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Will Tattoos Stop You From Getting The Gig?

Illustration by Nick Bertozzi

By Marci Liroff

I love tattoos but I’ve always been too scared to get them. What if a piece of artwork I like today suddenly turns me off in a few years? I’m fickle that way.

It always surprises me when an actor gets permanent ink in visible places. Don’t they worry about getting hired for certain roles? Doesn’t it peg them as a certain “type”? Are you painting yourself into a corner by getting visible tattoos? I decided to talk to my tattooed friends to get their take on it. I was very surprised at their answers. So much has changed in the industry.

Verona Blue is an actor friend of mine and my coaching client. She’s got full sleeves and facial piercings. “I think there are two types of a tattooed actor: those who have a “look” that suits and highlights their tattoos (like me) and actors who happen to have tattoos that are rarely seen on screen, and not part of their type to any significant degree. In my case my tattoos generally help because I am very specific, and typically go out for characters whom, more often than not have the word “tattoo” in their breakdown. My niche is pretty small. There are a many actors who successfully book period and “period fantasy” (such as Game of Thrones) work despite their tattoos because they are easily covered with costumes – however I am not one of those actors (this probably has more to do with my hair than my artwork). (Verona has an amazing blue Mohawk of dreads).

On occasion a makeup artist will make some minor changes to my tattoos to highlight certain colors, but I’ve never had them covered up with makeup.

“I think it’s important for any artist to be true first to themselves, and then to their business second.”- Verona Blue

If you get a tattoo that is an easily exposed place (arms, hands, neck) you should make a note of your artist and get their direct contact information because the production’s legal department will ask you to get a signed release from them to make sure they aren’t sued (after the artist who did Mike Tyson’s face tattoo successfully filed suit against WB for “The Hangover” we are all suffering a new pile of paperwork for each booking).”

“Most of us will spend most of our days as US, not as characters on set, and it’s valuable to have a strong sense of self and be confident with who you are when you’re not acting, or auditioning.” – Verona Blue

Seth Yanklewitz, former vice president of network casting for Fox Broadcasting Company, has many tattoos—full sleeves and legs. As a casting executive, I was curious about his take on tattoos.

“As both a former independent CD and now an executive at the network, I have no issue with an actor having tattoos,” he says. “I would say so many creative types in this day and age have tattoos, so it’s fairly common. However, I’m sure there’s a producer or director who would have an issue, but makeup departments have airbrush techniques that literally make tattoos disappear in seconds. It’s not like the old days where you needed Spackle to hide a tattoo.”

When asked about the prevalence of prejudice against tattoos in the industry, Yanklewitz said, “I don’t think there’s prejudice, per se, about tattoos. If an actor were to have a past with certain affiliations or negative religious affiliations tied to those tattoos and the actor is now reformed, they should want to cover them up and make sure the public doesn’t associate them with that particular ideology.”

On differences for tattooed men versus women, he said, “Sadly, I would say there still is sexism and classism associated with [tattoos] for certain people. But if you can act, that’s what I and all CDs need to see—bottom line. The rest can be fixed in the hair, makeup, or wardrobe trailer.”

Sometimes actors are allowed to keep their tattoos because it fits their character, often times non tattooed actors are hired because they can act and the makeup dept puts tattoos on them, and I would imagine there are actors who hide their tattoos with white ink or in places you can’t see and if they have them visible want them covered because they don’t work for their personal work or the character.

POSTSCRIPT:

After hiring Verona Blue for a film I cast for a film studio with a certain mouse as the brand, they balked at showing her arm tattoos. This is after she had already been approved by the filmmaking team, and the studio casting department. I almost had to replace her on the day until the costumer gave her a long-sleeved shirt to wear.

Make sure to check out my new online course “How To Audition For Film and Television: Audition Bootcamp”. You can view it on your laptop or your mobile device and your subscription gives you lifetime viewing privileges for this course. I’ll be adding lectures throughout the year.

Warning: I grant permission to share my blog as written with no additions or deletions. Posting my blog is in no way an endorsement of another site unless you obtain my written consent.)

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Comments

  1. I think it’s probably still a pain in the butt for make up artists to cover tattoos and keep them covered.
    I’d like to get more tattoos that are visible but I won’t. I feel that I’m an actor and need to be versatile. I’m not trying to play myself on screen.

    • Erica kuno says:

      Go Vanessa, I’m with you. The attitude of “be yourself first” is generally a way to justify what you want to do, and get others to do the same to make you feel better–it’s follishness (my word for folly and foolishness). An actor who wishes to get the most chances to work their craft will make sacrifices for their craft–and choose not to do whatever they feel like today, tonight, or when drunk. The majority of roles will require one of two things on arms: no tattoos, or a specific tattoo(s) for the role. In either case, unless you want to be up for the atmosphere at biker bar scenes, they won’t want your tattoos and you just won’t get the callbacks that your own talents may have offered you. Everyone can choose for themselves what they will do; fortunately in the U.S., we still can do that. But don’t think that someone writing a blog and filling it with people who are tattooed will realistically justify that in the real world.

  2. I went through a period of seriously considering getting a tattoo. I found the perfect one and even sent it to a recommended artist to see if it was doable. All the lights were green for me to get it, but I backed out because I began to see how it would create a possible domino effect. Do I get new head shots that promote this new look? If I did, was I now cornering myself into playing a specific type (one that I wasn’t always fully comfortable with because of my Italian/American heritage.) Would I be asked if I had any tattoos at an audition and have that be a way of weeding out a possible candidate because they may not have the budget to cover up any tattoos? I know a lot of this was possibly me overthinking it, but it was enough for me to say, “It ain’t worth it.” So.. now here I am, completely tattoo free, and will probably remain so. Great article!

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