The most uncomfortable — and interesting — moment at the Women In Film And Television Panel on HBO's In Treatment last night was when producer-actress Noa Tishby was asked how, for better or worse, being beautiful affects her work.
Tishby brokered the deal that turned the Israeli show Be Tipul into HBO's In Treatment; she's an executive producer on the American version. A film, television, and music star in her native Israel, she's done some screen work here (Big Love, The Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past) but seems focused on producing now. Also onstage: Sarah Treem, a playwright who crossed over to TV with In Treatment and recently added How To Make It In America to her roster, and Yael Hedaya, a novelist and playwright who worked on the Israeli original. They'd been discussing how to portray therapy onscreen, the cultural differences between Israel and the United States, what it took to make a good show. And then.
"I'm particularly intrigued by your tenacity and your confidence," said the (female) questioner. "You're a woman, and you're beautiful. And I'm particularly intrigued by your relationship with your beauty, and how that comes across when you're producing."
The room murmured. Tishby, an exuberant, rather formidable presence, had been tripping all over herself to give credit to her co-panelists ("I'm nothing without these two. I wouldn't exist"), but there was nothing to do but to answer.
After stammering a bit, she found her ground, giving a refreshingly honest glimpse inside a particularly female predicament in the entertainment industry that few would be caught dead talking about.
"I feel awkward about answering this question," she said, "because the answer I really want to say is, 'Boo fucking hoo me. Poor me!' Saying like, 'Oh you know, it's really hard,' is crap, and there are harder things than that, than to… be – to be pretty."
Then she said, "It's not something that's in my DNA. And yes, it's an advantage, but it can be a problem. And it's something that I need to make sure I have no particular relationship to, good or bad, because it just is. And people may react to it in a certain way, but that's just their story. That's how they see it. And it's not something I complain about. Do I get upset when I get, for lack of a better word, disrespected? Absolutely. Especially in LA. They'll definitely have this attitude of, 'Oh, you're clearly — I can be inappropriate with you,' or whatever. And it happens. It happened a lot, and I found myself in a lot of those awkward situations, but you just have to remove yourself from them and stick to whatever it is that you want to say."
The shelf-life of a starlet in Hollywood is brief and often brutal, and going behind the camera is clearly a better long-term bet, even if being taken seriously is a challenge. And broadly speaking, women are better-represented as producers in both film and especially television.
Tishby went on, "The great thing about producing for me is that it's not about me. It's really easy because I can be as passionate as possible. About me as an actress, I am as insecure as they come. I will not be tenacious about me. I can't. But if I'm talking about In Treatment, it's not me. It's this thing that's outside of me, that is brilliant, that is amazing, and I will fight you over it."
It's just one opinion, but I wouldn't be surprised if this thinking wasn't partly behind the decisions of plenty of other women — Hollywood-beautiful or not — to go with the producing route, a job that rewards both aggressiveness and nurturing.
On a side note, when I interviewed Manohla Dargis last December, she wondered whether the paucity of female directors wasn't in part due to women being encouraged to be producers, a collaborative role as opposed to directing, "which is seen as an individualistic, creative, idiosyncratic individual going off and doing his thing." So, to Tishby: May we suggest directing be added to the list?