Actors and Tattoos: part 1 of 2

We see a lot here at Liquid Amber Tattoo & Art Collective! Our Gastown boutique is alive with chatter, excitement, and creative energy. Who?! What?! Where?!

Sometimes it’s the ‘Who’ that causes all the fluster! Day in and day out, people walk into Liquid Amber to get the tattoo of their dreams, or add to the canvas of their body. Every now and then someone comes in with a design causing people to gawk and question - “Are they even allowed to get a tattoo?!”

You may think I'm talking about a child, or a pet Pomeranian, but no, I am referring to the actors!

Frequently referred to as Hollywood North, Vancouver is swimming with actors! Many of whom like to ink up, and many who are curious about the effects or possible repercussions. So let’s explore.

Should Actors get tattoos? It seems like a fair question. On the one hand, it’s YOUR body, so you should be able to do with it what you want. On the other hand, if you want to use YOUR body as a storytelling mechanism, shouldn’t it be more of a blank canvas ready to be moulded, dressed, and re-shaped for each story and role?

Our first point of view comes from Terry Chen, a Taiwanese / Chinese actor known for ‘Ben Fong Torres’ in the Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous (2000). Since then, you can catch Terry in many Film and TV roles including House of Cards, Continuum and Van Helsing.

Here is what he had to say:

How old were you when you got your first tattoo? What and where is it?

"Got my first tattoo at 21. Two of them actually. A Haida crescent moon in the sun. And my Chinese family name under my Chinese zodiac sign the tiger. Both on my right bicep."

Have your tattoo’s helped or hindered your career?

"I don't know. At certain times I think they've helped and other times maybe not so appropriate. Really depends on what roles I’m auditioning for."

Was there ever a time you thought, “Maybe I shouldn’t get any more tattoo’s because of my acting career?”

"When I was younger my agent asked me when I was going to stop getting tattoos, because it would pigeonhole me. I said Johnny Depp has a shit ton of tats and he’s versatile. She promptly responded, "You're not Johnny Depp."  How true. That made me pause for a few minutes but I have relentlessly collected more over the last 15 years."

Have you gotten release forms from each artist that has tattooed you?

"Yes I have release forms from all artists. Never had trouble getting them. Have also had most of them tell me I don't need release forms. Once the tattoo is paid for and on my body, I own them. Period. The release forms are just for productions to protect themselves because of the Mike Tyson face tattoo debacle."

Actor, Terry Chen

Actor, Terry Chen

Terry makes a good point. His tattoos are a part of who he his and what he brings to each role. As far as pigeonholing goes, that really depends on how productions see you and decide where you would fit in the story. Thank goodness I had the chance to reach out to Maureen Webb.

Maureen has been a Casting Director for over 25 years and seen her fair share of actors, so I knew her opinions would be helpful!

Once you find out an actor has a tattoo, does that affect how you bring them in for roles?

"Generally it doesn’t affect my decision to bring someone in, unless it’s a face or large neck tattoo. It depends on the size of the role, the size and visibility of the tattoo and whether tattoos fit the role.

If it’s a smaller role, and the character definitely couldn’t have tattoos, I know it would take time and money to cover those tattoos, so it could affect a producer’s decision. If the actor is in demand, we don’t usually care if they have tattoos.

I’m guessing the makeup department might have a different response."

Ever had a production specifically request to NOT bring in actors that are tattooed?


Has a tattoo ever been the deciding factor in a casting decision?  

"Yes. Both for and against."

What advice would you have for actors who are thinking of getting tattooed?  

"Personally, I love tattoos. I have a couple myself.

As an actor, they can be covered if necessary, and often are!  

But, the truth is, if they’re visible, they are noticed and discussed by directors, producers and casting.  It could possibly affect the roles you get – for instance a period piece.  If you’re an actor just starting out, I would suggest doing some research, about how any visible physical modification choices might impact your career, and limit the roles you may be considered for."

Maureen is so cool. She’s also the co-founder of Project Limelight Society; a not-for-profit Performing Arts Program, free for young people living in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. Check it out at

Casting Director, Maureen Webb

Casting Director, Maureen Webb

After hearing what Maureen had to say we started to think - what would the makeup team’s response be?

Tune in next week for our follow-up blog. We will speak to a makeup Artist and an Actress about the pros, cons, logistics, and thrills of covering a tattoo and getting one.