An Interview with Kim Raver, Grey’s Anatomy Actress
by Charlotte Kramon
Charlotte interviewed Kim Raver, who plays Teddy on Grey’s Anatomy. She gave unique insight to the world of gender in the media, specifically in television and film, in a detailed conversation covering a wide variety of topics on gender, including role models, body image, how strong women are perceived, and her experiences in the world of acting.
Girl Talk: As a woman in Hollywood, are you ever in situations in which your gender becomes an obstacle or problematic? (i.e. actresses, artists/singers, etc.)
Kim Raver: I don’t think I was aware that gender was an issue until recently. I’ve always been aware that there’s one woman role to fifteen men roles in theater, (which is where I started,) in TV, and in films. My mom was a producer when I was growing up, and that was the 80s, so she was one of the only women producers-I had this great example of women in the workforce. So, I think about the beginning of my career, and I now hear all these stories in media talking about an example of sexism or walls because of being a woman. It’s not until I reflect back [on moments in my career] and say, Oh, that was blatantly sexist. But I think part of women just say, Oh, well, that’s the way it is. When I watched Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton talking during this whole election I was so moved to be like, Oh, I’m actually not alone, and what has happened in the past is actually not ok. I think it’s really great that you’re starting this magazine because we can have more dialogue as women from a positive standview, rather than a blaming standview-that’s my goal with you. Not to bash the business, but to say, Ok, what can we learn from women in the industry and from that, how can we go forward?
GT: Do you remember any specific situations in which you’ve encountered sexism or your gender has become an obstacle?
KR: There’s been a lot of sexual advances where you go, That person is flirting with me, and I’m saying no to this flirtation because that’s not the way I get ahead in the business. In the last year, with the election and people talking about Trump and sexual assault, you hear all these really great women coming forward. Whether you are pro or against that, hearing all that great dialogue helps. There’s been many auditions with incredible representations, but you go to a meeting and there’s completely inappropriate advances which I would turn down because, again, I was raised to believe (and maybe this is naive) that because of talent and hard work, and yes, luck in this business, I’m going to move forward. I can’t control the other stuff. But then, there are amazing men out there who are in position of hiring and amazing women who are in position of hiring and they do hire you for your talent. Women have to learn how to navigate the system, and I think the system at this point in time is run mostly by men-which is changing. Women are finally having a voice and saying, This is not acceptable. The dialogue is definitely happening, and that’s really important.
GT: Over the last decade, has the perception of women in media improved or changed? How?
KR: It’s definitely changing-and I say changing-and definitely improving. We have a long way to go, especially when you look now at the election. Maybe people weren’t ready for a woman president, but for me, it was empowering to see Hillary running and it brought up a lot of dialogue. A specific example of a woman speaking up is when Jennifer Lawrence wrote an incredible letter speaking to equal pay. She brought up American Hustle and how even though she was the main draw to that film, she was not being paid the same amount of her male counterparts. I’ve experienced that-where people who don’t have the same experience or track record make more money because they are men. Jennifer Lawrence says in her letter that if, as a woman, you speak out and are advocate for yourself, you become labeled the “difficult one.” I’d love to see that change-where women can stand up for themselves, whether it be equal pay, more women’s roles, etc. Women are supporting women. Meryl Streep has a fund for women screenwriters. I definitely feel how a woman director is treated differently on set than a male director when she is of equal talent to other male directors. Because she’s a woman, there’s an immediate judgement. I do think it’s changing, and women are finding our voice. Ashley Judd has been outspoken, and Patricia Arquette demanded equal pay in her Oscar speech last years. It takes women to lay down foundations and start the dialogue. So I think it’s changing. Do I wish it were changing faster? Yeah. But I think we’re definitely headed in a positive direction.
GT: About body image...what effect do you think Hollywood and the media in general has on young girls who are struggling with body confidence?
KR: Body image has really changed from when I was first starting out. I felt like there was one way to look, and that was this super thin, one-size fits all kind of thing. Now, we see Jennifer Lopez, Serena Williams, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy, the Kardashians... just so many different body types that are celebrated. There are so many different sizes, and there’s not one size that’s beautiful, so I love to see that that has changed a little bit. I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager now. It’s so different from when I was growing up. I’m sure there’s pressure to be what is in fashion at the moment, and again, I’m not a teenager so I don’t know, but I feel like there’s less pressure to be one thing and there’s more examples to be different things. Even Lena Dunham-I’ve never seen someone so fearless on camera, not feeling like she has to conform. That’s because of talent. She’s just an uber talent and smart. In your generation, there’s much more embracing on finding your power, and that will also lead to success. I’m sure being a teenager there’s tons of images put out there, but at least now they’re diverse images.
GT: What are the beauty standards in Hollywood and media? Do you agree with them?
KR: One main thing is youth. That’s for sure a huge thing especially for women. Men can age, and they look at 30-year-old women and say that they’re too old to play wife of a 50-year-old man, which is horrifying to me. The face of beauty in Hollywood has definitely evolved. It used to be blonde and blue-eyed, and now you’ve got Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, who’s older. Hally Berry was a bond girl, and usually those women are coined as they “beauties.”
GT: Let’s say a woman was an outstandingly talented actress but she didn’t adhere at all to today’s beauty standards. Theoretically, do you think that would get in her way when it comes to auditions, casting, and success in general? Why and how?
KR: Yes and no. What is beauty? If you’re asking me what beauty is as opposed to a studio head what beauty is...I mean, is beauty just what is current at the moment? And then that’s what everyone wants? For me, beauty is when someone walks in the room and there’s an intelligence and energy that takes your breath away. We know it’s that person who is confident in who they are but also vulnerable and smart. Beauty is totally different than what it was in the 80’s. If you look different than what is the hype at the moment, then, yes, it’s probably more difficult to get representation and to audition until someone breaks that mold...until the Lena Dunham breaks that mold. When you’re first starting out, you’re always trying to do what someone wants-in an audition, or casting, and I realized that I can only be the best me that I can be and nobody’s going to be like that because it’s me. That’s when things really started happening for me.
GT: Do you think your answer to the previous question would be the same if it were about men?
KR: First I was going to say no, and that it was much easier for men. But then I think about many teenage boys, and I see now that there’s so much media around them, like body image, so there is already this pressure to conform to a ripped body and to be a certain way. When I was growing up, I don’t think guys had that pressure. So in a way, men today have to conform to a certain body image, but it’s a different game for men than it is for women. Women are not supposed to age, they’re supposed to have an incredible body. Hollywood sets the machine with all of the glossy magazines of what you should be wearing and how much you should be spending on a bag. To me, all that is is a perpetual feeding of the machine of how we are all supposed to be and I think that’s definitely much harder for women than men.
GT: What do you think constitutes a good female role model in the media for young girls? Who is your role model and why?
KR: I talked a little about this, but my mom is a huge role model for me. During a time in New York City when in advertising, there weren’t a lot of women working, and she started out in the lower position-most of the women who were in advertising were secretaries. That was not the path she was going to take, and she became the head of production at one of the biggest ad agencies. That was definitely forging a path that had not been there before. That’s incredible to see a working woman. It’s like that first question you asked me-where I’m in a situation and uncomfortable because of men or whatever-I didn’t really see it because I had an example of a rising woman, hard work, creative talent and supportive women around me. That was pivotal for me-to see that it was possible to persevere. To look back at the last election cycle, it’s incredible to hear Michelle Obama. I think she’s an incredible role model because she’s intelligent, compassionate, and is able to get her points across without being condescending or angry. As women, we have to find a way to get our points across in a different way than men, otherwise we get labelled as the “difficult one” or the “moody one,” whatever that is. When you look at women who have succeeded, I don’t want to say they’ve found a way within the system, but as of now, a majority of men are running the studio system and there are more [male] roles in films. It’s inspiring to find those role models because they know their responsibility to be a role model. Even someone like Beyoncé-she uses what she has in a completely different way than, for example, I would. When I think about body image and stuff like that, first of all, her voice and gift is incredible, but she also is unapologetic when she’s up there dancing in whatever she’s in. It’s very freeing to me. And again, with Lena Dunham, she’s put her talent first and let the rest of the stuff around her fall out. Those examples are very strong women who know there’s going to be a backlash, which is incredible because so many men don’t have to have that backlash and don’t have to deal with that. So many women are able to confront that...that’s a really powerful message.
GT: Are you content with the pop/Hollywood culture young girls are growing up with? Why or why not?
KR: What’s interesting is, I look at Miley Cyrus and at first I was like, What is she doing!? This was five years ago. I was like what’s with the twerking? What is that? And now, I watched her on The Voice, and she’s so incredibly passionate and well-spoken and well-meaning. I saw this incredible play called Sluts. It’s about how these girls in high school completely are wearing the teeny-tiny shorts and flirting with guys, and then there’s this horrible incident where one of the girls is sexually assaulted. The whole discussion is about how they were walking around calling themselves sluts because they were trying to take the power back. They didn’t want the boys to have that power over them, until this came about and all the girls turned on her. Everyone loved Miley when so pure and doing this one thing, and there was this Annie Leibovitz shot of her where she looked somewhat sexual. She was young, this was going out, and it was like, How was she going to be perceived? So I think that if we can look at other women from a non judgemental point of view and see what their message is, and maybe she had to go so far to the other side with the twerking and all of that in order to have her voice heard because the media pinned her into some other voice she felt she wasn’t. I think pop culture, in a way, has to be taken with a grain of salt and we have to look beyond it. That’s important for your generation of women-to look at what is out there, and then have the dialogue of what it really means. I don’t have girls so I don’t know what you guys are having to navigate through, but I think pop culture is now more the pressures that you guys are dealing with, like with having social media access. I think women your age now growing up have a voice for that dialogue whereas that being objectified was much more hidden in a way before. It’s so over-the-top, but maybe that’s a great forum for discussion and because there’s so many different types, hopefully you don’t feel the pressure to have to conform. It’s a lot to take in. For me, what I find upsetting is the access to it. The fact that my teenager and 9-year-old son can go on and see things that I find that part of life beautiful and I don’t want to be objectified-it’s almost desensitized. I think that’s a generational thing of having to have discussions about that. Pop culture is always a hot point of generations, but maybe that’s what inspires movements in each generation. There’s heroes to be had in this pop culture, and there’s people who you really dislike. At least this generation there’s room in this power that women have really succeeded in having their own specific voice. Jennifer Lawrence has a big, bold voice, and she’s able to share it loudly. She trips up the red carpet-no other woman has been able to do that and she’s unapologetic about it. That’s really cool. Jennifer Lawrence also wrote an essay/letter on the pay gap between men and women-she is a great role model of using her voice to make a difference and to inspire change towards equality.
GT: Are there any specific types of roles that you usually look for? Is there anything you look for in a female character you are considering to play?
KR: I tend to play super strong, smart, complicated women. I find that people are surprised when they meet me and I’m funny and kooky and that’s also a stereotype in women. If you are smart and strong, then you’re only one way. I don’t think men get that-you see men transitioning so easily. If you’re smart, people think oh, that woman’s too strong. My sister’s a professor, and we were talking about how it is in the work force. That’s a dialogue women, whether it’s with your professor, or in class, or your producer. Wouldn't it be great if we could get to the point where we could get to a place where we could me outspoken and strong and we don’t have to find a way to cushion it? Women need to support other women for being smart, strong, and outspoken and not being criticized for having a voice. That goes to what I was saying about the roles-I find complicated, multi layered women the most interesting to play, if you look at my role on 24 and Grey’s. What I love about Grey’s is that everyone’s really smart on that show. I do see a change-we don’t have to explain that a woman is a surgeon or a chief of surgery or a great doctor. That’s really exciting to me.
GT: Right-that leads into the next question. What do you hope to see in the future with feminism in the media in general?
KR: I’d love to see equal pay. I’d love to see more women’s roles that are as interesting as some of the men’s roles-not just the girlfriend, or the wife, but as multilayered as some of the men’s roles. I’d like to see more people taking risks-and I wish I didn’t have to use that word “risks.” You see people like Elizabeth Banks, who’s like, I’m gonna direct, and I’m gonna write. Look at Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler. There’s huge progress, I just wish it was faster and more.
GT: What would you want to tell your younger teenage self?
KR: I’d want to tell my younger teenage self that I don’t need to find my way to maneuver through all those uncomfortable situations as woman, but at the same time, as a teenager they existed. So, I had to find that way to make my path. I wish we could set that tone for future generations so the navigating doesn’t have to exist.