Debra Messing on humiliating Hollywood sexism: “Your job is to get naked and say the lines”

Posted by
Amy Swales

Debra Messing has added her voice to the growing number of famous women deciding to go public with the sexist, misogynistic and often straight-up abusive experiences they’ve had throughout their careers.

Speaking at a conference showcasing women’s stories, the Will & Grace actor says that her first big film, 1995’s A Walk in the Clouds, was memorable for all the wrong reasons – claiming the director made a “power play” with an unnecessary nude scene and humiliated her with comments about her appearance.

Messing, who was 25 at the time, recalls a kissing scene with her co-star Keanu Reeves being interrupted by director Alfonso Arau, who reportedly “screamed ‘Cut’” and said, “How quickly can we get a plastic surgeon in here? Her nose is ruining my movie.”

keanu reeves debra messing a walk in the clouds 1995

Messing on the set of 1995's A Walk in the Clouds with Keanu Reeves

“I was so confident coming out of graduate school with my masters in acting,” she tells the audience at the 2017 Makers Conference in California. “I'd studied in London and I was so well equipped with skill sets, and then to walk on set and have that happen – I was reduced to an un-Hollywood nose.”

She adds: “I felt ugly, I felt like garbage.”

Messing says it took her “years and years” to be at peace with her appearance in the face of Hollywood’s limited ideals: “There is a very narrow definition of what a beautiful, vital, vibrant, interesting woman looks like, and that's the thing we're constantly fighting against.

“My entire career I've been swimming in that pond, where it's like, ‘Oh no, you don't look right’.”

Unfortunately, according to Messing, 48, that wasn’t the only depressing incident on the set – as reports, she also describes how, on the second day of filming, she was pressured into a nude scene she hadn’t been previously told about, claiming Arau told her, “It’s my movie. Your job is to get naked and say the lines. That’s it. You should be grateful to have this part.”

She goes on to say that he lifted the bedsheet covering her to “scan” her body, before he “dropped the sheet on top of me like a used Kleenex, then walked away without a word.”

Zosia Mamet, Debra Messing and Kathy Najimy

Zosia Mamet, Debra Messing and Kathy Najimy at 2017 Makers Conference

And, she says, the fact that the scene didn’t end up in the final edit confirms it was nothing more than a “power play, a game”: “And the goal? To demean me, strip me of my pride and power, make me feel on a cellular level his dominance over me. I felt violated.”

A representative for Arau denied the story, telling it was “false”, that Messing was never nude on set and that the director had no issues with her appearance.

Several actors have, in recent years, revealed the problems they’ve come up against in the industry by virtue of being a woman, from significantly cut pay packets to serious sexual assault.

Now Messing says she’s comfortable with herself – and won’t change her nose for anyone: “I'm a f***ing original. My nose and I have come this far, and like Barbra Streisand I'm defiantly keeping it.”

See her speech, and others, in full at

Images: Getty / Rex