The news about Laura Dern playing Reese Witherspoon's mother made me giggle at first this weekend since she's the right age to play her big sister. But the more I thought of it the more it bugged me. Especially since it came hot on the heels of realizing that Tilda Swinton, who turns 53 in a week or two, had the role originally designed for the legendary Angela Lansbury (who is 88) in Grand Budapest Hotel. To add insult to injury, Alex reminded me on Twitter that Susan Sarandon will be playing Melissa McCarthy's grandmother in the upcoming comedy Tammy. Sarandon is just 24 years older than McCarthy which would make her a fairly young mother of the star but a grandmother? That means she and her fictional daughter were knocked up as pre-teens. Gross!
None of this should be miscontrued as me not enjoying myself some Dern, Sarandon and Swinton! But all of this reminds me that Sally Field, ten years senior to Tom Hanks, played his mother in Forrest Gump just six years after rejecting him romantically in Punchline. That's misogynist Hollywood's version of karmic punishment, right?! [more]
(Remarkably Hollywood forgave her, allowing her to be Mrs Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln despite being eleven years older)
So herewith a helpful chart for Hollywood's mathematically averse casting directors of which underemployed actresses they might consider next time they're looking for the mother or grandmothers of today's leading men and women (instead of the people who get cast who are of sibling-appropriate age) and/or looking for underexplored talents to surprise us with. Regarding the latter, there's no hard evidence that people forget how to act when they aren't working a lot or are working an endless series of thankless small roles, that can't be countered with examples of people getting lazy who are working a lot. So let's not count people out just because we haven't seen them in awhile. At least let's see if any of these women have one more great performance in them, shall we?
mid to late 40s roles
Next time you can't afford the Kidmans, the Roberts, or the Bullocks. Next time you can't get MLP or Linney, or are ready to look beyond the supporting mainstays like Diane Lanes, Viola Davises or Maria Bellos (all frequently employed thank god), and you need a vivid lady to play mom to today's Efrons, Woodley's, Lawrences, Jordans or an age-appropriate wife for once for the Crowes, Owens, Ruffalos, Harrelsons, Smiths, and Clooneys of the world, what about...
From Left to Right: Illeana Douglas, Olivia Williams (who is working a lot but not regularly in the caliber of roles she deserves), Rachel Griffiths (who surely has another Hilary & Jackie in her), Carrie Anne-Moss, Mo'Nique (don't let that go to waste Hollywood... even if she herself is resistant), Kristin Straten Bauer (isn't anyone else dying to know what she can do outside of True Blood where she regularly tears the place up), Kimberly Elise (perhaps the LEAST employed of all stellar actresses her age), Penelope Ann Miller, Michelle Yeoh, Rosie Perez (still hilarious when playing herself!), Embeth Davidtz (like Elise & Williams the talent begs for better roles), and Gina Gershon (reliably fun no matter where the films land on the art to trash scale!)
When Hollywood needs a leading or supporting lady in her 50s they... haha, sorry, that sentence is delusional because Hollywood pretends they never do. I personally think this is the toughest age bracket for actresses. They're too young for the showy "Dame" roles and too old (generally speaking) for the way Hollywood tends to cast moms and wives (i.e. much younger than what you'd see in real life). For now any role for an actress in her 50s will undoubtedly be offered to The Bening or Julianne Moore first and second (or vice versa). And with good reason. These Actresses Are (Better Than) All Right. But beyond Moore and Bening who is there? The movies only seems interested in a handful: Tilda, Kristin, Emma & Michelle (when they express interest), and in supporting roles Hollywood is still hot for the Leos, Janneys and maybe the Hardens and Clarksons and the McDormands though the pickings are getting slimmer for everyone BUT Leo & Janney for some reason.
There are so many who can wow if you cast them right and are willing to ignore that Hollywood has (temporarily) lost interest. I say temporarily because the history of the movies shows us time and again that actors who were once deemed "over" can suddenly rise again, newly invigorating and interesting to the public. All it takes (heh) is that difficult combo of right project + smart casting director + agent and/or creative team who happens to really believe in the actor. So what about these women who could play moms to the today's Goslings, Williams, Levitts, and Hathaways, or age-appropriate wives to the Bridges, Neesons, Penns, Firths, and Washingtons if Hollywood won't bother to build damn films around THEM as one should!
Left to Right: Holly Hunter (one of the greats... don't leave her with nothing to do!), Joan Allen (she's gone back to theater but the movies still need her), Mimi Rogers (really? cameos in Hope Springs is all you got for her. That miracle performance in The Rapture went unnoticed even at the time), Jennifer Tilly (still funny), Geena Davis (weirdly abandoned by the time she was 40 after only a couple of flops...as if all her hits hadn't happened!), Lolita Davidovich (popped up on Bunheads recently and was so engaging I couldn't wait to see what the second season did with her. And then cancellation! SNIFFLE), Julie White (awesome on stage, and vivid in tiny parts in blockbusters), Miranda Richardson (currently seems to be stuck in all of the cartoon roles that are too small for Helena Bonham-Carter. This must end), Angela Bassett (AHS Coven proves there's still life in her beyond "concerned and noble mother/colleague"), Joan Chen, Janet McTeer (so great so recently in Albert Nobbs), La Pfeiffer, Donna Murphy (riveting on stage but Hollywood still confused about her apparently), Mary Steenburgen (a delight from her Oscar win onwards but it seems like Alison Janney gets every role that she OR Steenburgen would be a great fit for), Lesley Manville (who deserved plentiful attention post-Another Year), and Catherine O'Hara who we still see from time to time but haven't comedy directors noticed that she has way more free time now that Christopher Guest quit making movies!?
This is just scratching the surface!
From ages 60 on up every part is going to Meryl Streep or a "Dame" from across the pond... despite roughly 1,000 very capable and even semi-famous living actresses waiting around for the third act of their career to begin already. One wonders (in optimistic moments) if filmmakers would be interested in Weaver, Close, or Lange again post television leading lady reinventions or whether their new generation of TV fans would follow them back to the big screen? I'm doubtful either way but I'd better stop or we'll be here all day...