Tales from the Casting Couch: Hollywood's Ugly Open Secret

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"Because the risk to reputation is very high to the casting professional, most of the mischief – and worse – is perpetrated by producers," said Toni Cusumano, a casting director and owner of Toni Cusumano Casting in New York.

"Inexperienced actresses from their late teens to early twenties who audition for roles in low-budget independent movies are the most gullible and the most at risk," said Cusumano.

As a result of this lack of experience, she said, actresses believe it when a producer tells them they'll be going to Sundance, even though a completed movie must first be submitted to that festival for possible acceptance.

"Sundance is not a guarantee, but many producers make strange promises that a seasoned actress would know not to believe," she said.

Cusumano added that young males – "either arrogant or desperate" – have also been known to offer sexual favors to female casting directors in return for a role.

Vinnie Potestivo, a casting director and owner of Vinnie Potestivo Entertainment in New York, said that the business is rife with people who pretend they're producers.

Potestivo, who casts primarily for reality-television programming, said it's not unheard of for males to create faux-producer identities and advertise in reputable publications for entertainment projects that don't exist. The cattle-call is to attract young women, the most attractive of whom are often pursued with an eye toward receiving sexual favors.

Whether actresses succumb to casting-couch come-ons depends on how desperate they are for the part, said casting director Lila Selik, owner of Lila Selik Casting in Los Angeles.

Secrets of the Casting Couch

"Agents will tell their actress-clients if the role requires nudity, said Selik. "But actresses without agents would not have this knowledge and would, therefore, tend to believe the producer when he asks her to disrobe for the role. But performing sexual favors is not part of any role."

Not surprisingly, casting-couch incidents may have ramifications long after the event occurred.

"While there may be a promise that they will get the job, most actors are aware that engaging in the sexual act only keeps them in the running and they may never be called back," said Samuel L. Sharmat, a psychiatrist in New York who works extensively with performing artists.

Sharmat likens the shame that may follow to a woman giving in sexually to a persistent suitor. Some women are scarred by the experience, he said, while others see it as a quick solution to a pesky situation.

"Any psychological damage is completely dependent on the psychological makeup of the woman – how well she is able to navigate these uncomfortable situations and what level of meaning these situations have for her," he said.

Cusumano advises actors and actresses who've been propositioned is to report the incident to the casting director or, if no casting director was involved, to the publication or outlet that published the audition announcement.

Potestivo says it's important to perform due diligence and check out the credits of the so-called producer on a reputable entertainment website, such as imdb.com. "A reputable professional will have business cards to show legitimacy," he said.

"Many actresses are afraid of posting bad experiences online, for fear that sharing the information will backfire," he said. "But she can at least share what happened with fellow actresses."

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