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Emma Thompson and Michael Caine criticise social media actors

Earlier this month an article appeared in Vanity Fair in which both Emma Thompson and Michael Caine criticised the growing trend for studios to hire what they called ‘Social Media Actors’. Citing a current favourability in the industry that they believe places the online popularity of performers above their talent, Caine said that he believed that there are a lot of people in the industry today that ‘can’t really act’. But is this really the case? Or are we blaming new platforms for a trend towards big names that has long existed throughout the industry?

Talent vs. Popularity
Even before the days of social media and online programming, the popularity of individual performers and the brand identity they brought was already a determining factor in their success, particularly in film. Look at somebody like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who was reportedly the second highest paid Hollywood actor of 2015. In making the transition from wrestling to film – essentially stage to screen – he was able to sit with the studios and sell in the concept of his already huge global following as a means of enhancing the distribution of projects, i.e. putting bums on seats.

This is of course slightly different as part of the building of that persona required a relentless programme of live acting 200+ nights a year for almost a decade, and an environment in which to hone his skills. But rightly or wrongly the concept remains the same: the popularity of the Entertainer’s work, as well as the talent that attracted people to it, was one of the determining factors in allowing Johnson to make the transition into film and achieve such success.

So looking at popularity over talent is arguably lamentable, but nothing new in the industry and certainly not something exclusive to the social media age. And indeed where recognition meets talent you could argue that the two go hand in hand.

Casting talent
Another interesting point in all of this is where the responsibility truly lies in terms of casting the right talent for the right role. Faye Timby, a Trainee Agent for Winterson’s, questions the narrowness of shutterstock_374459119the criticisms made by Emma Thompson and Michael Caine and highlights the multitude of factors that go into the work of a Casting Director:

“It’s important to put talent first and I hope that professionals in the industry will always place importance on honing their skillset and striving to help a director and a creative team actualise their vision for a project over the potential notoriety that high profile work can bring,” said Faye.

“But for a Casting Director there are so many variables in addition to raw talent at play. Suitability for the role, professionalism, the ability to adapt/be flexible. If it’s a challenging stage show where the artist is required to perform eight times a week (sometimes more) then commitment and consistency come into consideration. You can cast someone you believe to be the most talented artist in the world but the actors I believe will have the greatest success are those that are comfortable working as part of an ensemble and can accept that, regardless of whether or not you’re playing the title role, it’s never a one-man show. This requires artists to be respectful and generous to their fellow perormers and should come hand in hand with showcasing their own capabilities.”

It’s an interesting debate and one that is undoubtedly under the spotlight more than ever before in an online age of ‘always on, always under scrutiny’. For our part, we would always recommend placing talent, dedication and professionalism first and in time – as it does in any industry – notoriety and success will come.