Representations: Age in Hollywood

Sex sells onscreen, hard and fast. But as soon as age has its way with actors, they can be whipped off the red carpet and shoved into the dusty ranks of the “has-beens” and “once-weres” in no time at all.


Sex appeal is like a dominatrix in Hollywood, the media taking pleasure in punishing the unappealing. Actors are slated if they dare take measures, such as plastic surgery, when faced with the pressures of maintaining the sexy, popular image which the media demands they uphold. Sex appeal for actors in Hollywood is no doubt hypocritical, especially for women. If not criticised for having lost or ruined their “sexiness”, older actors are brutally compared to emerging starlets with half their life experience and double their ability to fulfil a sexy role. Angelina Jolie faced this with the appearance of Megan Fox in Transformers. The dark hair, full lips and smouldering eyes gave the press enough to compare the two and stir up some rivalry. Yet Fox’s looks far outweigh her ability to give a noteworthy performance, so eventually the link between her and Jolie dissolved. It is strange that the first comparison to be made between the two actors was based on physicality as opposed to performance, when both individuals make a living from performance, of whatever sort. Clearly there is a relationship between acting and appearance, but surely the craft is what is most important.

Likewise if female actors are not criticised, they are commended for having “stayed in the game” or for “still going strong”. It is as though age is a natural deterrent in Hollywood and as soon as an actor hits midlife, their career is bound to cease. Is this not a ridiculous notion? It is practically inconceivable to ever criticise Steve McQueen on the sex appeal of his own image or Scorsese’s aging looks (if anything the latter’s full grey head is a visual tribute to his wisdom and experience in the film business). We judge directors, producers, writers, virtually the whole film crew, on the quality of the work they create and not on the extent of their physical appearance, why do we not do the same for female actors? That is not to say male actors don’t feel the scrutiny of the press and the need to satisfy the odd sexual appetites of certain fandom by maintaining the youthful appearance of their image. Of course they must. However roles for older male actors are far more conceivable in Hollywood today.

It is not a challenge to name a number of films in which the majority of the cast are males over forty, such as Inglourious Basterds and the more recent Last Vegas, whereas the same can’t be said for the opposite sex. A recent film that springs to mind is The Heat, in which Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy star. There was also The Hours – with the exception of Nicole Kidman who was 34 years old, the other central actors, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, were over 40 at the time of filming. However, that was twelve years ago. Today, the chances of seeing a cast of mature, female actors dominate a Hollywood feature are fairly slim, unless they co-star with younger, ‘sexier’ actors. That being said, if Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Aniston, Jane Lynch and Cameron Diaz somehow ended up in something together, that would make one hell of a film, sexy or not.


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May 2022
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