The other day I was having a conversation with a regular person. A muggle. A real person. You know, not an actor. And he said, “I don’t understand the Harvey Weinstein thing, how is he having, ‘meetings’ with women in his hotel room? Who thinks that’s ok?” So I explained that a lot of business is done during festivals, events, awards, shoots. That’s when you meet people. I can’t audition for a film in a loud, public place like the hotel lobby lounge. You end up going to people’s hotel rooms. And no warning bells go off. Because this is normal. Often these are last minute invites. And you would never bring a friend, or bodyguard to an audition. It would seem you didn’t trust the person who invited you, and you’d seem unprofessional. I know that sounds completely insane to a “normal” person. But it’s true. I hope that is all changing. But there are or were a lot of things in the world of being an unemployed (or even often employed) actress that seemed, “normal” for many years.
Have you seen the original movie, “Fame” from 1980? Do you remember the scene of Coco (played by Irene Cara) having the audition where they ask her to take her shirt off? She resists, they insist, intimidate her, and, on tape, they watch her completely strip down, while crying. She is humiliated, and yet, she still does it, because you don’t say, “no” at an audition. You might think that scene would never happen in real life. But it happened all the time.
In fact, I had a whole series of experiences that I’m guessing would shock people who were never actresses.
- Many times, guys would come up to me on the street, ask if I’m an actress, and give me their card stating they were a producer/director/agent. Those cards go in the trash. NO ONE finds talent that way. But if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t be doing it.
- I had several auditions that I thought the address was taking me to an office, but they were people’s apartments. You don’t know who’s there, you don’t have friends with you, and you just hope there are other actresses there too.
- I had interviews with several agencies that would say, “We love you, we want to represent you…you just need new photos and you need to go to MY guy to take them.” Those are illegal scams. Some took my money. One actually got me jobs and then never paid me (small claims court). One yelled at me when I turned down a nude photo shoot audition.
- I had an audition for something that when I got there, they asked if I had a bathing suit with me (who carries a bathing suit, especially in New York City) and said they needed to see my body, and a bra and undies was fine. I’m sure they were just videotaping women all day changing clothes and in various stages of dress. To be honest, I think I did it. And of course never heard from them again.
- I was freelancing with a famous agent (female) who would hire women to be at parties for corporate events. We didn’t have to kiss or touch anyone, but we were instructed to look sexy and flirt with all the men. I did one or 2 gigs, but flirting with 50 year old men when I was 25 was not my cup-of-tea.
- I somehow made friends with an old press agent. He would take me to dinners and parties and introduce me to show biz folks. I’m sure he thought at some point I’d sleep with him or someone. I wouldn’t even hug them. I just remember having this conversation with him:
Tamar: I really want to be on Saturday Night Live.
PA: They only hire Unknowns.
Tamar: I’m unknown.
PA: You’re not successful enough to be an Unknown.
- I do remember at some point, after years of this crap, having an interview with an agent in a weird place and they said it would cost me money to join them, and instead of being polite, I finally found my voice, stood up, told them they were a scam artist and walked out. I never stayed in an awkward situation ever again. At least professionally.
- I also had a whole afternoon conversation (very luckily in public the whole time) with James Toback. I turned that into a short play, “The Seduction”. He had his whole pitch DOWN! Including carrying his birth certificate in his wallet to prove he was James Toback. He took me to the nearby Applause Bookstore on West 71st St. (no longer there, and this was before cell phones) to show me his listing in, “The Who’s Who of the Film Business”. Talk about being intimidating. The things he said to me would probably make a stripper blush. He suggested we go to a hotel for 48 hours. I did not go. If I had…would I be famous? Probably not. But he sure made a good case for it.
I could go on and on. The number of odd situations that you find yourself in is endless. There are a ton of eccentric people that suddenly decide to make movies. And a ton of scam artists that realize that young women are so desperate to get their big break that they can convince them to do almost anything if they think it’ll lead to a role in a film or tv show. And since there are no real guidelines, no HR department, no union rep for non-union jobs, and no chaperones, these people get away with a ton of sketchy stuff.
If I wanted, I could go into the whole lineup of guys who’ve also sexually harassed me. Manipulated me into extremely uncomfortable situations in every way in countless places. From Grand Central Station to my own apartment. Conversations that start out flattering will suddenly turn to, “I’m not leaving until you…” and then you start negotiating with them. It’s a lose lose situation. I always felt I had to kiss a lot of lots of frogs before finding my prince. Were these punishable offenses? I have no idea. Who would I have reported them to? There was no internet. Could I call the police and say, “this guy grabbed my boob and got on top of me, but I grabbed his hair and threw him across the room so he left.” I don’t think so. Although the time that a bunch of kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk grabbed up my butt so much that it lifted me up off the ground and they kept riding, I did call the police. Just to feel like I’d done SOMETHING.
I wish I was leading to something. An answer. A solution. A promise. But there isn’t one. We just need to talk to each other. Tell someone. When crap like this happens, spread the word. It is NOT an isolated incident. It’s not your fault. It’s not acceptable. Also, take self-defense class. Don’t walk around in an unaware (drunk, looking at your phone, in shoes you can’t run in, on dark back streets late at night) state. If you have auditions or interviews in odd places, bring a friend. At this point, you don’t need an excuse to have someone with you. And if someone asks you to do anything you’re not comfortable with, don’t do it. Period. End of story.