Are Tattoos A Casting Issue?

I must be frank. I have absolutely no idea why anyone would want to deface his or her skin with ugly, permanent ink in the name of “body art”. And as for self mutilation in the form of piercing – words fail me.

Apart from aesthetic considerations about what looks nice and what doesn’t, I understand that both tattooing and piercing (lips? nipples? – I can hardly bear to type the words in this context) are very painful to have done. My pain avoidance policy has always been a resolute no to any bodily procedure likely to hurt unless it’s an inarguable medical necessity.

Nonetheless I do my best to respect the right of others to do as they wish to their own bodies and try hard not to let my repugnance show when I see someone on the tube with so many tattoos that I can barely discern what colour his or her bruised-looking, disfigured skin was in the first place.

Millions, of course, think otherwise. Tattoos have never been more popular or more mainstream and there’s a tattoo parlour in every block of shops. They’re nearly as ubiquitous as hairdressers. And this is, I gather, making problems for some areas of the performing arts industries.

I read recently that some film companies are finding it difficult to recruit extras for period dramas because so many people now have tattoos in places that clearly shout 2013 rather than, say, 1800. I suppose it’s possible to cover them with make-up but it would need to be very heavy and thick and pretty skilled, I would have thought, to get right. Some tattoos are very dark and intensive. Make up artists on film sets do not have time, surely, to do that sort of intensive work on extras because it would cost the company unnecessary money?

And what about actors themselves, some of whom pay the bills by working as extras between jobs anyway? Is it really a good idea if you’re setting out on a career as an actor on stage or screen, or trying to, to mark yourself out with anything as distinctive as tattoos anywhere on your body? I can’t believe that it wouldn’t, in some situations, affect your castability at any level in the industry.

On the other hand the internet is full of ads from extras agencies looking for people with tattoos for different sorts of films: usually fantasy. But surely it would be better to sport a temporary “pretend” tattoo for a specific job rather than to have permanent ones which limit the range of what you might do?

I therefore hope that drama schools, given the current relaxed attitude to tattoos generally, see this as a training issue and discuss it with students who may be thinking of making style statements with skin ink. But do they? Do please share your comments and experiences.

Written by Susan Elkin

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