It’s a man’s world, and nobody knows this better than an actress pushing forty (or in fact, thirty). We might have more roles for women than we did in ten years ago, but it seems they’ve got to be a minimum of ten years younger than whatever big Hollywood man they’re cast beside. While George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp age like fine wines and show no sign of being left on the shelf, their female counterparts are frequently told they’re past their use-by-date. The age disparity between romantic leads in Hollywood borders on ridiculous, where twenty and thirty year age gaps are the norm, while any actress without the fresh bloom of youth is no longer considered lover material. It’s all a bit creepily similar to the state things were in when the studio system was in it’s heyday in the fifties. MGM had so many plot lines revolving around two older men fighting over a girl young enough to be their daughter that it was nick-named “Man-Girl-Man”. But actresses have started speaking out about the hypocrisy of being told they’re told old for on-screen love affairs. Here’s fifteen times the boys club made themselves look ludicrous.
Oscar-nominated Maggie Gyllenhaal, 37, was told she was too old to play the lover of a 55 year old man. This recent revelation really caused an uproar, prompting a flurry of online fury at the obvious hypocrisy. “There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time,” she said. “I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made feel angry, and then it made me laugh.” Agism is alive and well in the world still and this was a prime example of the sexist side of it. Maggie is a beautiful woman with the ability to play older and younger characters, and in a situation where her real age is one that would be just fine, it wasn't. This way of thinking needs to be changed so that woman do not need to feel bad about their age.
In 2002, Elizabeth Banks was turned down for the role of Mary-Jane Watson in Spiderman because she was 16 months older than the male actor, Tobey Maguire. Banks said: “I screen-tested for the role of Mary-Jane Watson in the first Spider-Man movie, opposite Tobey Maguire … Tobey and I are basically the same age and I was told I was too old to play her.” Even though Mary-Jane is supposed to be in high school, so was Peter Parker – yet that didn’t pose a problem for Maguire. 18 year old Kirsten Dunst was of course the one to perform the famous upside-down rain kiss with Maguire, who was 28 at the time. With an age gap so minimum it would have been a non-issue for those wondering who was older, and even then, why would it matter? High school is filled with students spanning a year apart in the same grade and girls are often older than boys. This is another unfortunate example of a 'trade-up' to a younger woman.
Blonde pocket-rocket Reese Witherspoon sizzled on screen at age 26 in Legally Blonde back in 2001. Now 40, her recent biographical drama Wild received high praise. That was of course, with the exception of critics who claimed that at forty, Reese was really too old to perform a sex scene, especially a steamy “wet sex scene”. Absurdly, it was even suggested that husband Jim Toth ought to have a problem with it (which he doesn’t, by the way). A strange comment that covers a spectrum of issues - male permission, and an insult to such a naturally youthful beauty. One critic said: "I can't wait to see this but I think she might be too old for the role since she's supposed to be in her early 20's. Jennifer Lawrence would have been perfect given the gritty, sexual nature of this character.” An amazing performance in a challenging role, haters are just gonna hate.
Model-material Olivia Wilde was 28 when she was turned down to star beside Leo Di Caprio, 38, in The Wolf of Wall Street in 2013. While a 9 year age gap would usually be considered plenty in real life, it wasn’t enough for the dream machine. It’s worth noting that Nadine Caridi, the woman whom the character was based on, was 29 during the period the film was set. Evidently, director Martin Scorcese wanted to stick to pure fantasy when he cast 21 year old Margot Robbie instead. Just your standard 17 year age gap. Unfortunately it made a lot of scents for the movie and the story it was telling, but that just makes it worse. The man was supposed to have everything other men could have dreamed of, and apparently a 17 year age gap had to be it, even if it meant to turning down another, arguably more beautiful, hollywood actress, Olivia Wilde.
A whole group of actresses hosted a feisty act of resistance for being told they were too old for sexy roles. Tina Fey performed with Amy Schumer and fellow actresses Julia Louis-Drefus and Patricia Arquette in a comedy sketch that went viral. The skit brazenly calls out the misogyny of this very topic, as the actresses rail on their “last f*ckable day” in Hollywood. While male actors seem to gather more sexual potency with every wrinkle, women turn forty and “there’s nothing but white spiders coming out”. These sorts of protests should happen more often, until people start to take notice. How many of these examples to people know about? Likely not enough. And until the general public start to be made aware of the agism rampant in Hollywood, women like these need to keep standing up. A group of clever, stunning and sassy women, we’re pretty sure it’s the boys looking stupid here.
While the British do have a somewhat broader age range and don’t seem to insist on perfectly young pliant flesh all day every day, powerhouse Emma Thompson has still faced ludicrous rejection. Back in 1995, when she was 36, Thompson was told she was too old to play the love interest of Hugh Grant, then 35. The men at the BBC relented when she told them to “take a flying leap”, and people were sure glad she did! It would be impossible to imagine anyone else as Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility. It was the perfect casting that would have been a severe missed opportunity because of one measly number at the end of an age. Three cheers for women standing up for themselves and against the decision makers who may be close to stepping out of line.
At 19, Catherine Zeta-Jones was already too old. Director Trevor Nunn told Zeta Jones she was too old for a part in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love before her twentieth birthday. So it seems a symptom of the Hollywood disease that at just 38, she claimed she was no longer a sex symbol and couldn’t compete with younger actresses. Though Zeta Jones describes this as a “natural progression”, and it’s entirely up to her whether she wants to portray herself as a sex symbol or not, you can’t help but wonder if this has filtered through from the powers that be. Now 46, Zeta could still pull off any love scene she chose but rarely appears in films that flaunt this. Zeta Jones has built a wonderful portfolio for herself in a number of genres, and sexy and scandalous isn't the front runner - though many people would probably love it to be. Another natural beauty with a lifetime of experience. Let's just hope she is truly the one making the decisions here.
Has the queen bee of Sex and the City become too old for sex? According to the author of the SATC books, yes. It seems a sad state of affairs when Candice Bushnell, who’s a few years older than Sarah Jessica Parker, said that endless stories about sexual dalliances were getting, uh, old. “'Realistically, a middle-aged woman who was married without children would be much more focused on her career and less focused on this Mr. Big: “Does he love me?” ... “Does he still not love me?” She also said “'Look, Sarah Jessica Parker is 47. I think with the second movie, Carrie Bradshaw couldn’t be an ingenue anymore.” Unfortunately this was not even just critic feedback, as the age of SJP was mentioned frequently by movie-goers. Rumours of a third film have been repeatedly shot down for the same reasons – that middle-aged women can no longer have sex, or the city.
Hollywood has been less than kind to the woman behind the smoldering Samantha Jones. A character written around her sexual prowess, flirtations and lots of intimate liaisons with strangers, Samantha Jones was our millennium era sex-positive icon. Catrall was in her early forties during the SATC boom, when Sam proved women could head confidently into their middle years and still date twenty-something hunks. But it seems Hollywood had its limits. By the second SATC film, a post-50 Jones was instead lumped with menopause and hormone treatment – a plot line that has followed Catrall into her latest TV role in the Canadian made Sensitive Skin. Catrall has stated: “I don't have a relationship with Hollywood now. You can't if you're over 40. It's a place where you go to make a lot of money and get out.”
One of the few women who has remained a powerhouse in Hollywood into her later years, even goddess Meryl Streep isn’t immune to the sexism and ageism of Hollywood. While Streep played a slew of sultry, sensual women throughout the eighties and nineties, she recalls the moment she was deemed too old for all that by Hollywood – right after she turned forty. "When I was 40, I was offered three witch [roles]. I was not offered any female adventurers or love interests or heroes or demons. I was offered witches because I was 'old' at 40." According to Streep, the sexism of Hollywood means that “Once women passed childbearing age they could only be seen as grotesque on some level.” She has done a few more 'sexy' roles since, being that she really is sexy, but they have been more the 'this older woman still has it' sort of way, as opposed to what some would deem as 'young and sexy'.
A breath of fresh air, female writer-director Nancy Meyers saw fit to cast 57 year old Diane Keaton aside Jack Nicholson, 64, in midlife rom-com Something’s Gotta Give (2003). This tongue-in-cheek comedy is a nod to the irony of age disparity in general, where a retired man is still chasing twenty-something girls until Keaton comes along. Yet 20th Century Fox, the home of the young and free, decided that nobody wanted to see a couple in their fifties in bed, and rejected the project. The script was instead accepted by Columbia Pictures, who embraced the unconventional. While reviews were mixed, it was certainly a refreshing change to see that middle-aged women can have just at much fun on screen, and between the sheets, when given the chance. Three cheers for Columbia Pictures, but a shame on you to Century Fox. The fact that this film was rejected for those reasons in the first place shows that there is still a long way to go.
Graceful beauty Liv Tyler made her name in the 90s with the likes of cult classic Empire Records, later cementing her Hollywood fame as the ethereal other-worldy elvin queen Arwen in the Lord of the Ring’s trilogy. Ever the slightly-out-of-reach love interest, Tyler cultivated a fan following of grunge rockers and fantasy gamers, the dream girl for every slightly nerdy boy in a 90s classroom. Yet in 2016, 39 year old Tyler has found herself cast out of the romantic and sensual roles she was known for. While she hasn’t been explicitly rejected for being too old, Tyler spoke of the narrowing of options and the lack of offers for parts when she said: "when you're in your teens or 20s, there is an abundance of ingénue parts which are exciting to play. But at [my age], you're usually the wife or the girlfriend, a sort of second-class citizen.” While many would still pay the big bucks to see Liv Tyler flaunt her sexy self in a way that was outside of traditional 'older woman' roles, Hollywood doesn't see it - but those 90's boys likely wish every day that that would change.
In case you thought Hollywood’s obsession with the young and beautiful was a 21st century problem, rest assured it has much deeper roots. In the book Casting Might-Have-Been’s, Eila Mell lists a slew of actresses through the decades who were deemed too old for romantic leads. 1950s Director-producer mogul David O Selznick was infamous for favoring young female leads with ludicrous age gaps. One such case was Tallulah Bankhead, a name that’s been almost forgotten because, at 35, after a killer screen-test for Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, Selznick chose 26 year old Vivien Leigh for the role instead. Clark Gable, by the way, was 39. Selznick must have known that hell hath no fury like a woman told she’s too old, because he wanted to cast Bankhead in another part, but worried that “it would infuriate her”, he chickened out and didn’t offer it.
Pretty, sassy, and smart, Zoe Saldana has even been told that she’s too old to play sexy roles. The actress who started out in films like Centre Stage and Dirty Deeds has shot back at the sexism, saying: "When men -- producers -- say, 'You're old,' to me, that is the most laughable f------ ridiculous thing a moron could ever say … By the time you're 28 you're expired, you're playing mommy roles." It seems Saldana has taken matters into her own hands in the last couple of years when she both acted and produced in the ultimate mommy role, appearing both incredibly beautiful and incredibly fierce as Rosemary Woodhouse in a remake of the classic Rosemary’s Baby. Could the answer simply be more female producers? Yes please. It certainly seems that way. The best way to fix a problem is at the root of it and it seems that the casting crew, the decision makers, is where this all starts. That said, it also starts with the expectations of movie-goers, so make yourself heard if you have a problem with how it's all being run.
Then there are the times when the age card is pulled as a poor excuse. When award-winning actress Cybill Shepherd was 25, she auditioned for the romantic lead in the gothic drama flick The Day of The Locust. It was 1975, and director John Schlesinger pulled the old chestnut: she was too old for the part of the leading lady. The film was to be set in 1930s Hollywood, and the character of Faye Greenaway was a B-grade actress trying to make it in the biz. Sound ironic? It gets better. After giving 25 year old Shepherd the boot, Schlesinger cast actress Karen Black who was in fact eight years older than Shepherd. Therein lies the lesson that age is just a number, and no woman ought to listen to the fickle whims of the men behind the curtain.