The fear of saying no to a producer, director, or other decision-maker authenticity is risky. You have worked hard to get this far; you do not want to mess things up with one bad, impulsive decision. Still, you do not get the results you wish you would. How does that work? Why?
As an actor, I strongly advise you to be crystal clear about your own personality and character first before impersonating others. Being competitive is fundamental, but being people-pleasing, for example, is contra-productive.
You probably also have met a lot of yes-mans, people who say yes to everything. They launch a message of desperation and selflessness, so much so that they eventually come across as boring!
People have huge Egos (the False Self) enjoying praise and flattering but what they don’t like is fakeness. And they smell it.
If you do not raise your boundaries and say yes to everything all the time, you shouldn’t wonder why people start to get distant from you rather than being close to you. By learning to say no, you’ll show Karisma, character, and strong personality, the essential traits to succeed in any competitive business.
Of course, there are situations when you have to take a lot of things into account. Financial circumstances, the illusion of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, can derail you from your path and guide you in the wrong direction.
One of the most important skills, especially for an actor today, is setting strong, healthy boundaries. I can not tell you how many times I have failed to do so in the past two decades. I was reluctant to see myself and my flaws. I avoided any self-criticism, which eventually created tons of psychological damage for myself and provided a bad example to too many. Saying no to people I despised, started for me at only around 30. Before that, my self-esteem was so low that I believed I deserved to be treated a certain way.
It was 2011 when I flew to Santiago de Chile to shoot a leading role in a movie called Aftershock, produced by Eli Roth and directed by a Chilean director I do not wish to name. The least I can say was improper behavior about the creative team’s attitude towards us, young and attractive actresses. I remember the shock after (aftershock) I heard the director telling this on day 2 of rehearsal:
“Who cares about acting? I just want to see your nipples through the T-shirt.”
With that sentence alone, I handed over the power to the director over me, allowing him to destroy all my dreams and efforts that kept me going since I wanted to become an actress. I did not reply; I was mute, did not utter a thing. On day 2 of rehearsals, I got the wind knocked out of my sails for good. From that moment on, I couldn’t enjoy being on set anymore, and I was deeply disgusted by the very people I was supposed to admire and whose instructions I was supposed to obey. I avoided these people as much as possible on 12 hours working schedule.
Being on the other side of the Earth, alone, with an unsolvable contract I had signed, I had to put up a survival plan for the following seven weeks, which wasn’t easy. I hit rock bottom so hard that I could not see any way out of this.
Apart from the tranquilizers I was given to overcome the panic attacks disguised as food poisoning, I also had my best friend visiting me for two weeks during the shoot. Somehow I survived, but I was broken inside.
Having recently and accidentally come across the industry news about this director being sentenced to 5 years in prison for sexual abuse has deeply upset me. All the bad memories from 10 years ago started to emerge and revive in my mind in the form of flashbacks. I thought I’d feel satisfaction, but I felt rage and sadness instead. I imagined how many actresses after me have suffered and endured the misbehavior of this one single person since I left Chile in 2011. Eight actresses, including an under-age, came forward, but the evidence was found in only two cases.
I wonder if I could have done anything differently. Suppose these other actresses or I could have had a better experience if I had stood up for myself and set proper boundaries when I had the chance.
There is no code of conduct, nor any form of education for productions, film professionals, actors, or artists on how to behave or dismount these or worse approaches and improper behaviors on and off a film set.
If this article resonates with you, I defy and encourage you to overcome any fear you may have in your body and speak out the truth when you encounter improper behavior. Setting healthy boundaries not only on a film set doesn’t only save you but others as well.
Abuse has many forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual. It can be verbal; it can be emotional.
Good bless the abused. You have the strength, and you are not alone.
ps. Contact me if you are an actor who suffered a similar situation and needs emotional support.