Sunday, 3 June 2012

Crisis of Faith

"The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run." Henry David Thoreau.

I am slightly depressed tonight; making the film was getting slightly easier, and it just got difficult again. I have just had a very good actress turn down a part, after initially accepting it, saying that following the readthrough she was 'not comfortable' with the character. Of course it's her right to make that decision, particularly as I'm not paying. But - perhaps I should have asked, but one is afraid of what one will hear - I do wonder what was behind that choice, that discomfort. She is the second person to turn it down, and although the first did not give a reason I felt, reading between the lines, there was something about the character that troubled her. The discomfort is clearly not a universal feeling; one (sadly unsuitably young) actress actively went after the part.

The character, Faith, is a promiscuous lesbian who is revealed over the course of the story to have a reason for her actions, and is ultimately offered a sort of way back from the place to which she has taken herself. There is no suggestion in the story that her actions lead to any suffering on the part of others, and she is shown to be concerned for her flatmates when appropriate. She is witty, intelligent, self-possessed, and in many ways the voice of sanity compared to her two eccentric flatmates. Yet clearly, there is something about the character that disturbs. (To be clear, there is no nudity involved - not even a kiss.)

Perhaps the script is too sympathetic to Faith - ultimately too kind to her? For comparison - the first actress who turned the part down was content to play a psychotic hired killer in a previous short of mine. Admittedly I am only speculating about why she might not have wished to play Faith, but I do wonder if there is a kind of almost unconscious puritanism operating. Playing a killer is 'safe' in the sense that it is generally accepted that the actions of the character are not in any way condoned - but when it comes to sexual misbehaviour things are a lot less clear (there was no room for doubt in our preliminary discussion about Faith's sexual orientation, so I'm certain that was not the issue). Perhaps both actresses feared to be seen condoning a lifestyle they considered undesirable - but not so undesirable that it might not be seen as enticing to some?

I was mildly shocked to hear a lesbian friend some years ago describe a particular film (I believe it was Desert Hearts) as "the first film where [the lesbians] don't die". Of course it was a rule in old Hollywood that transgressors must be punished, that even repentant 'sinners' had to die in some act of sacrifice to fully redeem themselves. I am constantly surprised at how universally this applies - sometimes unconsciously, I have no doubt.

Does some hint of it still permeate our thinking? Or is there a fear of being confused with the part? If Faith had been a promiscuous straight woman, or a chaste lesbian, would I still have an actress? Would I have got my original choice for the part? The part is a good one, but something about it is 'wrong', clearly. I'm not criticising either of the people who turned it down, but I would like to understand why.

I have offered it to a further two actresses, so perhaps I'll find out.

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