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TBA Online: News & Features: April 2019

The Business of Show Biz: Ben Affleck's Tattoo

Tuesday, April 2, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Velina Brown

Q: People say tattoos are a bad idea for actors, that they can get in the way of getting cast, but recently I saw a picture of Ben Affleck with a huge tattoo on his back and he works all the time. What’s up with that?

Signed, Not Inked Yet

Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.


A: For some actors, tattoos are right in line with their type and brand while for others, a tattoo can confuse the folks at the casting table.

So, it’s important to take stock of your type, how you prioritize your acting career vs the freedom to get any type or size of tattoo anywhere on your body, and also where you are within the arc of your career.

If you typically would be cast as the small-town kindergarten teacher, or your lane is period pieces, and you suddenly show up with any sort of visible tattoo you could lose work. If you’re not yet sure of your type ask for feedback about this from teachers, directors, coaches, casting directors, etc. You may think of yourself as a pirate when most others see you as the boy next door. 

Speaking of pirates, one of the most tattooed actors in Hollywood, Johnny Depp says, “My body is a journal in a way.” (Chris Heath, GQ May 1993). Depp continues to add entries to this body journal and continues to be a high-earning actor. But the tats are very much in keeping with the type of outsider roles he generally plays and he didn’t really get going with the tattoos until after he’d gotten his first series, 21 Jump Street. So even though he started getting them at a young age, he wasn’t a beginner in his career. 

Ben Affleck has a more clean-cut image. Therefore, when he got the giant tattoo to which you are referring, in 2016 at the age of 44, he initially told Mario Lopez of Extra, “It’s fake for a movie.” Now years later he’s appeared on a beach in Hawaii with the same clearly real tattoo. Lame. In my opinion, if you’re going to do it own it. If you’ll feel inclined to lie about it, don’t do it. 

But even in Affleck’s case, he was already an established actor and a big star. If someone wants him enough they will deal with the time and money it takes to cover the tattoo. If you are just starting out in the business you could handicap yourself right out of the gate by getting a tattoo. 

For a few more points of view, Rebecca Strassberg in a piece called Backstage Experts Answer: Should Working Actors Get Tattoos (Backstage April 20, 2016) gathered opinions from several acting coaches and casting directors. Here are a couple of representative responses. 

Ryan R. Williams, L.A.-based on-camera coach, founder of Screen Actors System, I don’t know a single successful actor who is glad they got ink. Hundreds of hours in makeup are required to conceal these tattoos on a shoot. And you can still see them by mid-day. Touchups waste time. Who needs it? An actor should look at anything that limits casting very seriously. Tattoos don’t play for most of the roles that exist in Hollywood. Fake tattoos, on the other hand, look very convincing if baby powder is applied. This is a no-brainer. Avoid tattoos.

Joseph Pearlman, L.A.-based acting coach, founder of Pearlman Acting Academy, begins positively about tattoos with,

Unless it’s a face tattoo, having tattoos or not having tattoos has zero bearing on your success potential as an actor, as they can easily be masked by makeup or wardrobe.” But then ends with,  “When auditioning, with regards to appearance, you must present a clean canvas so as not to distract from what is most important: your personality and your inspired acting choices. Finally, ask yourself this: How many Oscar or Emmy-winning performances have you seen where an actor’s personal tattoos were on display? Very few.”

My question to you is: why are you considering a tattoo? If it will represent an important aspect of who you are and will have an enduring sentiment then, by all means, live your authentic life. But if a tattoo would be more of a fashion statement because they are popular right now and you’d enjoy the attention some ink might get you, consider whether you’d prefer getting attention for your work or for your tattoos. And think carefully about where you want to place them. 

Remember, Ben Affleck’s tattoo, as gigantic as it is, still doesn’t go above a shirt collar or stretch below short sleeves. 

“Body journal” or “clean canvas”. It’s up to you. But I’d advise against making the choice based on what someone whose career is well-established is doing. The results may not be the same for you. 

Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at