Fat people in films...

You know in movies there is often a bit where a fat or ugly person is used and is made fun of in the film. Now I just want to know how they cast these people. Do they send out a call saying “Really fat ugly people required”? I just don’t know why these people would agree to it!


Yes. Though usually it’s slightly more politely worded.

Because it’s an easy job that pays good money.

Believe it or not, fat people know we’re fat. It isn’t polite to talk about in the real world, but when you’re a professional character actor (an actor who specializes in usually over-the-top or stereotyped performances, be it “wacky neighbor”, “stern police chief” or “fat and ugly woman”) you include that infomation on your resume, and you agent looks out for casting calls that would fit your talent, just like any other part for any other actor.

And yeah, they’re pretty blunt in their notices. There’s lots of money per hour put into casting, and no need to spare the feelings of anyone involved. If you’re too fat or too thin or too tall or too pretty or too ugly, they’ll just say “thank you very much,” or “NEXT!” and that’s that. If you have a good agent, she might be able to find out more specifics about why you weren’t picked, but most of the time it’s a mystery.

Acting is not a job to go into if you have thin skin and ego problems, no matter what your size or looks. People agree to it because they want work. It’s not only thin and pretty people who want to act.

I think of this when I see the Little Britain bit that takes place in the Weight Watchers-like meeting and the fat people are horribly abused. I think it comes down to two things: Fame and money. Fat and/or ugly people are needed in films. A lot of people may decide to turn a disadvantage into an advantage. They know that a casting agent is looking for their ‘type’, so they sign up. And many of them are good actors to boot. It can be very difficult to break into show business. Using one’s physical type is a good way to get ahead of the others.

My g/f said something along the lines of, ‘Movies are the only socially acceptable business where they pay people to get naked.’ I had a friend who went to school with Daphne Zuniga. They were both in the same film (I don’t remember which one) as extras. Daphne Zuniga agreed to go naked and went on to have a bit of a career. My friend didn’t and didn’t. Lots of actresses got their breaks after appearing nude. Lots didn’t. But being willing to do something someone else won’t gives them an edge.

A fat or ugly actor may not like being made fun of; but if it leads to more roles, then it worked.

I’m always surprised by how many of these ugly people aren’t really that ugly in the real world. Acting and makeup and such.

Not necessarily “fat,” but performers such as Margaret Hamilton, Marie Dressler, Rondo Hatton, Billy Barty, Mack Swain, Nancy Walker, Alice Pearce, Ben Turpin, made a living out of being visual punchlines. I’ve never understood how they managed to deal with that emotionally; Margaret Hamilton was a very happy, well-balanced woman who came to terms with being a “wicked witch,” and Billy Barty became a fund-raiser for “little people” issues (I hate the term “little people,” but that’s the one he chose).

And glasses. Don’t forget the glasses.

What??? and leave show business???

This works both ways. Many of the people we see on the big screen as “gorgeous” would be merely acceptable without make up artists, lighting, etc. I worked in LA area hospitals for over 20 years and saw many major stars without
makeup, etc., and most were, at best, less than beautiful au natural.
The fat (short, bald, whatever else society has decided to deride this week) who seek film roles probably have a great deal of self confidence. (I’m thinking of Danny de Vito here.) The self acclaimed ‘beautiful’ would, I think, have much more trouble dealing with distainers that those who have probably dealt with ‘size’ type biases from childhood.


Great post! I have always wondered about this myself- what obese person would want to embarrass themselves by being in a film where they are made fun of? Do they really see it as a stepping stone to stardom? On one hand you have someone as mentioned above to play ugly who is really not ugly (such as Lili Taylor as the “dog” in “Dogfight”), so that I understand, but I can’t understand why as an example the girl who played Martha Dumptruck in Heathers would play a role where her only existence onscreen is to be ridiculed and embarassed. I can’t imagine a person like this, whose self-esteem is probably low enough, would agree to be made fun of on such a large (no pun) scale?

I saw some Little Britain documentaries, and in their case it seems like the actors are having a good time. In comedy, usually the fat jokes are so absurd - and in this show’s case, the main actor (Matt Lucas) is also a fat dude who makes fun of himself equally or more.

Kathy Kinney, who plays Mimi on The Drew Carey Show also has a good sense of humor about her size, and plays opposite a main actor who is large and demeaning to himself.

Not all fat people have low self esteem. You can either roll with it and embrace it, or feel bad about it. The folks who are willing to get paid to act onscreen playing “the fat person” are cool enough to embrace their size AND get paid.

Now admittedly, when you leave American culture, the rules change. But Dawn French, in the Britcom The Vicar of Dibley, got to play a big chyk with dignity, position, and yes, sexuality (all in the dialogue, of course).

There was some interesting press about this after the movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” came out. Darlene Cates, the actress who played Bonnie Grape, did some interviews. She was not a professional actress, though, when she took the role.

One of the points she has made is that as painful as it was to act out, it was appealing to know that so many people would be confronted with what overweight people often have to go through. Perhaps that’s a motivating factor for people who take other roles where their unattractive appearance is part of the story line. Maybe they find some dignity in that.

Some may also have a “Crying all the way to the bank” attitude. As in, make all the fun you want, I’m getting a nice paycheck for this.

Yes, movie-makers and casting people ask for what’s needed, sometimes with a bit of tact but often not, and yes, there are character actors who are happy to respond to such ads/calls. In Los Angeles you can put out a casting call for just about any ‘type’ and know there are several hundred actors, at least, who would slaughter their own kin for a chance at the role. The hunger for work is more intense than anyone who hasn’t witnessed it first hand can ever know.

Here in the UK I have a friend who is a professional actor. Some years ago, when he was fairly well-established and getting regular work (albeit nothing that led to fame and fortune), he was moderately fat and overweight. He talked to me frankly about a difficult decision he was facing. He told me there was always work for fat guys, and one option was to bulk up even more and get a steady supply of work, albeit all along the same lines (“Fat Man In Restuarant” etc.). Alternatively, he could slim down, get into shape, and maybe work would be less dependable, but at least there would be variety and he’d have a chance a more ‘conventionally handsome’ leading man roles. He chose the latter option and slimmed himself down. It all worked out as expected. Work isn’t so easy to get or regular as before, but the work he does get is more varied and rewarding, and offers more potential for stardom.

I think a lot of actors and extras are just happy to get paid work. Aren’t most actors out of work at any one time?

There were quite a few ‘striking’ actors (features, not refusing to work!) in ‘The Name of the Rose’.

Sadly most of the actors have no pictures…

The unemployment rate in both the Screen Actors’ Guild (movies and tv) and Actors Equity (stage) is over 80%. Cite 1. Cite 2.

Here is a great article about the actress who played the title role in a play called “Fat Pig.” This will give you a lot of insight. If you found that question worth asking, this article is worth reading.

A friend of mine who is a struggling actor is LA (whereas I a mstruggling writer) is that there are two extremes. They are either looking for really skinny people or very large people. There’s really no inbetween.

Occasionally it is. Ricki Lake got her start in a “fat girl” role.

And not all working actors are shooting for stardom. Many people make a very decent living playing character roles.

I could be wrong about this , so correct me if I am. Apparently in New Zealand and Australia the casting agents are not allowed to discriminate based on age,race,sex etc. So if they want a Chinese fat woman they can only advertise “We need an actor to play a role in a TV commercial”. They may get hundreds os applicants before finding the Chinese fat woman.