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‘We warn each other’: how casting-couch culture endures in Hollywood | Film

It seems every female actor of a certain status has perched uncomfortably on the casting couch at one time or another. Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Alison Brie, Susan Sarandon and Emmy Rossum have all recalled creepy come-ons from powerful men that took place early in their careers. In an interview in March, Jane Fonda revealed that she had once been fired “because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss”; Zoe Kazan recently described sexual harassment from a producer: “He’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a joke, ha ha.’ But he was also paying my cheque and then watching me from the monitor as I made out with another actor.” Thandie Newton has a particularly horrifying story about how she was persuaded, while still a teenager, to allow a director to film up her skirt during a “weird” audition and then discovered, decades later, that he was still passing the footage around at parties.

Helen Mirren … has recalled creepy come-ons. Photograph: Corbis via Getty Images

But this is all in the past, right? This is the stuff of depressing tangents or throwaway lines in the memoirs of Old Hollywood’s starlets. The entertainment industry of Emma Watson’s UN speeches, Ava DuVernay’s Oscars success and Wonder Woman has surely put these tawdry terrors behind it? On the surface, the situation does seem to have improved. In 2015, following a period of what Equity describes as “heightened concern”, the actors’ union established a working party. This resulted in last month’s Manifesto for Casting, a set of good practice guidelines that recommends, among other things, that “no sex act should be requested at any audition” and “a performer should not be requested to undress in whole or in part unless a mutually agreed observer is present”.

The manifesto has been welcomed by the Casting Directors’ Guild and the Personal Managers’ Association, but there is some lingering scepticism from actors. “The unions have these standards…

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