The phone rang. It was the TV commercial producer, and he wanted to know if I’d shoot the spot topless. I’d just been cast a couple hours before, but he’d “forgotten” to ask me before I left if I would film the commercial with only a bow tie and bikini bottoms.
He said he had lots of requests over the years from customers who buy his industrial tools (the products in his commercial) to do a second version with the model topless. When he did, his orders increased. But when I said no, he began to bully me and say I must be prudish and old fashioned. Then he said if I wasn’t willing to shoot the spot topless, then he didn’t want me at all. He added a few other sleazy comments. I chose the high road and told him to find someone else, and I’m sure he did.
Hollywood is full of people who are desperate for stardom. Ultimately, I knew God had protected me from what could have been an even more difficult situation if he had confronted me on the set and pressured me, which often happens to unsuspecting talent.
I have worked in Hollywood for over 25 years as an actor and producer so when the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal erupted recently I wasn’t surprised. Unfortunately, the “casting couch” still exists today and is sometimes used by those who are in powerful studio and production positions. They prey on the vulnerable who are young and beautiful and use their positions of influence to manipulate the desperate who want to become famous.
I also speak and teach on faith, media, and culture and it’s a regular occurrence for me to be asked how to navigate the pitfalls and challenges of Hollywood — and the sex and nudity question always comes up. How should aspiring actors and other entertainment professionals confront the sexual harassment and nudity issues as a Christian working in Hollywood?
Here are 3 things I always say:
Take One – Don’t come to Hollywood unless you’re ready.
I’m not just talking about studying and working on your talent. I’m talking about being firm in your faith and what you believe. The Bible challenges us to “defend our faith.” In the Old Testament Daniel was chosen to be the king of Babylon’s showcase star. He was told to conform to the culture and to eat and drink food which was against his values. So he made a stand. Did God protect him and save him? You bet, and then elevated him to a higher position. Daniel was prepared because he put God first.
Take Two – Don’t come to Los Angeles or New York if you aren’t able to handle money – or the lack of it.
It’s expensive to live in LA and NYC. Rent, food, and transportation costs continue to skyrocket. It’s when your rent is due, your car is in the shop, and you’re eating Top Ramen for every meal that suddenly the request to undress for a scene starts to not look so bad. And it’s not just about women — pornography and solicitation are nearly as prevalent for men as it is for women. When the need to survive is staring back at you, the lure of big bucks and stardom is easy to understand and that’s when actors begin to succumb to the pressure.
Hollywood moguls like Harvey Weinstein have used their power since the beginning of the industry – but the truth is, it happens everywhere. The competitive world of Hollywood just has an overabundance of desperately seeking individuals looking to be famous. So don’t come into this business unless you can survive on the roller coaster of financial ups and downs.
Take Three – Don’t come to Hollywood unless you have a support system.
You have to have a trusted advisor in your corner that you can depend on to give you sound advice (even when it’s not what you want to hear). The pressure is too great. A Hollywood career is similar to a drug habit. Each time you work on a project it elevates you and brings attention, money, and momentary happiness. It also brings with it a gnawing to go further, bigger and to do more.
But if that next gig doesn’t come the way you want it, or as fast you want, your self-esteem can collapse. To fight this giant you have to have someone to stand with you and bring clarity. It’s why I’m on the Hollywood Prayer Network’s board of directors that works toward the goal of attaching an industry professional with someone who will pray for them and stand with them.
Will the problem of sexual harassment and abuse ever go away in Hollywood? Probably not. But if you’re wise, surrounded with support, and grounded in prayer and God’s Word you can not only survive, but thrive. When I wrote my devotional book “Hope 4 Today: Staying Connected to God in a Distracted Culture,” I discovered that research studies confirm that if you read the Bible at least four times a week, your behavior actually changes. And in situations like a challenging career, you’ll have a better chance to fight off the arrows of a morally fallen world.
The bottom line? Your chances of success in Hollywood (and anywhere else) actually increase when you regularly engage in God’s word.
What scripture verse will you stand on when the pressure is on and the escape path is blocked? Know it and then know the name that gets you in the door every time – heavens door, Jesus Christ.
Kathleen Cooke’s new devotional “Hope 4 Today” encourages readers to engage with God. As co-founder of Cooke Pictures and The Influence Lab, she publishes a monthly newsletter. Find out more at kathleencooke.com, or reach her on Twitter @KathleenRCooke
This commentary published by permission of Phil and Kathleen Cooke.