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poofandmook's avatar

What can an actor do about libel?

Asked by poofandmook (17223 points ) January 19th, 2009

Long story short, one of my dearest friends is an actor, and had an opening last night. This afternoon, a review was posted in a well-known paper for our state, and it contained this line:

“Could that sniffing he does suggest that he’s no stranger to cocaine?”

I’ve already advised him to have his agent and/or lawyer call the paper and demand a retraction. A) Speculations on personal life have no place in a play review. B) It’s libel. C) My friend isn’t famous… it’s not like the tabloids where people get off on reading dirt about Brangelina or Britney or whatever. My friend’s career could be at stake here.. it was vindictive and personal.

So, my friend wishes there was something he could post on his website (that I run, actually) that addresses the matter without much repercussion. As an actor, you don’t want to address bad reviews as a general rule, but this is something altogether different.

Any input?

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22 Answers

asmonet's avatar

Lawsuit.
I’d be pissed.

deusexmachina's avatar

First of all, I’m not a legal expert. At all.

From what I’ve read on the subject, however, the only cases when you can actually prosecute someone for defamation is if there is malice (i.e. it was intentionally used to hurt your friend). This would only happen if the author knew for a fact that your friend had not abused cocaine and printed it for the sole purpose of defaming him.

But that reviewer is still extremely unprofessional; I would probably ask for a retraction or something. But legally? I dunno.

augustlan's avatar

I don’t know, but that is all kinds of f’d up. Grrr.

andrew's avatar

Hold the phone. What’s the context of the review? Was it a poorly written attempt at humor, deriding a character choice of his?

If so, then I’m afraid the best thing to do is to stop reading reviews, laugh about how ridiculous this story is, save it for a cocktail party, and sock the reviewer in the jaw if he sees him.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think this will be a deal breaker for his career. Coke-sniffer is much more desirable than “difficult and litigious to work with”.

asmonet's avatar

Yeah, okay, Andrew is right. :P

poofandmook's avatar

“Blankity Blank, as Jack’s friend Algernon, is peculiar even for this character. Could that sniffing he does suggest that he’s no stranger to cocaine?”

That’s the extent of the entire mention of my friend.

Andrew… you’re an actor, right? My friend is 34. You know by this time the availability of roles starts to dwindle as you can’t avoid looking “too old” for lots of parts. If casting directors start thinking you’re a coke-head, it starts to look grim, I think. Yeah, it’s better than what you said, but not a whole lot.

andrew's avatar

Honestly, in cases like this, bringing more attention will only give this horribly written gossip column of a review credence. I’d want to go see a cocaine-sniffing Importance of Being Earnest any day.

It’s my belief that with stupidly written things like this fall off at the end of the day, and that any casting director/etc worth their salt would be able to identify it as slop.

Back when Fluther was younger and I was insecure about it, I considered rebutting each negative review that showed up on a blog with 5 readers. But ultimately, life’s too short. I have enough “secrets” about horrible things that directors, producers, etc etc have said to my face to fill a small hope chest. It’s part of the biz.

Tell him to stop reading reviews. He should know better.

kevbo's avatar

I’m talking out of my ass, but isn’t this kind of a “no such thing as bad publicity” situation? How can he capitalize on the publicity (with audiences I mean)?

poofandmook's avatar

@Andrew: That’s exactly the point. He cares nothing about the bad reviews. But you know as well as I do that the life of an actor has no place in a play review. The statement is grossly inappropriate for a theatre review, no matter how you dice it. If he’s attacked for his performance, he doesn’t care. That had nothing to do with his performance. This reviewer, I might add, hates my friend. Always has.

Edit: Libel is shaky ground, I know… but I think that any editor who would allow that in a review deserves a phone call and my friend deserves a retraction.

deusexmachina's avatar

@poofandmook If the reviewer has always hated your friend and knows he doesn’t use… that is libel.

andrew's avatar

@poofandmook Oh, they know each other, personally? Yeah, gloves off baby.

andrew's avatar

Also, though, FWIW, I don’t read it as a personal attack, just a crappily written review.

augustlan's avatar

For what it’s worth.

I can’t believe I knew that and you didn’t!

asmonet's avatar

Shut up!! /cry

augustlan's avatar

<< Blowing raspberries at asmonet.

shadling21's avatar

Go, augustlan!
@andrew – I love the phrase “gloves off”. It’s so… right.
I wonder how much it costs to sue for libel?

asmonet's avatar

You people suck.

/wrist

augustlan's avatar

@asmonet Don’t feel bad…I don’t know what BAMF means.

Wait…is it bad ass mother fucker?

SuperMouse's avatar

I seem to remember the idea of “fair concept and criticism” from my high school journalism class. A google search came up with this definition of fair comment: A comment made which though defamatory, is not actionable as it is an opinion on a matter of public interest. (www.duhaime.org). It kind of sounds like, even though the reviewer hates your friend, he was making a lame comment on a performance that may be of interest to the theater going public. Shame on the reviewer for letting his personal feelings toward your friend show through, but your friend will probably just have to wait until karma has its way with the guy.

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