updated 20 Oct 2013, 20:59
Login password
Mon, Jul 08, 2013
The Straits Times
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Actresses over 40 are hot property
by Alison de Souza

There was a time when hitting 40 meant a forced retirement for Hollywood actresses, or at least a retreat into the background.

Nowadays, there is no shortage of mature women headlining the hottest movies and television series.

It is a trend that The Hollywood Reporter magazine has dubbed "the revenge of the over- 40 actress", offering up as proof a long list of A-list names: Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Salma Hayek, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Julianne Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Helen Mirren, Glenn Close, Laura Dern and Laura Linney.

These women continue to command plum parts and big salaries, not to mention lucrative contracts in fashion and beauty.

At 48, Bullock remains one of the highestpaid actresses in the business, receiving US$10 million (S$12.8 million) for the new female buddy cop flick The Heat. Her co-star McCarthy, a 42-year-old whose career began taking off only in her 40s, earned US$2.5 million.

McCarthy is also singled out by The Hollywood Reporter for having pulled off a remarkable feat: She inspired the producers of the film Identity Thief to rewrite one of the lead roles, which had been originally intended for a man.

In the same vein, 39-year-old Penelope Cruz is rumoured to be in the running to become a Bond Girl in the next 007 film. If so, she would be the oldest one yet and, paired with 45-yearold Daniel Craig, a notable exception to the entrenched habit of casting leading men opposite far younger love interests.

What explains this development? The main factor seems to be the industry's failure to groom the cohort of younger male and female actors into megastars.

The old studio "star system" saw filmmaking and promotion revolving around a constellation of hand-picked faces who would be periodically aged out of the business and replaced with fresh blood. This has fallen by the wayside in the past decade.

Instead, movie studios have become increasingly focused on developing franchises or other big-budget releases that subsidise less profitable ones. Most of these are invariably actionheavy and revolve around male characters or male-friendly concepts - although industry observers have also noted a shortage of younger male movie stars with the draw of older actors such as Tom Cruise and George Clooney.

The gulf is especially apparent when constrasting the "Q scores" of older and younger stars. These measure the popularity and familiarity of a person or brand across a range of age groups - in other words, how well-known and well-liked they are.

Although actresses such as Anne Hathaway, 30, and Jennifer Lawrence, 22, are highly sought-after, their Q scores are 20 and 15 among American viewers aged 18 and older.

This pales in comparison next to Bullock's 41. She and other older actresses are also scoring much higher on recognition, which is why studios know they can be relied on to "open" a movie, consistently and bankably attracting large audiences based on their name alone.

The young people who flock to see something such as the Twilight franchise may have made it billions of dollars, but its young star Kristen Stewart, 23, has a Q score of just 10, meaning it is far from certain that she could carry another big studio film.

The key is having broad-based appeal across different age groups and this is another ingredient in the staying power of older actresses.

It also happens that the American moviegoing audience is getting greyer, with more than one-third of cinemagoers aged 40 or older last year.

Older moviegoers have more loyalty to older entertainers, many of whom rose to prominence at a time when more effort was put into promoting them as big stars, and in a simpler media landscape where this was an easier task.

In addition, a number of older movie actresses appear to have benefited from the resurgence of high-quality television shows, especially on American cable networks.

The creation of strong, interesting and award-winning female characters on television has removed the stigma of a film star doing small-screen work and provided a careerboosting platform for the likes of Glenn Close, 66 (Damages), Mary-Louise Parker, 48 (Weeds), Laura Dern, 46 (Enlightened), and Laura Linney, 48 (The Big C).

That said, not all these older actresses look their age, thanks to the wonders of modern cosmetic surgery and Hollywood's all-consuming obsession with health and fitness, which all actresses, young and old, feel immense pressure to keep up with.

Even if Hollywood is prepared to cast women who are over 40, therefore, it may not be prepared to have them look it. And any positive example set by seeing older women on screen may well be cancelled out by the unrealistic expectations it engenders in terms of how one should look at that age.

The industry also remains, ultimately, a male-dominated one, both in front of and behind the camera, and, in particular, among those who make the decisions.

With few female film franchises afloat (Kristen Wiig, who is about to turn 40, has said no to the 2011 hit comedy Bridesmaids, the best franchise contender in years), there seems little chance of lead actresses wielding the sort of clout that such a property brings to someone like Mission: Impossible's Cruise or Iron Man's Robert Downey Jr.

This is part of an overall dearth of entertainment and characters geared towards women as a whole. Less than a third of the highestearning movies last year featured any speaking roles for women, California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism reported recently. And only 28.4 per cent of all speaking characters were female - the lowest proportion in five years.

Even if older A-list actresses are enjoying some sort of resurgence, therefore, it would seem that actresses, in general, still have some way to go.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.

readers' comments

Copyright © 2013 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.