison Brie, who stars in Netflix’s GLOW, shared her horrifying Entourage audition experience.
“Early in my career, I auditioned for three lines on an episode of Entourage that I had to go on in a bikini!” she told ew.com. “Or like shorts and the tiniest shorts. And they were like, ‘Okay, can you take your top off now?'”
Brie Larson – who is set to zoom into cinemas as Captain Marvel next year – recently told Net-A-Porter’s The Edit that she finds it difficult to get to grips with “female sexuality” – especially since so much of it is determined by the “male gaze”.
She said: “Female sexuality was confusing for me. I went to auditions where they wanted a sassy, smart, sexy girl.
“I would arrive in sneakers and they’d say, ‘Come back in a mini-skirt and heels.’ I would come back and blow [ruin] the audition.
“I felt more in my body when I wasn’t dressing as a fantasy for the male gaze.”
When asked to share one of her worst ever audition experiences, the Jane the Virgin star recalled a time when she was told she was “the director’s favourite pick”. However she had to do one more thing before she would be given the role…
“They said… can she come back in with a little tight black dress, her face all done real nice?” revealed Rodriguez.
“I was like, ‘No, that doesn't make any sense, why would I do that?’ and they were like, ‘Because they need to know that you're pretty enough to put on the cover of a magazine.’”
Oscar-winning actor Helen Mirren lambasted director Michael Winner in a TV interview for allegedly treating her “like a piece of meat” during a casting session in 1964. Recalling the encounter, she said that he ordered her to turn around and flaunt her body for him.
“I was mortified and incredibly angry. I thought it was insulting and sexist, and I don’t think any actress should be treated like that – like a piece of meat – at all,” she revealed. “I was so angry – I still am.”
Winner, meanwhile, has defended his actions, saying: “I did indeed ask her to stand up. I don’t remember asking her to turn around but if I did, I wasn’t being serious.
“I can see it now. She was wearing a peasant blouse and a skirt in the photographs – with enormous bosoms which were sagging a bit even though she was young.”
Yes, he really did say “enormous bosoms”. Yes, he really did insist that they were “sagging a bit”. Which makes it even more confusing that Winner continues to insist that Mirren’s memory of that moment is “a little flawed”.
Susan Sarandon opened up to ELLE in 2012 about a horrifying casting-couch experience she had early in her career, which saw her physically assaulted by a director.
“I just went into a room, and a guy practically threw me on the desk,” she said. “It was my early days in New York, and it was really disgusting.
“It wasn't like I gave it a second thought, it was so badly done.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Rossum explained that she has been asked to audition in a bikini, just so directors can see her body.
“Even as recently as a year ago, my agent called me and was like, ‘I’m so embarrassed to make this call, but there’s a big movie and they’re going to offer it to you,” she said. “They really love your work on the show. But the director wants you to come into his office in a bikini. There’s no audition. That’s all you have to do.’”
Rossum continues: “He wanted to know if I was fat now. That was basically the question. And I actually had this moment like, ‘Well, how good is the part?’ For a second, I was like, ‘Would I do it? Send me the script. Maybe the character is in a bikini in the movie’.
“Nope, not in a bikini in the movie. Not naked in the movie. ‘We really love your work, but we just want to see how tight your ass is.’ Are you f**king kidding me? Last time I checked, I'm not a f**king model.”
Mad Men’s January Jones revealed that she was left absolutely mortified by an unexpected request during her second ever audition.
“It was an audition for Coyote Ugly,” she said, “and I’d done the reading for the acting part and then Jerry Bruckheimer wanted me to come in and dance on top of the table.
“They said, ‘You’re going to dance to Prince’s Kiss. You’re going to pole dance, but there is no pole.’ And I just turned beet red.
“It was awful, and he said something like, ‘Honey, you did a great reading, but you’ve got no rhythm.’ I called my agent and said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’”
Game of Thrones star Lena Headey says young women auditioning for roles face intense pressure to be “beautiful and skinny”, as male directors speculate over who they want to have sex with.
Speaking to her co-star Maisie Williams (aka Arya Stark) in a new interview for Net-A-Porter's magazine The Edit, Headey says: “When I was in my twenties, and doing a lot of audition tapes in the States, a casting director told me: “The men take these tapes home and watch them and say, ‘Who would you f***?’”
The star says she refused to play “the game of going in [to auditions] and flirting” and is “very happy” to have lost out on roles as a result.
When Charlize Theron was just starting out in her Hollywood career, she was asked to do a private audition at a director’s house.
“I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal,” she Marie Clarie in 2005.
“He was in his Hugh Hefner pyjamas; I go inside and he's offering me a drink, and I'm thinking, ‘My god, this acting stuff is very relaxed.’ But it soon becomes very clear what the situation was. I was like, ‘Not going to happen! Got the wrong girl, buddy!’”
During an interview with ELLE in 2010, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that she received an indecent proposition during one of her earliest auditions.
“When I was just starting out, someone suggested that we finish a meeting in the bedroom.
“I left. I was pretty shocked. I could see how someone who didn’t know better might worry, ‘My career will be ruined if I don't give this guy a blowjob!’”
The Big Sick star Zoe Kazan recently spoke out about her experiences with sexual harassment on set, revealing that she’s felt pressured to “give ‘blowjob eyes’” and “be flirty” with a director or a producer during an audition.
“There'll be auditions where they'll say, 'Wear something body-conscious' and then you’re aware that they're checking out your body,” she said.
“You leave the situation feeling not good about what just happened, but you don't really have the language for why. You feel like, if you said something, it would reflect badly on you.”
Glee’s Amber Riley grew emotional about casting call body-shamers during an interview for MTV's This Is How I Made It.
“Going to the auditions and hearing the casting director say, ‘You need to lose a little weight,' I didn't understand why people couldn't accept me for who I was,” she said.
“I'm not gonna conform and hurt myself and do something crazy to be a size 2.”
Jennifer Lawrence told Harper’s Bazaar that she was called ‘fat’ during an audition once.
“Somebody told me I was fat, that I was going to get fired if I didn't lose a certain amount of weight,” she recalled. “They brought in pictures of me where I was basically naked, and told me to use them as motivation for my diet.”
Nowadays, though, the actor knows exactly what to say to body-shamers.
“If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I'm like, ‘You can go f*ck yourself’.”
Opening up about one of the worst auditions she’s ever experienced, Hawn told PEOPLE: “I was 19. I went up for the ‘meet,’ and it was so scary. [Cartoonist Al Capp] took off his business clothes and came in in, like, a dressing gown. I got the picture, and I thought, ‘I’m in trouble. Where’s the door?’
“I went, ‘Wait a minute. He knows what he’s talking about.’ I said, ‘OK, so I’ll do it, like, more quiet, more real.’ Then he wanted me to show my legs, and I said, ‘You know, Mr. Capp, I don’t know. I don’t think so,’ and then I sat down and he wanted me to give him a kiss, and I went, ‘I don’t do this. I’m sorry.’
“I was crying and I didn’t have any money to go back to the [1964 New York] World’s Fair, where I was dancing, and so he threw me $20 for a taxicab. It wasn’t a good day.”
Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson told movie bosses to get lost when they demanded she lose weight for a role.
“It's come up a few times in the last few years, like, ‘You're too fat for this’ - I get told all the time to lose weight. I'm just sitting here like, ‘Wait, what? Do you want a skeleton?’”
She continued: “I feel good, I don't want to lose 20 lbs., because I don't need to. I'm a size 2, but I think that size 4 is healthy. I think that all of these sizes are healthy.”
Tracee Ellis Ross
Ross, who stars on ABC’s Black-ish, was auditioning to play a Harvard-educated lawyer on a network television show, so she dressed for the part with a sharp business suit. But, when she arrived, she was immediately sent back to change into a short skirt and a T-shirt.
“I was so busy thinking about other things, I’m trying to do my best to take care of myself as a human, and somehow audition,” Ross said. “And then I remember coming out of my screen test and thinking, ‘What did I just allow for myself?’”
The woman who got the role, perhaps unsurprisingly, was “dressed to go to a club.”
Banks recently revealed that the first agent she ever met in Hollywood advised her to “get a boob job” if she wanted work in the movies.
“I was so grateful that I didn’t have enough money at the time to follow his advice. I also did not sign with him.”
When she was asked to audition in one of Adam Sandler’s movies, Rose McGowan was sent over the script to read over – and a note about what she should wear on the day.
“[They told me to wear a] black (or dark) form-fitting tank top that shows off cleavage” she revealed on Twitter.
Worse still, producers felt the need to tell McGowan what underwear to bring, reminding her that “push-up bras are encouraged”
Unsurprisingly, McGowan decided to decline the audition – and expose the sexist demands on Twitter, too.
In an interview with Popeater back in 2010, Rinna revealed that she had a nightmarish casting couch experience when she was 24 years old.
“I lost a role on a big TV series because I wouldn’t bend over a chair in a producer’s office for ‘just a quickie,’” she said.
“‘Just pull your panties down and bend over and the role is yours,’ he said to me.”
Bollywood star Varalaxmi Sarathkumar tweeted a screenshot of a letter in which she revealed her experience with sexual harassment in the Indian film industry, describing it as the “tip of the iceberg.”
Detailing a meeting she had with a top TV exec that ended with him propositioning her, Sarathkumar explained: “Towards the end of the half hour meeting, he asked me, ‘So when can we meet outside?’
“To which I replied, ‘Regarding some other work?’ His answer (said with a smug smile like it was the norm): ‘No, no! Not work… for other things.’”