No fading stars: Hollywood’s latest craze is to cast over-40 actresses
In 1962, a 21-year-old named Nora Ephron interviewed for a job at Newsweek. She said she wanted to be a writer. She was quickly assured that women did not become writers at Newsweek, and was offered a job sorting the mail for $55 a week. How things have changed.hollywood Updated: Jun 13, 2013 02:06 IST
In 1962, a 21-year-old named Nora Ephron interviewed for a job at Newsweek. She said she wanted to be a writer. She was quickly assured that women did not become writers at Newsweek, and was offered a job sorting the mail for $55 a week. How things have changed.
In 1990, Ephron was Oscar-nominated for writing When Harry Met Sally. In it, Meg Ryan’s Sally has an existential freak out. “And I’m gonna be FORTY!” she wails. “When?” asks Billy Crystal’s Harry, baffled. Through her sobs, she manages to articulate: “Some day!” For Sally, 40 is a bleak deadline, the end of all promise. How things have changed.
This week, the Hollywood Reporter magazine has run a cover story trumpeting the “revenge of the over-40 actress”.
You might take issue with the article’s implication that the increasing success of older female actors is on some level a victorious catfight — or cougar fight — at the expense of younger performers (“the next generation hasn’t produced as many shining stars”).
But set against the truism that if you’re a woman in Hollywood, the roles start drying up when you hit 35, the key statistic was heartening: nine of the top 10-earning female actors in 2012 were aged at least 37, including Sandra Bullock, Meryl Streep and Angelina Jolie.
It helps enormously that writers such as Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Polley and Lena Dunham are writing roles for women in films and television where casting doesn’t depend on what Fey’s autobiography, Bossypants, describes as a studio executive’s idea of who is “f**kable”.
Not to be too starry-eyed about things, but another contributing factor is perhaps simply the improvement in anti-ageing techniques. If Nicole Kidman looks the same at 46 as she did at 30, you satisfy studio imperatives of star recognition and conventional beauty in one fell swoop.
Audiences themselves are also ageing and diversifying, creating a need for more imaginative casting than the traditional approach of only asking what teenage boys might want — witness Gwyneth Paltrow (born 1972) as Pepper Potts opposite Robert Downey Jnr (born 1965) in the Iron Man franchise.
For every Paltrow, you will still usually find a lower-profile young thing playing opposite Tom Cruise, but the point is they weren’t casting any high-profile Gwyneth equivalents in comic-book adaptations 10 years ago.
Of course, Pepper Potts is the PA/love interest and not the hero, so we are in no danger of realising a feminist utopia just yet.
More interesting is the trend whereby the roles themselves are becoming less gendered, whether written by a man or woman. Jane Lynch, who plays Sue Sylvester, nemesis of the titular singing club in Glee, is something of a pioneer in this area.
As her autobiography Happy Accidents tells it, she made a career out of getting her agent to ask: “Can you see a woman in that part?” Lynch’s gender-switched roles include her first big film part opposite Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, and her scene-stealing turn traumatising Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin, a switch based on a suggestion by Carell’s wife.
More recently, the same approach saw Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy headline the financial hit Identity Thief, a road trip riff on the Planes, Trains & Automobiles dynamic with McCarthy as the originally male John Candy-esque free spirit and Jason Bateman following in Steve Martin’s straight-man footsteps.
Cross-casting can only happen when there’s little about the role that needs to be one gender or the other. It’s not an entirely new trend — Rosalind Russell’s classic role as a reporter opposite Cary Grant in the screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940) was a chap in the original stage play The Front Page.
But by and large, it’s only once women start working as doctors, politicians, commodity brokers — you name it — that cross-casting becomes a credible option in mainstream films.
Perhaps in the future more of these roles will be written for women in the first place and we’ll be able to marvel anew over how things have changed.
Guardian News Service