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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
British musician Mark Ronson arrives for the UK premiere of the film 'Mortdecai'
music
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us