In recent weeks there has been a minor flurry of media information – tidbits, mostly – about age and work in relation to female movie stars. I had been sitting on a quotation from actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, wondering what I might do with it until TGB reader Jim Hood mentioned it in an email:
“I’m 37,” Gyllenhaal said in an interview with The Wrap, “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.”
A couple of weeks later, the same website asked 69-year-old actor, Helen Mirren, about Gyllenhaal's experience:
No, you're not imagining it. Mirren did say, “fucking” outrageous. And so it is.
At the same time, however, I am a bit queasy about well-off movie stars complaining about the kind of roles they get. Especially Mirren who continues to make three or four films a year, more than most actors get at any age.
Is it wrong that 50- and 60-something male movie stars are most frequently paired romantically with ingenues? About the only time we see old male actors in movies with age-appropriate love interests are when one of the two is dying. Of recent vintage, Amour comes to mind along with Still Mine.
Okay, maybe The Second Best Marigold Hotel but what a disappointment that movie was with Richard Gere shoehorned in for no apparent reason than his good looks.
Maybe I should mention the most famous reverse age movie, Harold and Maude. But I've always thought there was something mildly creepy about it – the movie, not their age difference - and anyway, one movie in 45 years with an old woman and young man does not balance hundreds of the opposite.
This isn't a new problem for older women in Hollywood. They have been complaining forever about lack of roles in general, let alone not being cast as a romantic interest when they have passed an imaginary use-by date.
In 1972, I produced a television interview with Bette Davis (of “old age ain't for sissies” fame) in which she lamented that back then, no one was writing movies for women actors of a certain age. It hasn't changed much since then, certainly not in the realm of romance.
So is this important? Does it matter that female movie actors - especially stars who make zillions of dollars compared to most of the rest of us - don't get to kiss the leading man after age 35 or 40?
I'm only half convinced that it does – in the sense that celebrities are role models for the rest of us, especially young people who emulate their hair styles, fashion, even behavior. (Cosmetics, automobile and fashion companies don't pay movie stars to shill for their products for no reason.)
If we, the public, repeatedly see movies and TV shows in which old men only pursue 20-something women, I'm pretty sure that has at least as much effect on beliefs about who is attractive and worthy of attention as the commercials starring those same actors enhance the bottom line of the products.
And that in turn may have a great deal to do with your and my lives. If we hardly ever see, in our entertainment, older women as worthy – whether as sex objects or responsible adults – might not we, for example, be refused jobs after age 50 or 60 like those female actors are?
And if I buy this idea, I think it affects men too because for at least the past decade, more than half the movies released in the United States are about bionic, humanoid, Borg-like heroes more suited to video games than real life and against which no human male – of any age - can compete.
Based on all that, Maggie Gyllenhaal's lost movie role with a 55-year-old man might not be as funny as she thinks.
Or maybe it is. I'm not sure. What I'm trying to work out is whether the fact that Maggie Gyllenhaal, Helen Mirren and Bette Davis don't get to make love to an actor their own age on screen has anything to do with the fact that I couldn't get anyone to hire me after age 62.