Ethnicity & Acting: My Personal Story & Insights

oncrystalstill.12293203_large I have been acting since I was around 8 years old. I started in community theater productions, acted throughout high school and college, and transitioned into film at the age of 21 while still a student at Saint Anselm College. I am of Italian and Irish descent. There might be other things mixed in there too, we think maybe some Greek. Maybe. When looking at me, you mostly see the Southern Italian/Sicilian and never would guess a drop of Irish blood would be present. However, people rarely guess correctly when trying to decipher my ethnicity. What I find most interesting in mainstream media, is the uproar over someone playing a different ethnicity from their own. Granted, there have been many instances where playing someone of a different race is completely awful and racist; what I am talking about is something more subtle. I’m talking about the fact that someone like Al Pacino, a fellow Italian/Sicilian, can play a Cuban immigrant in Scarface; or the fact that when Jennifer Lopez (of Puerto Rican descent) was cast as Tejano superstar Selena in the now famous bio-pic of the same name, the Mexican and Mexican-American communities were outraged. I also find it funny that I am rarely brought in or cast as Caucasian. I am Caucasian. I’m of Italian and Irish heritage who has played more Hispanic and Latina roles than I can count. In the film, On Crystal, I play a Puerto Rican girl who is mildly mentally challenged. And today, I just got called in for another audition to play someone of Hispanic heritage. In a weird twist of fate, that character’s name also happens to be Crystal. Weird.  In my day job in retail, I have had customers blatantly question my ethnicity to my face. I’ve had people think I was Iranian, Egyptian, and even bi-racial.  I’ve gotten called names because of the way I look. And I’m not even the ethnicity that they assume I am. Maybe I should be flattered in some sense.  Maybe it harkens back to when I was in the fourth grade and someone asked if my dad was African American because I was so tan. When I see a breakdown now, and it says “All-American” or “Caucasian,” the sad thing is, I rarely submit for those roles, or go in for the EPAs. And if I do, sometimes I am the tannest Caucasian. BUT, if I go in for a more ethnic role, I fit right in. Awkward. Weird. Again, this is just my personal experience, everyone’s is different. And that’s okay. We as people can’t help the way we look. As Lady Gaga would say, “Baby, you were born this way.”

Two By Two: The Revenge of Julia and JLo

Back in the day, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lopez actually acted. Like legit, acted. And, back in the day, they both made the same crappy movie–a decade apart. Well, not the same movie. But 2002’s Enough was definitely a rip-off of 1991’s Sleeping with the Enemy. All they did was add a kid to the mix. Thanks, Hollywood. Are there NO ORIGINAL IDEAS ANYMORE? What gives?

Okay, here’s the run-down. Julia Roberts stars in Sleeping with the Enemy fresh off of her successes in Pretty Woman and Steel Magnolias for which is received Oscar nominations for both films respectively. According to the summary, “A young woman fakes her own death in an attempt to escape her nightmarish marriage, but discovers it is impossible to elude her controlling husband.”–via IMDB.

Jennifer Lopez, on the other hand, is the driving force behind Enough; coming off of such hits as Tarsem’s The Cell, Oliver Stone’s U Turn & c0-starring with George Clooney in Out of Sight. According to its summary, “On the run from an abusive husband, a young mother begins to train herself to fight back.”–via IMDB.

Hmmm…something’s fishy. I really want to know who green-lit Enough because it’s essentially the same damn movie. And I paid to see it in the theater. I was 18 and going through a “JLo is a good actress” phase. She’s still a good actress, but she let the fame get to her head. Anyways… Is a decade too long to ask for your money back? Here’s the sitch: Wife is abused by her husband. Wife escapes husband. Husband searches for wife. Husband finds wife. Wife fights back. Wife kills husband. The end. In BOTH movies.

Need proof? Here are the trailers:

The voice-overs for the trailers are nearly identical. I rest my case.

The most prominent differences between Enough and Sleeping with the Enemy are the fact that one has a kid, one doesn’t; Enough has a fight coach, SwtE has a love interest. But BOTH are being pursued by their vicious husbands and take revenge. Grrr. GIRL POWER!

I gotta give the creepy husbands some credit though. It takes a strong actor to play the stereotypical abusive husband and do it differently. Although, Patrick Bergin (SwtE) and Billy Campbell (Enough) both play characters who are excessively wealthy. The difference comes in the snake-oil salesman approach with which Patrick Bergin plays Martin. It’s truly an over-the-top performance. That doesn’t help Julia Roberts performance, which is actually quite good in this movie. Again, Billy Campbell has the suave businessman approach to his character as well, but JLo just seems to be recycling what every other actress who plays an abused wife does–until the end. Then she kicks some serious ass. Too bad the exciting part is only at the end with Enough.

I also think that the writer was trying to play the sympathy card with JLo’s plight because she had a kid. You add a kid to mix and suddenly, it’s the ultimate revenge movie. I noticed this with Ashley Judd’s performance in Double Jeopardy as well.  If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, then I don’t even want to imagine what that’s like when a child is involved. Apparently it includes massive amounts of strength training and target practice. Julia Roberts, I’m sorry to say, missed out on target practice. Probably because her storyline lacked the “I’m a mother protecting my offspring” element.

If you want to see Julia Roberts rebuild her life after faking her death, or JLo kicking some serious ass, watch these movies. For the time being, Sleeping with the Enemy is available to stream on Netflix. Just for the hell of it, put Enough in your queue and when you get it, just fast forward to the last scene.

Oh, and as a side note, WHY does every movie that has someone “building a new life” include the painting of room? My guess is art therapy for the actors so they can handle  the stress of being in a bad movie.