Sunday, October 30, 2011

LDS actors

What's up with the fact that so few active members of the LDS church are successful actors?

The list of less active or former members is pretty extensive: Amy Adams (star of Enchanted and the new Muppets movie, among others), Aaron Eckhart (an RM, and important roles in quite a few movies including Two Face in the last Batman movie), Katherine Heigl (Grey's Anatomy plus a bunch of mediocre movies), Mireille Enos (star of The Killing, a fantastic AMC TV show), and Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and star of The Dollhouse).

There's not a single active LDS actor who can compare with any of the above actors. And I believe the experience of Kirby Heyborne (The Singles Ward, the R.M., The Best Two Years, Saints and Soldiers) is one reason why.

As a struggling actor, Heyborne takes the jobs he can get. He can't afford to be picky. So when Miller Lite offered him a chance to make some money (so he could support his family) by playing a small role in a beer commercial, Heyborne accepted. The reaction in much of the LDS community? Outrage. Even BYU refused to allow Heyborne, a temple recommend holder who, besides being an actor, is also a musician, the chance to play music at BYU because of the commercial.

Meanwhile, I know Mormons who work for casinos (especially in Las Vegas). I know of Mormons who sell alcohol and tobacco (the owners of a chain of grocery stores in small town Idaho, for example). And, most interesting, just a few miles north of Shelley, where I'm currently living, is a Budweiser plant. Shelley is about 15 minutes south of Idaho Falls, and the Budweiser plant is right in between Idaho Falls and Shelley. And Shelley is 82% LDS (I think the actual numbers are probably even higher). So how does this Budweiser plant operate? Who runs it? Who grows the barley that is processed into beer at the plant? That's right. Mormons. Who cares? No one. Mormons are creating the raw ingredients, processing them into beer, and then selling the beer, and yet no one blinks an eye. And yet Heyborne is attacked pretty ferociously for being in a commercial. Like the farmers and factory workers, he's just trying to make a living and support his family. Unlike them, he gets attacked for it.

Back to the subject at hand: why are so many LDS actors inactive? No doubt some of it has to do with the nature of the film industry. But I think the larger problem is this--we as Mormons are too judgmental, too quick to attack LDS actors for acting in what we view as questionable roles. Maybe if we took a different approach we could hold on to actors with LDS backgrounds.


JorgenMan said...

I agree. Of course, when you get into an acting career, you've got to make some tough decisions about which roles you should accept. But I think many members of the church are too quick to make those decisions for others, and judge them thereby.

Tim said...

I agree that lines have to be drawn. For example, I would absolutely refuse to ice skate with Will Ferrell (Jon Heder, are you listening?) (Actually, I'm kidding. Kind of.) A beer commercial, or acting like I'm drinking beer in a TV show? Not that big of a deal. If people think it's a big deal, they really need to go out and make more non-Mormon friends...

Katrina said...

There may be something to what you're saying. But I think it also has to do with the fact that when you act like (and temporarily become) someone whose standards are not as high as your own, it affects your spirit and offends the Holy Ghost. Do that very often, and it's probably not hard to forget why you're a member of the Church or why it's important. My sister is dating someone who is getting his degree at BYU in acting (among other things). One of his teachers told them to figure out what they were really willing to do in their future acting career because almost all (I can't remember the percentage he quoted) active LDS actors become inactive within 3-4 years. Those are pretty serious odds and I don't think it's just because members are being too judgmental of them.

Cougarg said...

As the son of an actress, albeit a stage actress, the trouble has less to do with what goes on in the public eye than what happens in private. There are a lot of morally compromising things that can and often do take place off-stage. Acting is a highly networked industry, and if you don't go along with it, you can get cut out of the loop. My mom tried out for a play at the Pioneer Theater in SL shortly after graduating from BYU, and the casting committee had already done plenty of judging of her before she even arrived for her audition. Later, in another show she was appalled by the shenanigans taking place in the dressing rooms between people that were supposedly active LDS. When you are in a show, the cast and crew can be your whole life, and we all know how the people we surround ourselves with can have a profound influence in our lives. That more than any other reason is why I think there are so few active LDS screen actors.

Tim said...

Thanks for the input. I've never even had a desire to act, so I'm sure there's quite a bit about the profession I don't know about.

I would like to point out the existence of several Mormons who have been active in the pop and rock industries. It's my impression that those industries and the acting industry have similar standards. Some of the Mormons in the music industry are just one member of a larger, non-LDS band. Why are several active members successfully involved in the music industry, and so few involved in the acting industry?