Social class should not be a barrier for actors

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Perhaps the biggest changes came from trailblazers such as Eileen Atkins, a working-class girl from Tottenham with a racketeering upbringing who, through her transplant and talent, was offered roles such as Joan of Arc in An Age of Kings that would have been unthinkable for women of her background even 10 years ago. Had casting directors looked outside of an actor’s socio-economic background, one of Britain’s film icons – Edinburgh sailor Sean Connery as old Etonian James Bond – would have looked very different.

Although the pendulum hasn’t quite swung back – the success of the Etonians and Harrovians in the 2000s has faded slightly – the acting landscape is still significantly more posh than it was in the 1960s. It was a shock when I learned that the brilliant Erin Doherty (Princess Anne in The Crown) is not from a pukka background but just a very good actress. Casting against type seems to be rare these days.

And casting against type is not only a subject that belongs to professionals. This very idea has allowed amateur theater groups to thrive for years as people are drawn to the opportunity to join a club and take on a role that offers a bit of escape, surely one of the main reasons why any everyone is drawn to the theatre. In the 1990s, a friend of mine worked in theater in education and told me that the most rewarding part of her job was when she went to youth theater groups attended by children from different backgrounds. disadvantaged.

Talking to them afterward, she said what they liked the most was playing a role completely outside of their own experience, playing a nobleman or a monarch. Not only did it get them out of their predicament for a short time, it actually helped them grow as they realized that lives different from their own could be lived – a world of possibilities slowly emerged. It was an education in the best sense of the word.

I’m sure McGovern wouldn’t want actors from a background like his losing roles a million miles from where they came from – but if you follow the logic of his statement, that’s exactly what you would get. In a culture obsessed with identity, where the life experience of the author of a novel is considered more important than his actual talent, for example, the talent of a brilliant and cloud the decision of a casting director by the actor’s past. If you establish these rules, you create division and segregation instead of encouraging empathy, and empathy is certainly one of the great merits of art.

In the meantime, one of the highlights of this weekend’s Platinum Jubilee festivities is Helen Mirren’s performance as Elizabeth I. Mirren is the daughter of a taxi driver from Leigh on Sea.


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