‘Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights’ Star Romola Garai Quit Acting After Body-Shaming Experience

Actress Romola Garai is recalling her horrific experience on the set of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. She said she experienced severe body-shaming when she filmed the 2004 romantic drama. The body-shaming would affect her mental health and body confidence for several years. But now she’s back and stronger than ever, and she’s willing to share her story.

The 34-year-old actress played the role of Katey Miller in the Guy Ferland-directed movie opposite star Diego Luna. Garai sat down for an exclusive interview with the Guardian to recount her horrible experience on the set of the 2004 prequel to the original Dirty Dancing.

A female producer scoffed at the then 17-year-old actress’ thighs and remarked, “This isn’t good enough.”

romola garai left acting
[Image by John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI]

She also admitted that producers flew in a dietician from Puerto Rica every day to ensure that she was underweight throughout filming, according to Us Weekly.

“It was a cesspit of horrific misogyny,” Garai said. “It screwed me up for years. Not only did it completely change how I felt about my body, but I felt like I’d failed because I hadn’t fought back. I felt complicit, because I didn’t say no. I signed off on Photoshopped images and felt terrible for perpetrating this… lie.”

The experience led her to quit acting after starring in two films. She has since returned to the small screen on Born to Kill, where she plays the role of a single mother of a mentally ill boy whose father is in prison. Romola even admitted that she was a model before she became an actress. No one ever asked her to lose weight for that profession.

“I did a bit of modeling when I was a teenager, and even then, nobody asked me to lose weight. It’s different with film, because it’s not about weight, it’s about control. It’s an industry with a clear agenda of ensuring women’s relationships with their reflection on screen make them feel inadequate. I never went back to Hollywood again.”

The British actress has since become a mom to two children with husband, actor Sam Hoare. She turned her love of acting into making films in the U.K. Garai typically makes period pieces. But she still deals with the harsh criticism over her appearance, and Garai hopes to change that.

“I’ve had sporadic acne in my life and have extraordinary conversations with them about how I can’t have spots on screen, telling me about the drugs I should take. There’s this idea that in order to propagate visions women aspire to, you have to make other women feel bad. That’s why it’s a weird time for feminism… I don’t think feminism is in a great place.”

Romola is still thankful for the experience. It’s taught her to not hold back on her feelings.

“Someone said the only thing that was convincing in the whole film was the look of pure misery in my eyes,” she said with a chuckle. “It was my feminist epiphany.”

romola garai now produces
(Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Garai was born in Hong Kong. She was the third of four children. Her family moved to Singapore before they settled in Wiltshire when she was 8-years-old. She dropped out of college to star in the lead of I Capture the Castle, based on the Dodie Smith book, and then Dirty Dancing 2. Garai has gone on to talk about her feminist beliefs in the media and in Hollywood. She now actively campaigns for Parents in the Performing Arts, which is against discriminatory working practices toward parents.

Although Romola’s willing to talk about the 23 stitches she got after giving birth, she’s quiet when it comes to her family. But she’s willing to give a feminist perspective on motherhood and birth. She’s been working on a film she written about Refrigerator Mother syndrome, in which Freudians though autism stemmed from a lack of maternal care.

[Featured Image by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images]