Can We Stop Asking Actresses to Be Their On-Screen Characters in Real Life?

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Dianna Agron in Rosie Assoulin at the Tribeca Film Festival. Photo: Getty Images

Here’s a revolutionary proposal: what if an actress could play a sexy (or quirky, or bipolar, or fill-in-the-blanks) character on-screen without having to cop to that quality off-screen?

Actress, Zooey Deschanel, for one, would really prefer it if you stopped referring to her as ‘adorkable.’ In a recent interview, the New Girl star explained that the cloying term was actually part of the studio’s marketing scheme. “That was our marketing department at Fox…that’s a word that describes the character that I play, not me,” she said. “I don’t personally have identification with that word myself…Obviously I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that I’ve had thus far, including New Girl, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who knows me use that word to describe me, so it’s not of any consequence to me.”

Still, whether Deschanel liked it or not, it was hard not to see the term ‘adorkable’ as a stand in for the actress’s famously offbeat sensibility, a way of pigeonholing her, making it harder for fans to distinguish between comedy and reality. And it’s hardly the first time TV execs have tried to amp up a show’s appeal by exaggerating its actresses’ qualities to the point of distortion. Take Dianna Agron, who was 23 years old with relatively few acting credits to her name when she landed the breakout role of the precocious cheerleader Quinn on Glee. Agron, a classically trained ballerina with a penchant for punk, says the producers had just one request before they offered her the part. “After my first audition for Glee the producers asked whether I could ‘sex up my look’. It was like hearing nails on a chalkboard. ‘Sexy’ is a word I never equate with myself.”

It took Angelina Jolie years to shake the association with the performance that won her an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted. “I was actually almost upset when people said I was so good at playing insane,” she said last year. Sure, Jolie went through a goth phase with the whole blood vials around her neck thing, but she was also simply an accomplished actress, you know, acting.

Claire Danes, who plays the polarizing Carrie Mathison on Homeland, is constantly quizzed in interviews about her own ‘dark side’, as if she must be a little bit Carrie-esque to play a woman in the throes of bipolar disorder. In fact, says Danes, she simply did an awful lot of research on the condition, because that’s her job. There’s something almost patronizing about the notion that her performance is anything but the result of sheer hard work. In real life, Danes sounds pretty sunny, even-keeled, and into crafting. Some might even call her adorkable.