Michael Fassbender may be one of the more talented men working in Hollywood today, as demonstrated by the high-wire duality of his performance in Alien: Covenant, but as he takes a seat opposite me, ostensibly to talk about Ridley Scott's latest blockbuster, I'm struck by something entirely unrelated to his work.
In person, he cuts a suave, not-entirely-unassuming figure. He swaggers into the room in tight-fitting, slim-leg trousers, his ankles just visible above his navy socks. He is tall, by which I mean taller than myself, and when he sits, his artfully-folded knees slightly higher than his muscular bottom, he looks like a drunk letter-Z in Times New Roman. Dealing with the weight of fawning critics, and also the phone in his pocket, has been surprisingly do-able, he says with typical modesty, while nibbling a French éclair with enviable poise.
Confession: I have never met Michael Fassbender. If I'm ever lucky enough to do so, in my capacity as a journalist, I like to imagine that the article I publish online will cover things like his work and the movie industry, and not begin with an extended ode to the curvature of his legs.
But female actors who meet male journalists are regularly subjected to exactly that — ridiculous, extended metaphors about the way they walk, the way they're dressed, the item of food in their hands and the way they eat it.
In a new profile on Katherine Waterston, published this week in The Guardian, we learn that the Covenant and Fantastic Beasts actress "nibbles on a pain-aux-raisins" while welcoming her interviewer, Ryan Gilbey. Apparently, "when she folds her long legs under her chair, she looks exaggeratedly S-shaped," which sounds pretty unlikely to me.
It reads like satire, and it might've been funny if that was the intention. But instead, the profile is just the latest in a very long line which imagine women as exotic birds who've come to a bland hotel room two-thirds of the way through a gruelling press tour for no purpose other than to give a male writer something impressive to ogle.
Presumably, the conversation itself was harmless enough, because Waterston opened up to Gilbey with some genuinely smart insight about what it means to be a woman working in the film industry. Take this passage, for example:
"Believe me, I’ve been in so many more terrifying situations as a performer than [being naked on camera]. This was working with people I trusted [in 'Inherent Vice'] in a scene that was rich and complex ... I hardly even thought about that thing that seems to be all everyone could talk about. They’re just hoping I’ll say: 'Oh, I was so scared that day and then I drank a few shots of whisky and I felt better.'"
Waterston gives a mighty roll of the eyes.
Here is a woman who's challenging the idea that all women who get naked on camera are shy, mortified little bunny rabbits who scuttle around set red-faced hoping desperately the lighting assistant didn't hide their clothes for a laugh. It's genuinely interesting. But in writing up her words afterward, Gilbey still makes the sexist and creatively-bankrupt choice of comparing her height to somebody walking on stilts (she's 5'11", btw — tall, sure, but not a circus performer).
If this was standard practice for all celebs being interviewed, I could probably deal with it, but hell will freeze over long before a male journalist at The Guardian describes in painful detail the way in which a male actor consumes a French pastry.
It's sexist, and worse, it's tedious, an irrelevance which should not be accepted as the norm. When Rick Cohen wrote a catastrophically awful profile on Margot Robbie last summer in Vanity Fair ("She is blonde but dark at the roots. She is tall but only with the help of certain shoes. She can be sexy and composed even while naked but only in character. As I said, she is from Australia"), everybody was rightfully astonished and outraged.
What is it about being in the presence of a beautiful woman that turns smart men into incoherent octopi whose only talent is to observe unique and physically-impossible beauty traits like S-shaped legs? I don't know. Perhaps when I meet Charlize Theron (whose hair resembles spider's silk, but only when reflecting the sun), I'll join the club. But I hope not.
What can we do to combat the irritating reoccurrence of celeb profiles like these? Share them on Facebook. Alert people to the dreadful quality of journalism. Be careful to fold your legs in a straightforward fashion. And read brilliant satires like this one on the dreamy actor Jane Neighbor.
Alien: Covenant is out May 19. It features a large cast of people with regular legs.