x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Casting the fat guy means first finding a fat guy

Actors lie for a living. Perhaps it is unsurprising they also lie to themselves

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The hardest part about writing a script with a hugely fat character is: you’ve got to go out and find a hugely fat actor to play the part.

You’d think it would be easy. Americans aren’t known for their overall slenderness. Airports all across the country are clogged with double-wide wheelchairs carting around double-wide passengers, and on every street corner there are abundant offerings of fried, supersized snacks. Statistically, it would seem like an easy bet that there would be a large number of extra-large actors to choose from.

The problem is that actors – like everyone else, I suppose – sometimes haven’t accepted the ravages that nature and time, and triple cheeseburgers, have made on them.

Years ago, I was trying to cast a show that featured as a key role a grandmother. That’s always a delicate problem, because when you’re offering a role to an actor, you don’t want to insult them. “We’d like you to play the role of an elderly woman” is a tough thing to ask an actress who may not think of herself as “elderly”, in the same way you have to be careful asking a young, handsome actor to play the “geeky loser”.

We offered the role to a legendary actress, someone who had starred in movies and on Broadway since the late 1950s. In other words, she was old. Really old. But still spry and lively and perfect for the role.

“I really don’t see myself as a grandmother,” was the word she sent back. “I don’t think I’m old enough.”

She was 82.

It’s an occupational hazard, I suppose: actors lie for a living, so it’s only natural that they lie to themselves as well.

So, when it was time to cast my new show, I tried to be careful. When we sent the word out to agents and managers that we were looking for a “large” actor to play a character who “struggles with his weight”, we were pretty sure we were sending the right message about the role.

We got lucky. One actor fitted the bill: he was talented, funny, and enormous. We offered him the role.

“I don’t want to be ‘the fat guy’ anymore,” he told us when we met. “So there’s more to this role, right?”

There isn’t, really, but we needed a guy to play the part, and this actor had yet to agree, so I said: “Of course there is! His weight is really just a starting point! We’re not planning to dwell on it, or anything!”

He looks at me, warily. “I just don’t want to take the role and then find out that it’s all going to be ‘the fat guy eats’ and ‘the fat guy gets stuck in a doorway’.”

I shook my head violently. “No, no,” I said. “Nothing could be further from what we want. We’re just looking for something interesting and specific for the character. What makes him special. Also, I mean, you’re not really all that fat, if you don’t mind my saying.”

Now, to set the scene a bit, you have to imagine a very large man wedged into an expensive leather chair, most of him oozing out and enveloping the armrests. This actor, apparently, didn’t want to be “the fat guy” in the same way that the 82 year-old Broadway actress didn’t want to be “the grandmother”.

But just because he’s fat doesn’t mean he’s stupid. He saw right through me. He knew a thing or two about comedy writers: we’ll lie to anyone to get the joke on film. We’ll sell our souls for a laugh. And there is one bedrock truth to comedy, and that’s this: fat people are funny. We wanted a fat actor because we were going to mine his ample girth for comedy. He was, if he took this role, going to be “the fat guy”. He was going to suffer lots of indignities. And he was, since he just gave me a terrific idea for a funny scene, going to get stuck in a doorway.

He turned us down. So we’re still looking. If you know of any funny, fat actors, please tell them that I’m looking for exactly that. But, of course, don’t fail to mention that we’re planning to really explore all of the other facets of the character. Just be more convincing than I was.

Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rcbl