When (and How) to Turn Down Acting Roles or Photo Shoots

Ultimately, if you’re prepared and professional, booking work really becomes a numbers game. You and/or your agent submits your photos and resume, you go on auditions, maybe do a few callbacks, and sooner or later you’ll be in business.

But… what happens when you are asked to do a commercial for a product or company you don’t believe in? Or are asked to do something you’re not comfortable with doing? Every actor and model has been confronted with this situation, and everyone has their reasons for wanting to turn down an acting role or a photo shoot.
Maybe the company makes something that’s unhealthy or against your personal beliefs or capacities (are you allergic to dogs? certain foods?).

Maybe you’re selected for a role in an indie film that requires nudity or simulated sex. (This one is pretty common with celebrities.)

Maybe the client wants total exclusivity for a particular industry for a set amount of time.* (Total exclusivity means you can’t shoot with other clients for a given industry. It’s common in financial and pharmaceutical industries).

Maybe, after reading the script and meeting the director– something just feels “off.”

All of the above scenarios have happened to me- in some cases I’ve talked to the directors or photographers and we worked around the issues. Others… I just had to pass on the jobs. Many famous celebrities have hard boundaries on their acting choices (example… a Hollywood writer friend told me that Kate Winslett will never take a role that requires her to use a gun). Everyone has things they don’t want to be associated with.

It’s not an easy situation- especially if your agency wants you to do the project and the casting folks really see you in the role. Or-and I hate to admit this- if the rate is REALLY good… But that said, knowing your boundaries– not the ones you can push, the ones that are truly non-negotiable– is critical in this business. In the end, if you take a job you don’t want to do, your performance is going to suffer, you’ll likely not be too happy, and in turn, the producers will not be thrilled with the end product.

The best way to avoid having to turn down work is to get as much information about the project before the audition. This can be tough sometimes– many times companies don’t disclose themselves or the details of a project until after auditions have taken place (this is especially true in Japan- privacy and lack of transparency are business norms here across the board.).

Questions to ask (if the information isn’t given):

1) What company is it for? Can you send me a link to their website?

2) What product is it for? (Many larger companies have loads of different brands and product lines).

3) Will I be shooting with other talent? Children? Animals?

4) Is there anything else I should know about this shoot?

Having a clear picture of what the project is to be lets you make an informed decision. In most cases (particularly with indie films or any dramatic work) the casting director will be upfront on any kind of potential deal breakers (like nudity or a sex scene). I’ve done some nudity, and pretty cozy work with male models and actors, but have never been casting in anything too hot and heavy. For me personally, couple-y kissing isn’t a big ask on a shoot, and artful nudity is just fine… beyond that however… I’d need to know a lot more about the project and the players before I gave a resounding yes. BUT… that’s just me.

So let’s say you’ve asked all of the questions and made an informed choice to accept a role, but then you get thrown a curveball? Whattya do?

  • If you have an agent, you let her handle it. (This is what they do!)
  • If you’re unrepresented, you need to politely and carefully talk about the deal-breaker with the director. In most cases, issues can be worked around. Never do something you really don’t feel ok with doing. It’s more than okay to stand firm on your conditions. Remember: it’s your image going out into the world– you need to protect it in any way you see fit.

So, while you’re getting your shots together and basic training underway, think about the kinds of work you really want to do, and what kind of boundaries you might have. Figuring it out early saves you and your agent a lot of time down the road and shows you’re a thoughtful performer.

Break a leg!




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