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FGG Guests: Actress Jenny Gattone on Stepping Out of Type
Posted by Tee in FGG Guests
Jenny and fellow actor, Ben, during a show. Photo by Ron Zambor.

Greetings from LaLa Land,

I’m a working actor right now, which is awesome and amazing - I know how lucky I am and relish the work, and the great cast and people I get to work with.

A couple of weeks ago one of my fellow cast members, Ben (pictured above), booked a film. We all congratulated him and told him we’d miss him. A colleague asked him what role he would be playing. "The asshole friend," Ben replied. "I always play the asshole friend." I pointed at myself and said, "The sassy friend." We high-fived. But it led me to think about yet another interesting thing about this business: typecasting.

Do you ever wonder why a particular actor is doing yet ANOTHER romantic comedy (or action flick or any other formula genre)? It's not because we shoehorn ourselves into a favorite role and refuse to step out of it, it's because that's what we’re almost always offered. Portia De Rossi as the ice queen. Kate Hudson as the cute, quirky girl-next-door. Even the character actor whose name you don’t know, but whom you always see playing the harried mom or sassy secretary. From the A-list to the working stiffs, every one of us has been branded with a "type," and that's what we're expected to play.

And yet typecasting is an equalizer - because no one escapes it. If you want to work as an actor, you have to embrace who this business thinks you are on-screen. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been told how wonderful or beautiful or talented I am, "but ____." Bottom line, they don’t want a fat girl. Every actor I know has their own version of that story.

That’s part of what got me into the writing side. My writing partner and I were tired of the lack of diversity onscreen, and we're not alone: everyone involved in preproduction seems to have the common goal of portraying life as it really is, cast with normal, everyday people, not models. One of the things we want to see happen through this screenwriting project is almost unheard of: a story in which the fat girl gets the guy. As our director, Patrick, pointed out: girls of all shapes and sizes get the guy in real life, but you don’t often see it happen on-screen. So while the fat-girl character in the film we're writing has elements of the sassy friend, the harried mom and other similar characters that I've played, this time we gave her a love story.

It rails against type, but I’m willing to chance it.

And so was my current director. For the show I'm working now, I wasn't cast because they needed a fat girl, which is what usually happens, but solely because the director liked me and thought I was talented. So I have had the privilege of creating a character from scratch on this one - a role that wasn't written for a fat girl, and provided the challenge of being completely unlike other roles I've had. And I'm having a blast. My character, Kitty, jumps into every fight scene, and even gets to make out with a hot Brazilian guy (lucky me!).

It’s a rare gift to be cast on your talent and not your looks in this business, and though putting on the wig, jewelry, heels, makeup, and taping my breasts into my tarty hot pink bra every show takes forever - I have a whole new respect for drag queens - I relish every chance I have to inhabit this layered and human character who is not defined by how she looks. Ben’s not playing the asshole friend this time, either, in fact, a lot of the cast are playing against usual types. And you know what? We’re still a huge hit. As of this weekend, “A Big, Gay, North Hollywood Wedding” at the Crown City Theatre is the #1 show on GoldStar.com, L.A.’s big ticketing web site, and we’re about to extend…again. Just goes to show that stepping out of the types created for us, and that we create for ourselves, doesn't mean risking success.

Fingers crossed that the film I'm writing does as well!

- JENNY