Beautiful, hilarious, typecast, low-balled ... but not necessarily harassed: ‘That Gal’ is a pre-#MeToo take on Hollywood

Want to be an actress? There are dozens of arguments against it in the 2015 documentary “That Gal … Who Was in That Thing: That Guy 2,” one of those niche productions enabled or enhanced by the explosion of filmmaking of the 2010s.

Within a couple years, far more disturbing comments about Hollywood would erupt in the #MeToo movement, which makes the commentary on “That Gal” (including declarations of showing off physical features to land roles) sound almost embarrassingly innocent.

It’s no feature film. “That Gal” in earlier times might have been a CNN special or a collection of interviews on “The View.” In the modern media age, it’s an ideal streaming candidate (it has been available on Amazon Prime) for the bevy of services linked to a Roku or similar device.

Based on the title and personnel, it seems the goal of “That Gal” is to identify actresses whose faces are remotely familiar but whose names are not. They’ve compiled decades of credits largely on television but also in film roles, but few have ever heard of them.

Don’t confuse their lack of notoriety with lack of accomplishment. The women in “That Gal” are prodigious overachievers. “That Gal” is significant in that this is a very high level of professional opining candidly about her business. It is equivalent to baseball players — the bench players, middle relievers or occasional starters — frankly explaining what happens in the big leagues.

How did all of these women get here? Several speak of extensive educational training, but others don’t. It seems the common denominator is a certain, God-given charm paired with the willingness to do this. Catherine Hicks summarizes it this way: “We’re just attention whores. We are! … We are troubadours.”

The format of “That Gal,” a spree of soundbites from eight actresses and an agent expertly put together by director/producer Ian Roumain, gradually makes clear how talented these women are. They are (pick the order of your choice) attractive, funny, charming. At first they may seem interchangeable, then you realize the way they say things, and the way they look while saying things, these are remarkable performers.

Despite the women’s very desirable status as Hollywood regulars, most of the commentary is negative. The biggest complaint is that the job is much better for men. Men run nearly all of the productions, get better pay, are given far more latitude for physical appearance, are given the “brain” roles while women get the “heart” roles, have more roles and less competition (based on statistics shown by Roumain), don’t have to worry about pregnancy, get away with sexist or inappropriate behavior and professionally are much less affected by aging.

Agent Donna Massetti concedes, “There’s just not as many parts out there for women as there are for men.” While billboards advertising TV shows often feature multiple males and a lone female, Massetti says the shows when casting females want “normally the hot, sexy woman.”

Everyone agrees there are more male writers and directors, especially directors. “Some shows will actually pay a fine so they don’t have to use women directors,” says Jayne Atkinson, who adds, “There’s not equal pay … I try to find out what my co-stars are being paid.” She will go on to add that many actors settle for less than they could make because they’re just desperate for parts, a hint that many are underestimating themselves.

Roma Maffia observes that males typically get the roles involving brains while women get the roles for the heart. Or “slut.” Cristine Rose says Sigourney Weaver’s part in “Alien” was actually written for a male character.

“I’ll look at a guy who’s a character actor, and I’ll go, ‘If that was a woman, would they let her look like that?’” Maffia wonders.

No one in this production delves into science or philosophy. What makes human beings apparently prefer to see more males than females on a TV screen is not addressed; that type of speculation is beyond the scope of this project. Neither is the explanation for why, according to Roumain’s stats, nearly 2/3 of the 127,000 people who move to New York or Los Angeles every year to be a professional actor are female. (Barely 1% of them make it five years, according to Roumain’s numbers.)

Were the project put together 3 years later, it would undoubtedly ramp up the harassment commentary. Here it is only mentioned matter-of-factly, in the latter half of the production, implying that it is tolerated.

Alicia Coppola states, “If I had a dime for everybody who’s ever said something inappropriate, I wouldn’t have to work.” She mentions being called “girlie” by a director.

Catherine Hicks names the only name, Jack Warden (who is deceased), explaining that when she was on the set of “The Bad News Bears” TV show, he paid her no attention until she opted for a padded bra, then, “all of a sudden he was all over me … flirting and talking.” (Another benefit of “That Gal” is the revelation that there were such shows as a “Bad News Bears” TV series.)

Paget Brewster tells of “The blow-job look,” a suggestive form of nonverbal communication in which a man asks with his eyes whether the woman is … um … accommodating. Brewster says that not every male does it, but “the guys who did it, all did it the same.” She says she nonverbally told one host “no” only to get skewered on his program.

Brewster tells of the worst offense mentioned in this production, of doing a topless scene with a man who quietly told her this is “the greatest job because it’s sanctioned cheating” all while “he’s trying to put his fingers inside of my body.” As of February 2018, there is no indication Brewster has publicly accused anyone of harassment or misconduct.

Those who pay attention to Hollywood interviews may note the curious tendency this century of females to refer to themselves as “actor” rather than “actress.” Whether that term is OK is one of the most provocative questions of “That Gal.”

L. Scott Caldwell indicates it’s not a matter of principle; “I call myself an ‘actor,’ but that’s just because I’m trying to be cute.”

Catherine Hicks says, “I always say ‘actor.’ I went through training at Cornell. It was real, uh, Grutowski, I mean it was like, we were not prissy actresses, we were actors, and, we were warriors.”

Jayne Atkinson reveals, “I like to say actor.”

Paget Brewster is the lone holdout. “I’m gonna say ‘actress’ … sometimes really politically correct or strident ladies will be upset by that, but I kind of wanna take back the word ‘actress’ because I don’t understand why that became a bad word.”

Roma Maffia poses the question while deftly avoiding an answer. “Don’t most actresses like to be called actors? … However you wanna put it.”

It seems that if you are a woman and you can act but you are modest about undressing, Hollywood might not be the right place for you.

Roxanne Hart complains that even women in power are complicit with the skin factory, citing one troubling audition. “They asked me to take my clothes off. I called my agent, and her response was, ‘Oh, just lay back and enjoy it.’ … She didn’t understand why I was even upset by it.”

Catherine Hicks says “I turned down ‘Body Heat’” because of the amount of nudity.

But the agent, Donna Massetti, shrugs and attributes nudity casting to the “expansion of cable television … most, uh, people are sort of immune to it, it’s just part of the game out here. Yeah. It’s part of, um, this business.”

So is typecasting. While pigeonhole fatigue is understandable, it seems a necessary outcome of the business. Massetti explains, “Both men and women are typecast. In casting, they will hire you close to what you, somehow, whatever you project yourself to be.”

L. Scott Caldwell says she has been a nurse “87 times,” and, “I’ve been so many mothers that I can’t even remember how many mothers I’ve been.”

Roma Maffia says her first roles were as prostitutes. Cristine Rose says she played murderers. Alicia Coppola says her breakthrough was as some sort of vampy character and that she doesn’t get the mom roles yet but has had “a lot of mafia stuff.”

No question, Hollywood acting is a world where you are what you look like. In one of the most provocative comments, Maffia says, “I learned not to say what I was ethnically from many auditions in New York.” In another, Caldwell hints at the career risk of misinformation. “In addition to IMDB having an incorrect age, they also had me as 4-11,” she says.

Rose explains that with her skin, she can’t be an effective blonde.

They admit nevertheless they use their physical features to their advantage. “I played up what I had,” says Cristine Rose. “I had nice legs.”

Alicia Coppola reveals, “Do I ever use my femininity or my feminine wiles to get work. Sure. To a point. … I bring out the girls constantly … I am not above putting on a Wonderbra and bringing out velcros for the hair. I think it’s important. I think you use- you use what God gave you within the confines of what the character is asking for.”

Catherine Hicks says “I didn’t grow up huge breasted” but endorses showing off. “I think for some women … and it must be great, I think they really wanna show off, I mean there’s, it’s just like, you got the goods.”

Hicks also defends the emphasis on weight, stating “that’s just normal” and that a person “should be slim to be in- a film actor.”

Cristine Rose says for someone considering plastic surgery, “Absolutely. Go for it if they want to,” but that it looks strange on men.

Donna Massetti complains that, partly for reasons of time, it’s “much harder to represent women than men,” that women have more limited options and shorter careers. “Age is a rough thing for women,” Massetti asserts.

Roxanne Hart says that when a young actress is aggressive, it’s considered “charming” and “wins people over,” but at her age would look “really offensive and look desperate.”

Fortunately/unfortunately, “I am better than I’ve ever been,” Hart says.

Roma Maffia states that she would like to go gray but that it might not be the best career move.

Despite the rampant complaints about the industry, the women collectively appreciate their rare status. They mention the thrill of being recognized in other countries. “This is an aspirational business we’re in,” says L. Scott Caldwell, conceding only “a very small percentage” make it.

“I got to make out with Rob Lowe. I mean how many people get to say that,” observes Alicia Coppola, who acknowledges, “I’m in an incredible position of privilege.”

Cristine Rose says only 5% in her profession actually make more than $5,000. Jayne Atkinson points out that roles don’t last forever (certainly true with films and many TV show spots, though some of these actresses had recurring TV roles) and that actresses might need to live off the money and residuals from a single project for a while.

There are downsides to the notoriety. Roma Maffia says that after appearing in the Michael Douglas film “Disclosure,” she caught the eye of the general public. “I was like shocked. I was shopping, and people were looking at me, and I got really nervous,” Maffia says.

Paget Brewster says airport workers watch “Criminal Minds,” which means they not only recognize her but like to wand her. “It means I’m always getting the- I’m getting that,” she said.

Brewster hilariously explains she had a checklist that “You’re not a real actress until …” and her criteria were a residual check of less than a postage stamp, appearing in a tabloid under the “Why the hell are you wearing this” headline, and being recognized by someone in a bathroom.

Though the actresses indicate that the type of characters they play leave little room for Method Acting endeavors, Rose says there’s an “adrenaline rush” from this level of acting. Adds Maffia, “It’s powerful when people see you on a screen.”

Jayne Atkinson also admits a deference for the biggest stars and what they possess: a sort of “power.” And Aktinson says she is “sort of scared of that power.”

Throughout the production, there’s a sense that this level of an acting career is worth the drawbacks, which makes the conclusion somewhat melancholy as L. Scott Caldwell tells of how her 7-year-old son, aware of her theater success, told her, “You don’t need me, you need this,” and that she decided to have the boy live with his father during the school year while she worked. “I made that decision, and I regret it to this day,” Caldwell says. “I look at what I gave up to do this. And it almost feels like there absolutely has to be a bigger payoff than I’ve already had to, to make up for, you know, what my son gave up.”

3.5 stars
(February 2018)

“That Gal... Who Was in That Thing: That Guy 2” (2015)


Donna Massetti — Agent/Partner at SMS Talent Agency

Roma Maffia — Nip/Tuck, NCIS, ER, Pretty Little Liars, Law & Order, Equalizer, Profiler, Nick of Time, Holes, Treading Water

Jayne Atkinson — House of Cards, Gossip Girl, Criminal Minds, The Village, Free Willy, Law & Order, Syriana, 24, 12 and Holding, A Year in the Life

L. Scott Caldwell — Lost, The Fugitive, Low Winter Sun, Gridiron Gang, Criminal Minds, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Southland, Grey’s Anatomy, Queens Supreme, Judging Amy

Cristine Rose — Charmed, Heroes, Longmire, What Women Want, NCIS: Los Angeles, Ferris Bueller, How I Met Your Mother, Big Love, The Mentalist, He’s Just Not That Into You

Paget Brewster — Criminal Minds, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, A Perfect Day, George Lopez, Friends, Huff, American Dad!, Modern Family, Dan Vs., Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law

Catherine Hicks — 7th Heaven, Garbo Talks, Turbulence, She’s Out of Control, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Peggy Sue Got Married, Child’s Play, Child’s Play 3, Cowboys and Indians

Roxanne Hart — Chicago Hope, Highlander, Letters from Iwo Jima, Meteorites!, Hung, CSI, Moonlight Mile, The Whole Truth, Law & Order, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, The Verdict, Cold Case

Alicia Coppola — CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Star Trek: Voyager, NCIS: Los Angeles, Jericho, Crossing Jordan, Framed, The Nine Lives of Chloe King, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Jake In Progress, Bones, Velocity Trap, Bull, Teen Wolf, Two and a Half Men

Directed by: Ian Roumain

Executive producer: Brian Volk-Weiss
Executive producer: Cisco Henson
Producer: Fred Glander
Producer: Ian Roumain

Director of Photography: Casey Sherrier
Edited by: Sean Basaman, Brenda Carlson, Sarah Laspisa
Post Production Supervisor: Dale Carroll
Business Affairs: William J. Oh
Production Supervisor: Kieran Dotti
Make-Up Artists: Olivia Roumain, Joann Salgado
Music composed by: Jeffrey Hepker, Courtesy of Zoo Street Music
Special thanks: Bruce Davison, Julie Frawley, Peter Girardi, Amy Hill, Marguerite MacIntyre, Timothy Omundson, SMS Talent, Westside Tavern


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