Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

America's straight, white teeth

I don't know how true this is, but I was told that the way Middle Eastern terrorists identify Americans is their teeth.

They're usually straight and white.

I also heard the CIA has trouble recruiting people to go undercover in dicey regions because the agents have to bung up their teeth to fit in with other populations and Americans generally don't want anyone messing up their cool, consummate chops.

My British friend John says that if 2006 American Idol 3rd place finalist Elliott Yamin had earned the same top spot in the UK, his funky teeth would have been fine and he would have still enjoyed a great career because the guy can sing.

But in the US his uneven bite was apparently considered a career drawback because, thanks to the generosity of a dentist willing to do the work for free, his mouth enjoyed a complete makeover.

His show teeth are now straight and white.

This is not a comment on Elliott's lifestyle nor his fan demographics, just the fascination we American have with our teeth.

On one hand, it's a good thing - the better aligned our bite, the more efficiently we can chew - that's good for digestion, and it's good for not getting junk caught between our teeth. Breath tends to be nicer. And it's good for our facial bone structure.

Cosmetically, I'm sure kids would prefer to wear Ugly Betty braces than have even minor lifelong tooth disorientation that might separate them from the "normal" American schoolyard smile.

On the other hand, my hunch is that we spent billions - unnecessarily - on extra special whiteners and whitening processes, orthodontia and other procedures on healthy, well-aligned mouths to make those smiles absolutely *perfect.*

Some actors I've coached have become obsessed with their teeth. Teeth that are actually fine - or may show a little character. But these actors have been told their dental work has to be perfect to get work.


As a director, I love to see people with natural or even "unique" smiles because all those unnaturally perfect smiles can be pretty boring.

Look at many top stars - women and men - their teeth have personality. In fact, some have teeth *far* from perfect.

Patricia Arquette has a fantastic smile - she looks like a *real* woman.

Kirsten Dunst has a wonderful, normal smile. There are many more stars who perform as they were naturally created because it makes them unique and therefore more interesting to watch.

The key is to be true to yourself. If you can only see yourself being "real" with false straight white teeth, braces-fixed teeth or veneers? Kewl.

But please, don't change your look or smile or get plastic surgery because you think Hollywood only hires certain "types."

Those days are so over.

Believe me, many of the most employed film actors today wouldn't be considered for lead roles ten years ago because their looks are more natural. Today's stars, for the most part, go more for being true to themselves, which includes looking like themselves.

On occasion, a nose job is necessary if you've got a schnoz that takes up half your face and you're going for lead roles.

But remember what happened to Jennifer Grey. After her smash hit film Dirty Dancing, she got a nose job to lessen its size and uniqueness. That left her "prettier," but unrecognizable.

The "character" in her face was gone. She looked like a million other pretty women in Hollywood. Her look, so to speak, no longer stood out and her career was essentially left on the operating room floor.

So you can see what important, life and career-altering decisions these can be.

If it's to help your health, your self-esteem, the way you actually see your personality or originality, to reflect the way you *feel* about yourself, be certain to consult a certified, well-experienced doctor.

If an agent or manager or some other person who is "supposed to know" says you *have* to do anything or everything to your physical appearance?

Um, wrong.

A legion of successful actors have not succumbed to being told by "experts" and "consultants" and others who are "supposed to know" that they shouldn't act, can't act, need to reconstruct their faces, bodies, backgrounds, wha-evah.

Think for yourself.

Understand that boob jobs, straight white teeth, blond hair, and all the other physical add-ons and subtractions may make you look like a trophy wife, but it will also make you look like a million other women in Hollywood and therefore never stand out.

Well. That is unless you're Charlize Theron, who's not only infinitely talented but spectacularly trained; and she's like nine feet tall -- with her legs taking up seven of those nine feet!

OK, I exaggerate.

Her legs are only six feet tall. ;-)

There are plenty of other agents and managers out there.

Take it from the very independent Renée Zellweger, who has enjoyed a spectacular relationship with her manager through a career that has taken her where she wants to go, doing the type work she wants to do - independent and commercial films. She's also kept her own personal, natural smile.

Whatever happened to her, anyway? ;-)

It all starts inside. Who are you? How do you see yourself - your authentic self?

And the most important question: do you love that authentic you?

Because as soon as you love you as you genuinely are - so will everyone else in real life and when you're on screen.

Having said all that, I know actors who look very "ordinary" off screen, but because of their talent, energy and skills? They look positively *awesome* onscreen. Gorgeous, even. They radiate from within.

One actor I coached looks positively and naturally *beautiful* in her headshot. But that's totally not what she looks like in real life.

A big complaint from casting directors is that people send a headshot that really doesn't look like them. (Um, OK, I'm updating mine this year ....)

But in this case - because of the energy and light she exudes from within and her relationship with the camera? That is simply and honestly the way she photographs. So I've instructed her to tell everyone for whom she auditions that her headshot is actually the way she photographs - so they will be sure to test her on camera.

And sure enough, there she is. As she is, she *loves* the camera, and the feeling is mutual.

I can't imagine what she would look like on camera if she started "fixing" anything that makes her look unique in real life.

Honestly? The only thing I believe most actors need to fix is their attitude. Toward themselves and the camera. If we're nervous, pockets of facial tension make us look different than we do if we're relaxed. The camera isn't there to judge us, it's there to love us.

If you're afraid the camera will judge you .. perhaps you're so busy judging yourself - harshly - that you haven't given that love a chance to reflect who you really are.

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