Casting Helen of Troy

Arts, entertainment, and more.
May 13 2004 7:44 PM

The Many Faces of Helen

How to find an actress who can launch a thousand ships.

Hot enough for you?
Hot enough for you?

Click here to see a slide show that explains how casting directors and artists have solved—and, more often, failed to solve—this problem.

For the producers of Troy, the forthcoming Warner Brothers spectacle, finding an actress to play Helen was tricky. There is no shortage of beautiful women in Hollywood, but faces that can reliably launch thousands of ships are scarce.

Advertisement

TheIliad, you'll remember, boasts a very improbable plot: Helen—who was universally considered the most ravishing woman around—was married to Menelaus, the Spartan king, until Paris, a pretty boy from Troy, seduced her and carried her off. Menelaus, incensed, then launched his ships, set sail for Troy, and fought a bloody 10-year war to get her back. The ensuing carnage calls for a woman who is literally drop-dead beautiful.

Which leaves casting directors with a dilemma: What does drop-dead beautiful look like these days? As we become increasingly convinced that beauty—and truth, and almost everything else—lies in the eye of the beholder, we're less likely to concur about how Helen should appear. Already, critics who've seen the film quibble that the Helen in Troy is not beautiful enough. This is not the fault of the casting directors, who considered Victoria's Secret models and improbable pop stars alike. How can you find—or, in the case of artists, paint—a woman who everyone will agree is the most beautiful on earth?

Click here to see a slide show that explains how casting directors and artists have solved—and, more often, failed to solve—this problem.

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 23 2014 10:30 AM Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 23 2014 11:08 AM Seeing the Familiar in Black and White
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.