In an interview with The Wrap, Hollywood actress Maggie Gyllenhaal revealed that she had recently been turned down for a role by Hollywood executives because of her age. The role in question required Gyllenhaal, 37, to act as the love interest opposite a 55 year-old man, but casting directors deemed her “too old” for the part. Speaking candidly about the incident, Gyllenhaal – who recently won a Golden Globe for her performance in the BBC drama series The Honorable Woman – described the rejection as “astonishing.”
“It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh”.
In the current climate, the way female filmmakers and actresses are treated in their own industry certainly is astonishing – and depressing to boot. Female directors come in few numbers as it is, and even fewer are recognised by mammoth institutions like The Academy. Need we forget that the only time a female director (Kathryn Bigelow) has ever won an Oscar was as recently as 2010? Even now, similarly prestigious organizations like the Cannes Festival are refusing entry to female patrons who aren’t wearing heels on their red carpets. And that’s just the women behind the scenes.
For the women onscreen, Hollywood can be just as horribly conceited. When a Hollywood actress is young and beautiful, she is generally celebrated and plastered on every screen, billboard and magazine there is. You need only look at the magazine aisle in your local supermarket to see that the majority of covers are filled with the likes of Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence and Margot Robbie. All talented actresses, all beautiful and all under 30. It would be foolish to contend that beauty – and sex – doesn’t sell, because it does. On a massive scale. But what is puzzling – and ultimately quite demeaning – is Hollywood’s assumption that women approaching 40 are past that.
When looking at Gyllenhaal’s case in particular, it just seems absurd. A 37 year-old actress too old to play the lover of a man almost 20 years her senior? And more to the point, this is a (as yet unknown) movie that has no qualms about casting a 55 year-old actor, but turns down an actress under the age of 40? It sounds ludicrous, but that’s how the industry currently works. There is a ruthless sense of both ageism and sexism that – for all the recent feminist breakthroughs in cinema – has yet to be beaten.
Even looking at the few older actresses who have maintained a career onscreen, the struggle is rife. Not even the Queen of the silver screen herself is without prejudice; Meryl Streep has earned more Oscar nominations than any other actress, and yet like Gyllenhaal, she faced a number of trials upon hitting middle age. It’s a well known anecdote that the year she turned 40, Streep was offered three roles in complete succession – all of which, were witches. Streep’s reading of that was bluntly and painfully clear: “once women pass childbearing age they can only be seen as grotesque on some level.”
It’s horrible to think that actresses only become more limited as they get older. It’s despairing to acknowledge that by the time they have truly honed their craft with the experience that only life can give, they’re quite often being either typecast or turned down. Meanwhile, aging male actors just keep on rising. While Gyllenhaal faces this sudden accusation that she’s ‘past it’ on some roles, her brother Jake – who is only three years younger than her – is considered to be at the peak of his career.
Gyllenhaal has made an effort to put a positive face on the matter by saying that she’s “looking with hope for something fascinating.” And somehow, even though the attitude of the industry is deplorable, I’d like to believe there are some faint glimmers of hope out there. In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Gyllenhaal praised television’s recent depictions of “actual women” – real female characters that could be anything and everything.
Here’s hoping that the industries come to realise that”actual women” age – and are no less beautiful or talented as they mature. And in the case of actresses, they can perform in more roles, if only given the chance.