My Story - Olivia Williams

I HAVE recently experienced my first stint as an actress in LA trying to get a job. It was a challenge I had sworn never to undertake. Being an unemployed actor at home in London is bad enough. Being unemployed in LA, where even the receptionist at the Yoga Centre is your rival, is an exercise in confidence bashing I could live without. Nevertheless, the summer began well. Taken out to lunch by my agents, it was tempting to believe in the myth they created around me. "Very exciting time, there's a buzz about you... we need to raise your profile."

"Profile raising" involved interviewing several publicists who, for considerable sums of money, were prepared to get me invited to the right premieres, featured in trade mags and seen in the best restaurants. I plumped for the cheaper and less glamourous course of waiting for the right script.

As the weeks turned to months, the pile of good scripts featuring strong women whittled away. I resolved to take matters into my own hands. I dropped in on my Agents to root around in their pile of "Independent Projects". The result of two day's reading is as follows:

There's the blonde bimbo in rhinestone jeans who beats her husband to death with a shovel and elopes to Las Vegas with her lesbian lover. There's the peroxide blonde, kidnapped by two knuckleheads, who discovers she wanted to escape from her drunken husband anyway and elopes with them. There's the dizzy red head who sings karaoke and leaves her boring boyfriend to elope with this crazy guy and they go to Las Vegas. And then, of course, the skinny blonde shoe fetishist who elopes from drug rehab with two crazy guys and goes to, erm, Las Vegas.

All specify thinness, hair colour and a sex scene. Women's hair seems to be inextricably linked to their behaviour in the plot, whereas men are free to express their genetic inheritance without mention in the script. I meet for all of the above over the next week. My hair is brown. I don't even get recalled.

As an actress I want to transform myself: to become powerful, weak , American, Russian, dizzy, offensive, desirable, whatever the role requires. Keeping your body ready for work is as important as learning your lines. However, if you want to survive in Hollywood, you must develop a perception of your body that's separate from your perception of yourself. Thus, when someone says you could stand to lose a few pounds (and unless you have an eating disorder, they probably will), your self-esteem doesn't get flushed away with your regurgitated Snicker Bar.

Unlike some women who have felt compelled to write, direct and produce good work for themselves, I have kept my head well below the parapet. Yet my fate has been undeservedly happy. My first Hollywood role was a pregnant widow, the second a teacher who has to balance the affections of a 15-year-old and a 50-year-old. The movies were written and directed by men. The dilemmas of both characters were challenging to play and given generous screen time in the final cut. I have no grounds for complaint.

Women have penetrated all aspects of film-making, yet the job of actress (in which a woman cannot be substituted by a man) still suffers from tokenism. The actress' low representation on set is caused by factors more nebulous than a deficiency in skills or professionalism. Why is the actress not the protagonist? Not because she's a lesser actor. Ophelia still can't say that when she gets promoted she'll play Hamlet.

I pondered these injustices one Friday in the August heat and decided to head home, contemplating an ignominious return to London and an alternative career. By Tuesday I was brushing up my Philadelphia Accent and being fitted for costume. Every time I reach a truth universally acknowledged about acting, it is instantly shot down, proved wrong, exploded. I have a role in a script in which women are well represented, backed by one of the great female producers. They do exist. It does happen. It has happened to me three times, and for that I am grateful. Hollywood actresses operate under limitations, but within those limitations I have been lucky enough to roam freely.

Olivia Williams' film credits include `Rushmore' and `The Postman'. She starts filming `The Sixth Sense' this month

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Commercial Litigation

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Day In a Page

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride