Christine Lahti, best known for her role as Kate Austin on Chicago Hope, which earned her an Emmy Award and Golden Globe, appeared as a guest on the Wendy Williams Show on Thursday to promote her most recent project. She portrays powerful feminist, Gloria Steinem, on the off-Broadway play about her life and career called Gloria: A Life.
In light of the #MeToo and Times Up movements, Wendy asked Lahti if she ever experienced “the casting couch”.
Lahti, who was 25 at the time, and living in New York, was looking to book a gig for two commercials, despite previously declaring that she would not take on any commercials. She was tired of waitressing and really had to pay her rent.
The casting director, according to Lahti, told her that she may be right for the commercials, but wanted to take a few pictures of her first. He then proceeded to ask her to pull her shirt down off the shoulder. Initially, she felt it was a bizarre request but ultimately decided to honor it. She emphasized that this was all that happened.
Lahti then said that the next day, this same casting director called and asked her to return to his office so they can discuss what had occurred the previous day. When she went back into his office, he informed her that she had booked the commercials.
Lahti thought this was odd because she did not actually audition. Instead, all she did was allow him to take the pictures. He told her that the directors of the commercials “really think you’re the right person for these commercials. All you have to do is sleep with them.”
The “casting couch” is a term that originated in the motion picture industry to describe the sexual activity between casting directors or producers and aspiring actors looking to secure a role. The term has since expanded to include any industry where employers or individuals in positions of power demand sexual favors from employees or subordinates in return for entry into the occupation, or for other career advancements.
“I burst out crying”, said Lahti. “He said to me: ‘because you’re not that pretty, you’re not special, you have no connections in Hollywood or in show business, the only way you’ll ever make it is if you sleep your way to the top.” She informed everybody she knew about the situation.
Nonetheless, she goes on to say that she did not report the casting director to his superiors out of fear. “I thought I wouldn’t be believed. I thought my voice wasn’t strong enough then.”
Lahti then shared that the experience allowed her to become a stronger woman.
“I left crying, and I walked 72 blocks to my apartment in the village, sobbing. But that was the walk where I became a feminist in my bones.”
For what it’s worth, Lahti did eventually Google the casting director. However, she did not obtain any information on his whereabouts. She hopes that he is no longer around to prey on young and aspiring actresses.
Gloria: A Life is playing at the Daryl Roth Theatre until January 27, 2019.
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Featured Image credit: Virginia Sherwood/NBC.